Page 1 of 2 INTERVIEW North Korea's end heralds the real crisis
This is the end, my only friend, the end of our elaborate plans, the end of
everything that stands...
The End by Jim Morrison, The Doors.
Jennifer Lind is assistant professor in the Department of Government, Dartmouth
College. She received a PhD in Political Science from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, a Master's in Pacific International Affairs from the
University of California, San Diego, and a BA from the University of
She has has worked as a consultant for RAND, the Office of the Secretary, the
US Department of Defense, and has lived and
worked in Japan. Her current research interests include the resilience of the
North Korean regime, planning for US military missions in the event of North
Korean collapse, energy competition and its security implications for East
Asia, and democratization and stability in East Asia.
What is more dangerous than a strong dictatorship? A collapsed one, so Lind
warns in her latest analysis.  In this interview with Asia Times Online
contributor Victor Fic, Lind says that a North Korean implosion
creates many perils, such as "loose nukes" entering the global black market.
She also calls upon the US, South Korea and China to start planning together -
now - for the staggering task of managing North Korea's collapse.
Victor Fic: Tell us about your training for your high-level
Jennifer Lind: I am a political scientist, and I teach
international relations in the government department at Dartmouth College. My
teaching and research focuses on East Asian international security issues. I
did my graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], partly
because of its Security Studies Program. Students learn about military analysis
such as the capabilities and limitations of military forces to better grasp
foreign policy questions about the use of force. MIT also introduced me to
opportunities that I jumped at to work at the Department of Defense and RAND,
where I first worked with Bruce Bennett, my co-author on this North Korea
Dr Lind presents her views at the Asan Institute of Policy
Studies in Seoul, November 30, 2011.
VF: The pressing question is what is the trend line for the
Pyongyang regime - is it stable?
JL: As my previous work with Daniel Byman argued, the regime uses
many tools to maintain power. It is highly unlikely to fall to revolution and
has done much to protect itself against a military coup. So Kim Jong-il's
position appears stable. However, as noted, succession is on the horizon.
Succession is the most difficult thing that a dictator attempts because there
is always the chance that the heir will not be able to consolidate power. See
here for this analysis with Byman.
VF: You observe that the last succession in North Korea took 15
years but that Eastern Europe proves control can quickly dissolve. Apply these
contending points to North Korea.
JL: I wouldn't say these are contending points, just two ideas
that should make us concerned about succession in North Korea. We know that
laying the groundwork for smooth transfers of power takes time. And we know
that dictators can rapidly fall. Remember [US Secretary of State] Hillary
Clinton's remark about how Hosni Mubarak's regime was stable - a couple of
weeks before he was toppled? For North Korea, we worry that Kim Jong-il is
aging and that his stroke in 2008 suggests poor health - he could die or become
incapacitated at any time. We also know that it appears he started only
recently to prepare for succession.
His father Kim Il-sung before his death carefully did this by giving Kim
Jong-il time to consolidate power, for instance to advance his friends and
purge his enemies and create a personality cult to promote his legitimacy as
heir. Kim Jong-eun, the son of Kim Jong-il, has had very little time to do
this, so Kim Jong-il's sudden death could mean Kim Jong-eun will not be able to
secure power in Pyongyang.
VF: Why do you predict that its collapse would mean
JL: Collapse could trigger several terrible problems. Because
North Korea's government provides the people with about half of their food and
because the people are already malnourished, an interruption in food and health
care services could mean mass starvation. People might turn to the protection
of militias for security and for food; this could trigger civil war. There
could be a huge refugee flow as desperate North Koreans search for food and
security. Furthermore, North Korea's weapons of mass destruction [WMD] could
escape the country and enter the global black market.
VF: Why can't international organizations handle tasks such as
Jennifer Lind: They could certainly help, but they could not do it
alone. As we saw in Somalia, food and supplies sent unescorted into anarchic
areas will be overrun, either by starving mobs or bandits who sell it on the
black market. So military forces must escort relief convoys. Given the huge
numbers of security forces in North Korea, it could be a very dangerous
VF: Time pressures would be acute - why?
JL: The longer North Koreans lack food and medicine, the worse
the humanitarian crisis becomes. And more people might decide to become
refugees, broadening the crisis beyond the peninsula. A civil war or insurgency
might develop. And the longer the WMDs are unattended, the greater the risk
that they enter the international black market.
VF: Can you quote a timeframe for the operations?
JL: There's tremendous uncertainty about how long these various
missions would take. It depends on unknowables. If you assume North Koreans do
not resist, and that stability operations are adequately staffed, the missions
should be easier and shorter. In general, some missions would take more time
than others. For example, one that we analyzed, conventional disarmament, would
probably require several years as we saw in the East German case - another
massive, crumbling military that had to be secured and dismantled.
VF: What are the interests of various players regarding
JL: Our piece is more of a military analysis than a political
one. We calculate the requirements for these missions, but don't recommend
which specific countries should get involved and why. Most of the neighboring
countries would see it is in their interest to prevent a humanitarian
catastrophe, to stem refugee flows, and to prevent civil war or insurgency. And
countries the world over have an interest in securing North Korean nukes and
keeping them off the international black market.
VF: Why not just let the Chinese enter from the north and
US-South Korea forces from the south?
JL: It might happen that way. But one of our main arguments is
that any US-South Korean Combined Forces Command (CFC) or Chinese intervention
should be planned and communicated in advance to avoid misperception and
miscalculation. Say, as you suggest, that the Chinese enter from the north to
secure the Yongbyong nuclear facility. And say that a CFC battalion rolls up
from the south for that mission.
What will happen when the CFC troops tell the Chinese to get out of the way so
they can do their job? A collapsed North Korea scenario contains great
potential for misperception and crisis escalation. China and the US are nuclear
great powers, so crisis escalation could be deadly. Our main point is that we
see the dangers now. So the various actors should communicate what their
intentions and actions will be.
VF: Many China experts worry whether the civilians firmly control
the military. Is it too risky to let the Chinese military grab the North's
JL: That's a pretty inflammatory way to put it. I would say
instead that loose WMD would be a serious potential problem in the event of
North Korean collapse. China, South Korea, and the United States have major
interests on the Korean peninsula and should multilaterally figure out how to
address the loose WMD threat. South Korea, because of its Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements, is not allowed to take possession of
WMD, so that's a complicating factor. The bottom line is if North Korea
collapses, both the US and China will be deeply concerned about loose WMD and
together should figure out the solution.
VF: Your analysis does not assign concrete tasks to particular
actors - why not?
JL: Our article's unique contribution is to calculate approximate
force requirements. I hope to spur many subsequent conversations, including
about who might participate and how. I stress that this article is not about US
policy per se. We do not argue that Washington should send in hundreds of
thousands of troops - or indeed any. That decision is for future leaders. We
calculate generically how many troops are necessary to perform these missions.
VF: You warn that 260,000 to 400,000 troops are required ... for
what? Aren't numbers of this magnitude totally unrealistic? Wouldn't this
overwhelm North Korea's poor infrastructure?
JL: Yes, it's a huge number. It's our calculation of the force
requirements for five missions: a humanitarian stability operation; border
control; conventional disarmament of the North Korean security services to
prevent insurgency; a counter-WMD operation; and a rapid reaction force that is
able to deter or, if necessary, combat any limited resistance.
Politically and logistically, the number may indeed be unrealistic. But the
military planners I talk with aren't surprised by these numbers at all - they
understand that missions like this are hard, and have large force requirements
if you want to do them correctly, that is. The military has just experienced
Iraq where the US deployed far too few troops to perform such missions at
terrible cost. And military planners also understand North Korea lacks
infrastructure, making it harder to inject troops and supplies. So they
understand both that these requirements could be massive, and that North
Korea's inadequate infrastructure would create many operational challenges.
VF: You assert that the burden will fall on Seoul, but it is
cutting back on defense outlay ... is that smart?
JL: South Korea will most likely bear the burden of this. Seoul
shouldn't expect much help globally, although the US for alliance reasons and
China for strategic reasons may participate to some extent. So if a country
faces a mission potentially requiring 400,000 troops, with dim prospects of
assistance, its not sensible to make big cuts in ground forces.
VF: You strongly advocate that Beijing must join with Western
countries for "advanced and combined planning". Does it mean a joint plan for
stabilization or different plans for each actor?
JL: As I noted, yes, each country should communicate its
intentions and plans and be sensitive to each others' motives and interests.
Stabilizing North Korea would be a massive task with giant requirements.
Chinese participation in stability or border control operations could be
extremely helpful. But unilateral intervention by China or CFC intervention not
communicated to China is very dangerous. So we argue for joint planning.
VF: Do you propose a special working group or secret or public
talks as the planning mechanism?