‘Uncertainty And Anxiety’ As World Watches North Korea

“Kim’s Death Inspires Worries and Anxiety.”

That’s the headline on this morning’s New York Times analysis of the news that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is dead (as we reported late last night).

It also sums up the analysis on Morning Edition today from Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. special representative for North Korea. Kim Jong Il’s death, he told guest host Linda Wertheimer, “clearly adds to the level of uncertainty and anxiety” because there’s now a “transition of leadership in a country that is … impoverished and which has something in the way of a nuclear arsenal.”

And the anxiety and uncertainty was underscored this morning with word from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that today the North test fired some type of short-range missile. That was “a warning to the rest of the world,” Bostworth said, “that they are still a military power to be reckoned with, ‘so don’t trifle with us.’ “

South Korea’s military is on “emergency alert,” Yonhap says.

Kim Jong Il’s presumed successor, his son Kim Jong Un, is thought to be in his late 20s and to have gotten some education in Switzerland. Donald Gregg, a U.S. ambassador to South Korea in the early ’90s, writes for the BBC today that since “just a few days ago US and North Korean officials met in Beijing to discuss modalities for a resumption of American economic aid to the North,” now might be the time to “build upon … [that] step forward.” And, he writes that Kim Jong Un’s ascension is “potentially positive.”

But in 2009, Foreign Policy magazine looked at the selection of Kim Jong Un as heir apparent and at the signs that under Kim Jong Il something of a “collective leadership” had risen and it cautioned that:

“Whether this governing structure will last is a big question. North Korea, after all, does not have a history of collective leadership. If the reports to date are accurate, it makes sense that Kim Jong Il has tried to build the collective leadership around someone within his family. But, forecasting on what will happen after Kim Jong Il is highly speculative.”

Also on Morning Edition:

— Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Beijing, looked back at Kim Jong Il’s life.

— Louisa Lim, also reporting from Beijing, spoke with host Renee Montagne about the reaction to the news in North Korea.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.