South Korean intelligence officials are uncertain who is in charge up
north. There is general agreement that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is, or
was, quite ill earlier this year. He appears to have had a stroke, but
recovered. Maybe. There is some belief that Chang Sung Taek, the head of the
secret police and Kim Jong Ils brother-in-law, is actually running things. But
then, that has long appeared to be the case. The problem has always been that
there was no one in charge up north, or at least that was the impression
diplomats and negotiators got. For decades, there has been a small group of
paranoid communist bureaucrats and military officers, trying to survive amid
self-inflicted economic decline. Decisions
appear to be made at random. This is, has and continues to be a major problem.
release of photos showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is alive and well,
are either undated or photoshopped (digitally altered). At best, Kim is alive
and well enough to be briefly shown at a few public events. At worse, he's
completely out of it and his henchmen are unwilling to publicly admit it, or
deal with the public reaction. North Korean propaganda has elevated Kim Jong Il
to the level of a deity, whose demise is unthinkable, and unsurvivable (since
no heir has been appointed.)
Korea, police have been ordered to find and confiscate all illegal cell phones.
Police are being told to do this, and control communications in general, to halt
the spread of "rumors" about food shortages. Foreign aid agencies,
that have some knowledge of conditions inside the country, believe that over
half the population will be starving this Winter. Recent deserters from the
army (who have escaped to China), report that the military still has food, but
less of it than in the past. Malnutrition is common in the military, and morale
is low. Potentially disloyal families are being expelled from the capital,
increasing the fear and paranoia.
A new legal
cell phone service will begin next year. Those few allowed to have cell phones,
will only be able to operate them on a state controlled network that does not
allow calls outside the country. The news inside North Korea is universally
grim. Social order is breaking down, and crime is on the rise. Soldiers and
police, who are now on short rations, increasingly steal from civilians, as a
way to get more food. It's difficult to maintain discipline when the guards are
hungry. However, it appears that there will not be as many starvation deaths as
there were in the 1990s (when up to two million died in the great famine).
That's because there is now better food distribution, and legal food markets
(where those with anything to sell can buy food.) But this time around, more
people will be hungry, and not happy about their condition.
States is trying to persuade South Korea to do some serious planning for
various forms of collapse (economic, political, social) up north. The United
States has long worked on such plans, but because less than five percent of the
troops available in South Korea are American, it's really up to the South
Koreans to carry out any operations in a North Korea that has slipped into
turmoil. South Korean media are increasingly full of reports from recent North
Korean escapees who have witnessed growing disorder and social collapse up
north. There are more public executions and roundups by the secret police up
there, and more people who suffer the lethargy of malnutrition and fear. In the
south, there is growing agreement that the situation in the north is
approaching that point where it all falls apart. At that point, South Korea
will have to do something, and doing nothing is not among the better options.
is not giving up its nuclear weapons, and has demonstrated that it will not
allow the kind of inspections needed to insure that the weapons are gone, and
their development is halted. But by delaying negotiations in order to get that
concession, the new famine has had more time to spread. Hunger has now spread
to the cities and military units, and there are a growing number of starvation
deaths in the countryside.
is still making mysterious shipments, often by air, to Iran. Is this nuclear
technology, or ballistic missile assistance? The U.S. is so anxious about this
cooperation, that it convinced India to refuse over-flight permission to a
North Korean cargo airliner last Summer. The North Korean aircraft had landed
in Myanmar, and asked permission to fly over India to Iran. At the urging of
the United States, India refused, and the North Korean cargo had to find
another way to get to Iran.
2008: North Korea admitted to China,
last June, that it had produced 68 pounds of plutonium, and used 4.5 pounds of
that for the bomb it tested two years ago. Given the primitive state of North
Korean bomb design, they could produce about eight nuclear weapons with what
plutonium they have.