As a power shift begins in North Korea after the death of dictator Kim Jong Il, a Grand Valley State University professor says similar transfers of leadership suggest that the switch to Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un, could be relatively stable.
Polly Diven, professor of political science at Grand Valley, said that other transitions between family members in dictatorships have a history of being stable, but she also cautioned that due to how little is known about the secretive nation, unexpected outcomes could be possible.
“We know surprisingly little about what happens in North Korea,” Diven said. “That’s part of why it’s such big news when we do find reliable information about the country or its leadership.”
Curiosity also plays a role in our fascination with North Korea, Diven said. When small details are uncovered, they garner significant media coverage because of how little is generally known about the country.
Two examples include coverage of Jong Il’s well-documented tastes for American movies and Cognac — but Diven said there is more information about the country, including it’s capabilities in weapons systems and how it’s treating its people, that should concern us more.
It's strange, in our current climate of instant information and globalization, to find a country that's as isolated as North Korea, Diven said.
“It’s difficult to know much about what is really going on in North Korea,” Diven said. “Many people speculate and joke about leadership in the country, but very little about the specifics of what happens is known to outsiders. It’s hard to predict with any sort of certainty what will happen as the transition takes place.”
Although Kim Jong Un is young — reportedly in his late 20s — Diven said there is likely a substantial military presence in place that will further help stabilize the transition from one dictator to another.
State media in North Korea reported Jong Il’s death over the weekend.