With rumors swirling that Kim Jong Un has suffered a health crisis, some are already asking who might succeed him as leader of North Korea. But who is not the most important question. What will matter more is what the new regime does to establish its legitimacy and how the United States and its allies respond.
The potential changes in the North Korean regime pose more questions than they answer. How prepared are observers and keen watchers from the “outside world” for a North Korean contingency? Should there be a power vacuum in Pyongyang, will U.S. policy toward the DPRK remain largely as-is?
The “Quad” countries met with several non-Quad countries to help each other amid the coronavirus pandemic. For all the good that can come of these countries working together, the Quad Plus, if sustained, may eventually jeopardize the Quad's primary mission: to counter China's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
As Washington and Seoul continue to examine the feasibility and conditions for wartime operational control transition, decisionmakers will likely face political pressure on timing. It may well be to the advantage of both allies that the determination of the transfer be driven by a hard, thorough diagnosis of military capabilities against emerging threats.
According to Pyongyang, North Korea has not yet suffered any cases of COVID-19. That would be surprising, since it is a neighbor and extensive trading partner of China. There are signs that this claim is yet another North Korean deception.
Why did Kim Jong-un substitute releasing the North Korean Workers' Party Plenary report instead of his traditional New Year's address? As with many things in North Korea, we do not know, forcing us to speculate.
North Korea's extreme rhetoric is worrying people in Northeast Asia. Pyongyang is threatening a presumably violent “Christmas gift” to the United States at the same time that Washington's patience with Pyongyang has worn thin.
North Korea has been reminding the United States that the window to negotiate a nuclear deal is closing. Pyongyang will likely continue trying to force Washington's hand into a deal that allows North Korea to keep its weapons while still reaping economic and political concessions.
An effective way to bend North Korea toward denuclearization may be exerting consistent and targeted pressure on China. Diminishing Beijing's relevance isn't a cure-all. But it could pierce Kim's illusion of invincibility and place him in a bind to make some concessions.
The rapid deterioration of ties between South Korea and Japan not only undercuts America's Indo-Pacific strategy, it also increases the risks to U.S. allies and partners in the region. Just how consequential is the growing South Korea–Japan tension for U.S. strategy and what is Washington doing to address the issue?
Cyber operations have become another tool of statecraft. But have any cyber operations sponsored by Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea met the definition of cyber coercion? If so, how? And what should the United States do to respond?