This post was coauthored with Sungtae “Jacky” Park, research associate for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Last week Kim Jong-un marked the fourth anniversary of his succession to leadership and his father’s death in North Korea. The leadership transition reignited discussion among North Korea watchers over how and whether the regime would be able to survive. Two years later, Kim had his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, executed for treason, sparking another round of speculation over whether the execution reflected a step toward consolidation of power under or was evidence of infighting that might lead to a leadership vacuum in Pyongyang. Because North Korea’s totalitarian system requires isolation to perpetuate political control yet is increasingly penetrated by markets and information, speculation about North Korea’s collapse will persist, and outside observers will judge that Kim is playing a losing hand. Read more »