Nuclear Tests Hint N. Korea Succession Looms; Military Postures for Kim Jong-Il

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Tests Hint N. Korea Succession Looms; Military Postures for Kim Jong-Il


Byline: Sara A. Carter and Andrew Salmon, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

North Korea's second test of an atomic bomb Monday morning prompted speculation by analysts and U.S. military experts that an ailing Kim Jong-il is relying on hard-line generals to prepare for succession - reportedly to one of three sons.

Hours after the underground explosion, the North launched three ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads to all of South Korea and much of Japan.

In testing a nuclear weapon, North Korea flouted more than a decade of efforts by the United States, South Korea and other nations in the region to establish a quasi-normal relationship with a nation known for its isolation even as millions die of malnutrition.

Successive shipments of food, oil and other economic aid, followed by threats of economic sanctions, have created a situation in which belligerent acts such as Monday's tests have often elicited more offers of economic aid.

But Monday's actions may have moved the North's belligerence to a new level, said Michael Breen, a Seoul-based analyst and author of a biography of Kim Jong-il.

This appears to be more than the usual North Korean antics and suggests all may not be well in Pyongyang, Mr. Breen said.

Jim Walsh, a Korea specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Monday's tests plus last month's test of a multistage rocket are tied to the issue of succession.

Kim Jong-il inherited power when his father, North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994. In doing so, he established the first dynasty in the communist world.

Since Mr. Kim reportedly suffered a stroke last year, speculation has centered on his three sons, one of whom is expected to eventually take over.

With succession in mind, the military members of the [North Korean] National Defense Committee are exerting themselves, Mr. Walsh said.

Mr. Walsh also noted that China, North Korea's only remaining ally and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, said it was resolutely opposed to the test.

The criticism was unusual for China, which has been the strongest supporter of the six-nation nuclear talks begun during the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Walsh said, however, that China was unlikely to push too hard when the Security Council considers additional sanctions.

It doesn't want to squeeze the egg when it may be already cracked and there may be a transition afoot.

The power of Monday's underground explosion remained in question, with Russia claiming the North had achieved an explosion comparable to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - in the 10- to 20-kiloton range.

But after studying seismic data and other intelligence, a senior White House official issued a statement indicating that the explosion was much smaller.

The characteristics suggest a man-made event with an explosive yield of approximately a few kilotons [of] TNT. Additional analysis will continue for the next several days, said the official, who could not be cited by name because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

The initial White House analysis indicates that Monday's test was only slightly more powerful than North Korea's first atomic explosion in October 2006. …

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