One of the major South Korean newspaper reported that the reason for the execution of the former North Korean Army chief was due to the chief dozing off during a meeting. (Chosunilbo 5/14/2015) While getting verifiable from North Korea has traditionally been challenging, the execution of Hyon Yong-chol seems to be verified according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. However, there are still experts that doubt whether the Army chief was executed. (New York Times 5/14/2015)

Regardless of whether the execution has taken place, the rift between the old guard and Kim Jung Un’s younger generation seems to be growing in North Korea. Suddenly promoted to the top of command from an almost unknown son of the previous leader, Kim Jung Il, Kim Jung Un has been attempting to consolidate his political power in the isolated regime. The executing of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, represents Kim Jung Un’s unrelenting strategy of purging those who might oppose him regardless of rank. In the mean time, Kim Jung Un wasted no time promoting his 26 year old sister Kim Yo-jong to a senior official of the ruling Worker’s party. (Telegraph 11/27/2014)

The purging of the old and promoting of the new is inevitably bringing to a potential coup. Especially without having total control and loyalty from the Army, Kim Jung Un might be facing growing silent dissenters within the Army ranks. The possible execution of the Army chief might have been done to instill fears within the country, but the leader of North Korea might have increased discontentment among the old ranks in the Army and the party. Without absolute loyalty from all ranks in North Korea’s power structure, there is a growing potential of a power restructure without Kim Jung Un on top.

The recent coup development in Burundi might provide insight to what North Korea leadership might be planning in the next several years. (Reuters 5/14/2015) If the North Korean leadership believes that there is even a small discontentment against Kim Jung Un within the party, then Kim Jung Un will not leave North Korea no matter how important potential diplomatic opportunities he might achieve abroad. Just like how the President of Burundi was attempted to be ousted by a discontent Army general, if Kim Jung Un leaves North Korea with some discontent party base, there is a possibility that a coup might occur in North Korea while Kim Jung Un is abroad.

This would potentially leave several consequences. North Korea will sacrifice developing foreign courtship with its allies in order to weed out potential dissenters by using any means possible. While the success of the regime to solidify support via eliminating dissention is now questionable, what is certain is the diplomatic rift between North Korea and its closest allies: China and Russia. Already, the Chinese leadership is displeased on North Korea’s way of continuously destabilizing the Korean peninsula (New York Times 4/13/2013), and it has been reported that even Russia demanded North Korea to discontinue to Nuclear program as the condition for allowing Kim Jung Un to attend the significant 70th anniversary of World War II victory parade in Moscow ( 5/11/2015), which Kim Jung Un did not attend. (CNN 4/30/2015) Ultimately, North Korea is continuously going to be isolationist, perhaps even with its allies, and conditions within the country will deteriorate due to UN sanctions.

While it is almost impossible to know when North Korea will have a significant leadership change, it seems that the current diplomatic and domestic conditions in North Korea are at best in facilitating a potential coup.


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