Why the sudden collapse of North Korea could be overwhelming

On the surface, the downfall of Kim Jong Un would seem like an unquestionable good thing. However, just a quick walkthrough of what could happen in an uncontrolled collapse sends shivers down the spine of anyone who has studied the subject in detail.

For our purposes, let us assume an internal event has caused the Kim family dynasty to come to a quick death. There is no central government and allied forces comprised of South Korea and the United States are moving across the 38th parallel to ensure order. What could be so bad?

Well, for starters, there would be immediate concern over who has control over not only of Pyongyang’s nuclear and atomic materials, but its perhaps much larger chemical and biological weapons stockpiles as well. North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons might be a much a bigger threat than its nuclear program. U.S. and allied forces would surely need to mount an unprecedented intelligence effort to not only locate almost all of these materials but protect themselves from chemical or biological weapon attacks by forces who could be still vying for power. Allied forces would also need to ensure that no weapons of mass destruction left the country–a non-proliferation nightmare of the worst kind.

There is an even more basic problem–that of a shattered society. How does one put back together a people broken by almost seven decades of being ruled as if they were slaves? How will the average North Korean, who only knows the Kim family, react to the end of the regime? Would some take up arms against those who would be there to ensure order? Is civil war a possibility? One thing is quite clear: It could take decades, but more likely generations, to wipe away the scars of psychological, emotional, and surely spiritual torture that was suffered.

Then there is China. Beijing’s greatest international worry is the collapse of the North Korean state. They fear a united Korea would become a major player in Northeast Asia, allied with America and armed with Washington’s best weapons and troops. And if millions of refugees started coming across the border into China, President Xi Jinping might send his own forces into North Korea–where a superpower showdown between Washington and Beijing could be in the offing.

And last, the sheer cost of rebuilding and reintegrating the North back into a united Korea would likely be in the trillions of dollars.

[The Week]

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