Prospects for North Korea’s New Leadership

On the radar: The North’s next rulers; Striking Iran; Talking stability with China; Testing the North with talks; Qualifying Panetta’s Iran timeline; Russia’s next missile; Congress shows true colors on Aegis; and Kim Jong-il drops the bass.

December 21, 2011 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Mary Kaszynski

A “ruling coterie” - “North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie...[with] his uncle [Jang Song-thaek] and the military.” reports Benjamin Kang Lim for Reuters.

--”I think the regime will remain stable, at least in the near-term,” said Ralph Cossa of CSIS. “Over the long term, there appears to be some hope, primarily emanating from Beijing, that Kim Jong-un will take North Korea down the path of Chinese-style reform, apparently based on the belief that Jang is or will be a 'reformer'. Who knows, this may be true.”

”Time to Attack Iran” - “A military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States,” argues Matthew Kroenig in Foreign Affairs.

--In a delicate argument assuming that the consequences of an attack can be managed, Kroenig says, ”The United States should conduct a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, absorb an inevitable round of retaliation, and then seek to quickly de-escalate the crisis. Addressing the threat now will spare the United States from confronting a far more dangerous situation in the future.”

Tweet reposte - Says Marc Lynch of CNAS (@abuaardvark), “Time to Attack Iran (if you exaggerate benefits, minimize risks, assume best case scenarios, and downplay costs)”

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Early Warning review - These first four months of publishing Early Warning have been amazing. As 2011 draws to a close, here is a look back at the best in nuclear news.

--Editors’ favorite oddball stories: 1) “Drunken fishermen ram atomic submarine;” 2) “Safe, Harmless, Giant Atomic Bomb;" 3) “Davey Crockett and Atomic Excavation;” 4) ”Most Secret invasion plans;” 5) “For Sale: Atlas F ICBM silo with log cabin.”

China and instability on the Korean peninsula - Given the uncertainty about North Korea, the U.S. and its allies’ best move would be to wait and see what China does, writes Victor Cha in the NYT. China’s first decision will be whether to “shed North Korea or effectively adopt it as a province. All indications are that Beijing will pursue the latter course.”

--Yet, even China’s plans could fall apart. “A clear channel of dialogue involving the United States, China and South Korea is needed now more than ever...The three sides should open with a conversation on all our fears about what could happen in a collapsing North — loose nukes, refugee flows, artillery attacks — and how each would respond.”

Negotiations - The U.S. and North Korea were close to making a deal that would provide famine relief supplies to the North in exchange for the North suspending its enrichment program and allowing in IAEA inspectors. “The prudent course would be to resume negotiations soon and test whether Kim Jong-un is ready to follow his father’s lead and suspend his nuclear and missile programs,” writes Leon Sigal.

Walking back the Secretary’s remarks - Secretary Panetta’s remarks that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon “sometime around a year” during a recent CBS News interview were not entirely consistent with U.S. intelligence and policy on Iran. So the Pentagon press shop decided to clarify.

--“The secretary was clear that we have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon,” DoD press secretary George Little said. “He was asked to comment on prospective and aggressive timelines on Iran’s possible production of nuclear weapons — and he said if, and only if, they made such a decision. He didn’t say that Iran would, in fact, have a nuclear weapon in 2012.”

Russia going heavy - Amid a tense political season and tough talk on missile defense, Russia has announced its plans to develop a new 100-ton, liquid fueled ballistic missile, Yahoo News’ Laura Rozen reports.

--"Russia's military establishment is concerned about losing parity with the United States on the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads that it maintains...By developing a new heavy missile, a perverse outcome is taking place, where Russia is attempting to not fall further beneath New START levels in order to satisfy the concerns of its military establishment,” said Ploughshares’ Joel Rubin.

BMD strategy vs. district dollars - “A Navy plan to base four Aegis warships in Spain could end up being sunk by congressional lawmakers looking to protect their own political interests,” AOL Defense reports. Critics of the plan argue that “It's better for those troops to be in the United States, spending their wealth and creating tax growth for the local communities, and jobs.”

DJ Kim - When not proliferating weapons of mass destruction, Kim Jong-il, apparently, dropped some sick beats. Impressive photoshopping of the North Korean dictator with Daft Punk, Tiësto, Moby and more.