19 December 2011

Is North Korea A Monarchy?

Kim Il Sung founded North Korea as a country and regime out of the ashes of World War II occupation of Korea by Japan and the process of new state formation that ultimately led to the Korean war, one of the first "hot" conflicts of the Cold War. There is a cease fire in that conflict but not a true peace treaty.

Kim Il Sung, who ruled that hard line one party Communist state as a dictator in a cult of personality, was succeeded by Kim Jong Il who ruled for seventeen years until his death, also as a dictator in a cult of personality.

Now, the heir apparent to rule North Korea is Kim Jong Un, the third son of Kim Il Sung, although the transfer of power has not been confirmed.

Assuming that Kim Jong Un does take power as an absolute dictator, like his two predecessors, at what point do we start to acknowledge the status of North Korea as a monarchy rather than a communist regime?

There are residual communist one party state frameworks for the regime, but these seem to have been increasingly withered in favor of a cult of personality that deifies the ruler.

Of course, there is also the question of how Kim Jong Un, a Swiss educated basketball fan who is by most accounts a serious, intelligent young man might choose to take his country out of the dark ages, where it lingers in autarky, backwardness, fear, and privation. The only comparable European example was the communist regime of Albania, which is now struggling to remark itself in a Western parliamentary capitalist mold, despite mishaps along the way.

Might Kim Jong Un see the path of constitutional monarchy, followed by Japan and Thailand, as attractive? Would he be willing to cede power to democractic elections by a polity so stripped of civil society and democratic instincts that it is hard to know if it would be even possible to recreate a democracy in that mold? Might he work towards reunification with South Korea?

His people might not know that the regime he is inheriting is profoundly backward, but he does, and surely have given considerable thought to what he would do if he was in charge. It is also entirely possible that there could be a coup of some kind by the real powerbrokers in the regime, for example, in the military.

This may seem like a mere academic exercise, but when a regime has nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, as well as submarines it has shown a willingness to use against its neighbors in recent history, the outcome matters, no matter how out of whack its parameters may be.

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