Sunday, May 3, 2015

What Would Really Happen If North Korea Collapsed?

north korea wikimediaAlthough everyone's favorite basket-case nation hasn't been in the news much lately, it would stupid to disregard them at any time. North Korea has a habit of rearing its ugly head when we least expect it. But unlike past examples of aggression and posturing, someday we may face a North Korea on the brink of collapse. When that happens, it will make all previous incidents look pale in comparison.

Recently, National Interest Magazine posed the question, If North Korea Collapses: What Happens to Its Nightmare Weapons of War? The answer was not a pretty one.
While it is unknown how many chemical, biological or nuclear production plants, depots, storage sites and related facilities exist in North Korea, coalition forces will have to secure these facilities in a timely fashion. Failure to do so could enable the use or transfer of these weapons to hostile actors. That mission requires these forces to identify, locate, secure, disable and destroy WMD programs in non-permissive environments (where an adversary is actively engaged in combat operations) or semi-permissive environments (certain areas of operation are non-contested, but contain pockets of irregular or organized armed resistance such as was the case during worst days of the Iraqi insurgency).
Lovely. It would be Iraq all over again, except this time they really do have weapons of mass destruction. However, North Korea's WMDs account for only one facet of this scenario. In truth, the collapse of that regime, while thoroughly deserved as it may be, would be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, and their abundant conventional weapons would be enough to kill millions.

To understand the consequences of this regime's collapse, we first need to recognize that North Korea is a broken nation. They're one of the poorest countries on earth, and they're being held together with a million man army, and a series of brutal prisons that, if estimates are true, might give them a higher incarceration rate than the United States. Their currency is prone inflation and has been adjusted many times, while over the years they've lost millions of people to famine.

If the regime collapses, the tensions caused by decades of persecution and poverty are going boil to the surface, and no nation on earth will be able to quell it. This is a very elitist society where people are ranked by their perceived loyalty, and are given jobs and food based on how much they support the regime. How much do you want to bet that when it all goes down, those at the top are going to be butchered by the starving masses?

Complicating matters further, are the various factions that will likely try to take over the government. Right now there are two forces struggling for the throne. The hardliners that support Kim Jung-un, and the moderates that want reform. Some of you may remember when Jang Sung-taek was executed by Kim. He was probably killed for being the leader of this moderate faction.

But when it happens, there will probably be more than two sides to the conflict. We're talking about a country where 1 in 25 citizens serve in the military. Every top general has command of tens of thousands of troops, and those conscripts won't necessarily desert. If this collapse is accompanied by food shortages, they will stick together and pillage the country. After all, they're the only ones with the guns.

So you have all these generals with all these starving men and god knows how many weapons. They all know the regime is on its last leg, and I'm sure that more than one of them has thought about taking the capital. They're all going to have different goals and motivations. There will be loyalists who want the Kim regime to stay in power, and there will be revolutionaries that want to take his place. There will be reformers that want to do away with the system altogether. Among those, will be people who want China to lead the occupation and reformation of the country, and those who want the United States and South Korea to lead it.

But these nations won't necessarily want to get involved, at least not at first. Surely there will be an effort to dismantle North Korea's WMD stockpile, but after that, the country becomes a hot potato that nobody wants. China already has to deal with thousands of refugees who've fled the country and they don't want millions of people flooding over their border. South Korea is wary of integration for the same reason. The South has an economy that is 18 times larger than the North's. This would be like the US giving statehood to Nigeria. The influx of poor starving people willing to work for pennies an hour would completely destroy the economy for decades to come.

So once the WMDs are secured, it will be less of an occupation and more of a quarantine. It can be assumed that the US and China will try to secure the country with proxy forces, but until one faction takes over completely, there will be no occupation. Putting boots on the ground there would make Iraq look like Grenada.

North Korea will basically turn into Somalia. A shattered nation with numerous factions battling it out for control over millions of starving civilians, while the United States and China fight a proxy war (which may turn into a real war) for the scraps that remain after the dust settles.

But that's just my theory of one possible scenario. What do you think will happen?

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