(NEW YORK) — The death of Kim Jong Il likely puts the leadership of North Korea into the hands of an even more mysterious man, his son, Kim Jong Un, fueling speculation about a struggle for power in the reclusive nation, and with that control of a nuclear arsenal and the world’s fourth-largest military.
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg says he is more optimistic about the future of North Korea with the death of its “dear leader,” because Kim Jong Un may be able to move the country more in line with the West.
“There has been a generational change in the top leadership. Some of the 70- and 80-year-olds, really hard-line people, have faded away,” said Gregg.
Gregg says the change in leadership does not mean the country will flex its nuclear muscles, because Kim Jong Un will “need to provide stability in a changing time and that could mean no rash moves.”
“This is potentially a very positive development because the upcoming year is a year of transition,” Gregg said.
Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S. China Institute at the University of Southern California who has been to North Korea 15 times, agrees that chaos is not imminent.
“It is important not to rush to the conclusion that the death of Kim Jong Il means the North Korean system is heading toward collapse. A succession has been in process. It is acknowledged and accepted by key players in the North Korea system,” Chinoy said. “Moreover it’s equally clear that China, for its own reasons, is not going to let North Korea go down and will do everything in its power to help North Korea and prop them up.”
But not everyone is so optimistic. Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said “we shouldn’t kid ourselves just because [Kim Jong Un is] new.”
“Just because he’s young, we have to assume he’s going to be as bad and evil as his father was,” King said. “…The question to me will be how strong the military is going to be, if the military is going to try to insert itself and even more than it has in the past.”
North Korea is “basically an organized crime ring posing as a government,” said King.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Billy Hallowell, Deseret News
Mohammed Tawfeeq, Joe Sterling and Susanna Capelouto, CNN
Steve Visser and Masoud Popalzai, CNN