Tag Archives: U.S.

Soros sees risk of another world war

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Billionaire investor George Soros said flatly that he’s concerned about the possibility of another world war

Much depends on the health of the Chinese economy, Soros said in remarks at a Bretton Woods conference at the World Bank.

If China’s efforts to transition to a domestic-demand led economy from an export engine falter, there is a “likelihood” that China’s rulers would foster an external conflict to keep the country together and hold on to power.

“If there is conflict between China and a military ally of the United States, like Japan, then it is not an exaggeration to say that we are on the threshold of a third world war,” Soros said.

Military spending is on the rise in Russia and China, he said.

To avoid this scenario, Soros called on the U.S. to make a “major concession” and allow China’s currency to join the International Monetary Fund’s basket of currencies. This would make the yuan a potential rival to the dollar as a global reserve currency.

In return, China would have to make similar major concessions to reform its economy, such as accepting the rule of law, Soros said.

Allowing China’s yuan to be a market currency would create “a binding connection” between the two systems.

An agreement along these lines will be difficult to achieve, Soros said, but the alternative is so unpleasant

“Without it, there is a real danger that China will align itself with Russia politically and militarily, and then the threat of third world war becomes real, so it is worth trying.”

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Cuba deal comes from 18 months of secret diplomacy

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U.S. President Barack Obama announces a shift in policy toward Cuba while delivering an address to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 17, 2014

WASHINGTON/MIAMI — The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.

As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada. Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents.

Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.

Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.

“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser.

Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy.

Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga. As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.

He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said.

The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said.

Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too. Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment.

The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back.

“Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

“THE CUBANS WERE DUG IN”

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross.

The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold.

The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended.

Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.

“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa.

By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state. The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation.

With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.

That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral.

But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal.

Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.

And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people.

Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster. From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

“TEARS IN OUR EYES”

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin.

Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.”

Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez.

Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro.

“What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?’” a congressional aide said.

The deal was finalized in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together.

Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners.

Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said.

Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

“We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Anna Yukhananov, Lesley Wroughton and Mark Hosenball in Washington, and Dan Trotta in Havana. Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

Atlantic Resolve mission pushes beyond Baltics into Romania

SMARDAN TRAINING AREA, Romania — Almost 200 U.S. paratroops dropped into Romania on Tuesday and were joined by a ground force of cavalrymen, marking the official expansion into southeastern Europe of a campaign to reassure allies worried about Russia’s intentions.

For almost a year now, U.S. troops have maintained a constant presence in the Baltic states and Poland in response to Russia’ seizure of Ukrainian territory. Now, Operation Atlantic Resolve is moving south, with a series of exercises slated to take place in Romania, Bulgaria — another NATO ally — and the Republic of Georgia, an aspiring NATO member.

“Today marks the beginning of Atlantic Response South,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, as soldiers with the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted onto the training grounds in eastern Romania.

Tuesday’s training exercise, which brought together troops from the 173rd with soldiers from the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment, is the beginning of what is expected to be a steady Army presence in the strategic Black Sea region, Hodges said.

Another major exercise, expected to start in May, will send U.S. troops across the Black Sea by ferry to train with Georgian troops.

Meanwhile, the mission on Tuesday, which included Romanian forces and was part of the Saber Junction exercise, was a test of the U.S. Army’s ability to conduct quick-response missions, traveling long distances on short notice.

Blank range

As Russia conducts snap exercises across its territory and moves large forces on short notice around the country, it is important for the U.S. and its allies to demonstrate their own capabilities, Hodges said.

“This shows we can do this, too,” Hodges said.

On Tuesday, paratroops flew into Romania from Italy, parachuting into Smardan Training Area, where their task was to retake an airfield captured by a fictional enemy.

Meanwhile, troops with the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, convoyed three hours from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, bringing about 20 Stryker vehicles with them. The task of the day was for the troops to gain control of the battlefield, with the 2nd Cavalry holding the territory.

While the 173rd will rotate back home in a few days, troops with the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry, will stay on in Smardan for about a month, working alongside their Romanian counterparts, soldiers said.

Sgt. Jordan Wright, 25, a member of the 2nd Squadron, said he expects the conditions during the next month on the Romanian training site to be austere but beneficial.

“I think it’s going to build a stronger relationship,” said Wright. “This is definitely a mission that feels good to be a part of and show commitment to our allies.”

The increased U.S. presence across the Baltics and into the Black Sea region comes amid concerns over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and, more recently, saber rattling in connection with U.S. and NATO missile defense plans in Europe.

Those plans include Romania. In recent days, Russian officials have also threatened that Denmark would be subject to nuclear targeting if it joined the missile defense effort.

For Hodges, such rhetoric is cause for worry and underscores the need to bolster readiness.

“Only Russia talks about using nuclear weapons. Only Russia threatens nuclear strike,” Hodges said. “I think it is reckless language.”

With U.S. troops arriving by air and land in Romania on Tuesday, the Army was able to show it can move forces quickly in response to a crisis, Hodges said.

“That’s a big, long move that the Army has to be able to do,” Hodges said. “That’s just about the ultimate reassurance.”

Russia positioning nukes to confront NATO?

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WASHINGTON – Moscow could be preparing to move nuclear weapons into the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed last year, and also position them around the strategic Russian enclave of Kaliningrad near the periphery of NATO countries, in possible violation of the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, according to a WND source.

The move would send a message to NATO to limit its eastward progression, in line with the new military doctrine Moscow released in December.

A source who has worked in past U.S. administrations on nuclear-weapon issues told WND that such a buildup in Crimea could include nuclear weapons, and there is a question whether it would be a violation of the 2010 START treaty, since Crimea has been annexed by Russia.

If not strategic nuclear weapons, Moscow could move tactical nukes into Crimea, the source said.

Moscow may already have moved nuclear weapons into Kaliningrad and Crimea, but WND was unable to independently verify the reports.

A May 16, 2002, Congressional Research Service report released by Wikileaks suggests the presence of nuclear weapons already in Kaliningrad, the non-contiguous Russian coastal territory surrounded by Poland and Lithuania.

U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who heads U.S. European Command and is NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, said last November that Russia’s military buildup on the Crimea Peninsula includes cruise and surface-to-air missiles, allowing Moscow to assert military influence in the region.

When Moscow announced its new military doctrine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov staked the claim that Russia has the right to station nuclear weapons in Crimea.

“Crimea was not a non-nuclear zone in an international law sense but was part of Ukraine, a state which doesn’t possess nuclear arms,” Lavrov said. “Now, Crimea has become part of a state which possesses such weapons, in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“In accordance with international law,” he said, “Russia has every reason to dispose of its nuclear arsenal … to suit its interests and international legal obligation.”

Preparing for nuclear war

Peter Vincent Pry, former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, said Moscow has been preparing for a nuclear war, but its intentions have been largely unreported by the establishment media.

“For years, Russia has been embarked on a massive program modernizing its strategic and tactical nuclear forces,” Pry said

Pry, who also is executive director of the congressional advisory Task Force on National and Homeland Security, said Moscow’s preparation for nuclear war with the U.S. are frequent themes on Russian television, “as if preparing the population psychologically.”

He noted Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 6, 2014, told a French television audience that Russia has global nuclear superiority and “is the first in the world in nuclear weapons.”

“Unfortunately,” Pry said, “Putin is right.”

Pry said Moscow is giving strategic nuclear forces the highest priority in its defense budget. He said the Strategic Rocket Forces, as during the Cold War, is “still Russia’s elite service.”

Russia also has a major advantage over the U.S. in tactical nuclear weapons, Pry said, since the U.S. has dismantled virtually all of its tactical nuclear weapons with just a few hundred “obsolete gravity bombs” bunkered in Germany.

Russia has thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, variously estimated at 3,000 to 20,000, he said.

Pry said the Obama administration has tried to “low ball” the numbers and the significance of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which he said “is a grave mistake.”

He said Russia’s advantage today in the nuclear balance is “unprecedented.” The advantages, he said, give Russia “escalation dominance,” which allows Russia to commit aggression unopposed by the U.S. and its allies.

Moscow’s large-scale military exercises aimed at European NATO and the U.S., Pry said, go unanswered, “even by so much as a diplomatic protest.”

The new military doctrine, however, stresses more of a “non-nuclear deterrence” against information warfare and an increase in Special Forces and intelligence to deal with terrorism from Islamic jihadist groups. The threat includes groups resident in Russia’s southern provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, which have many fighters now in Syria.

However, nuclear deterrence will remain part of the new Russian military doctrine, along with maintaining a strong military presence in Kaliningrad and in the Arctic region to stake a claim on valuable untapped energy and mineral resources.

Cold War port

During the Cold War, Kaliningrad was heavily militarized as a strategic point from which to strike NATO countries.

“Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons can only be used in response to an attack involving a weapon of mass destruction or in the event of aggression of a conventional nature that presents a threat to the country’s existence,” according to Anna Maria Dyner of the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

However, the “main potential enemy,” as outlined in the new military doctrine, will be NATO and its involvement with and expansion to countries bordering Russia “or its allies.”

The prospect of placing nuclear weapons in the Crimea and in Kaliningrad is in apparent response to the U.S. plan to place an anti-ballistic missile system in countries bordering Russia.

While the stated purpose of deployment of the anti-missile system in Europe is to stop Iranian missiles, the Russians are under no illusion that the system is to jeopardize its own nuclear deterrence, which Moscow has dubbed a game-changer prompting its response.

Canadian Special Forces Confront ISIS In First Confirmed Coalition Iraq Ground Battle

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Special forces from Canada clashed with Islamic State group fighters in Iraq in recent days, a senior Canadian officer said Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The standoff is the first confirmed ground battle between the extremist group and Western troops, which are currently supporting Iraqi government efforts to repel the group that has seized swathes of territory in the country.

“My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines,” said Canadian special forces commander Brig.-Gen. Michael Rouleau, the news agency reported. “When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gunfire.”

The confrontation was the first time ground troops in Iraq took and returned fire, said the general, who added there were no Canadian injuries in the incident. Western forces have not officially engaged in ground combat in the region though the United States previously launched an unsuccessful hostage-rescue operation.

The participation of coalition forces has helped to stop the advance of ISIS, said Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of the Canadian joint operations command, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The 3-month-old mission has forced the group into a defensive posture, he said, adding, “Now we are degrading them.”

Confirmation of the ground battle came after the coalition’s Combined Joint Task Force said Saturday the U.S. and its allies conducted 29 airstrikes on the group in a 24-hour period. Sixteen strikes took place around seven Iraqi cities, destroying vehicles structures, as well as hitting units belonging to ISIS while other strikes in Syria destroyed tanks and fighting positions, Reuters reported.

The multinational coalition, began carrying out airstrikes on the group in Iraq in August and in Syria in September. ISIS militants have said they want to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region, and have carried out a number of atrocities as they’ve made territorial advances.

Renewable-Energy Investments At $175 Billion So Far This Year As China Solar Spending Soars

China Solar Panels

Worldwide spending on renewable-energy projects reached $175 billion in the first three quarters of 2014, up 16 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China drove the surge with record investment in solar energy, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.

Global spending in the third quarter hit $55 billion, a 12 percent rise from a year earlier. Nearly $20 billion of that came from China, which could add 14 gigawatts of solar capacity this year alone, the London-based research company said. That’s more than all the solar power installed in the United States.

Investment patterns in the third quarter mark a substantial geographical shift, with spending on the rise across Asia and investments tumbling in Europe, Ethan Zindler, a Washington-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said.

“The makeup is really quite different compared with as recently as 2011 or 2012, when Europe accounted for a major share of the total,” Zindler said.

European clean-energy investments dropped to $8.8 billion — the lowest in more than eight years — as governments in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany continue to rein in subsidies that helped spark a boom in project development, the report said.

U.S. spending rose to $7.3 billion from $5.7 billion in the third quarter amid growing demand for residential and commercial rooftop solar systems, Zindler said..

The U.S. was once the world’s top investor in clean energy, but it has fallen behind China in recent years as Chinese leaders move to reduce toxic air pollution from coal-burning power plants and to supply more electricity to the growing middle class.

Kim Hansen via Flickr

Former U.S. senator and first lady Hillary Clinton said last month that she wants to transform the U.S. into the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century.

” Clinton, who mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008 and is considering a second White House bid in 2016 — called on businesses and politicians to confront climate change through “smart investment in infrastructure, technology and environmental protection.”

What’s Up With North Korea’s Kim? It’s a Mystery to CIA

If any of the speculation about Kim Jong Un being in ill health — or worse — proves to be true, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wouldn’t be the first to know about it. No spy agency in the world would.

Theories about the young North Korean dictator’s prolonged absence from public view have underscored the impossibility of penetrating the totalitarian regime’s inner circles, according to former and current officials who have spied on the reclusive nation for the U.S. and South Korea.

Under the cult of personality that surrounds Kim’s family, those around him must demonstrate absolute loyalty, making it almost impossible for intelligence agencies to cultivate human assets for insight.

Information-gathering on the nuclear-armed regime instead relies on what can be gleaned from advanced satellite imagery or signals intelligence, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence sources and methods.

“Even if China, South Korea and the U.S. could penetrate with air, human and military intelligence assets, they are able to get only marginal information about the country,” David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said in a phone interview. “It’s very, very difficult for us to know what Kim Jong Un is thinking, what he’s doing, even where he is and even to gain insight into his intentions.”

Seen Limping

So far, the main public clues have been a report in the rigidly controlled state media that Kim has been suffering “discomfort,” and a video of him limping that produced speculation the rotund ruler might have gout or suffered broken ankles. Beyond that, there’s only the simple fact of his absence from public view for more than five weeks.

State media gave no indication as of 9 a.m. local time that Kim showed up for today’s anniversary celebration of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. Kim Jong Un still appears to be in charge of the country, South Korea Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol said at a briefing in Seoul this morning. The ministry has not been able to confirm the state of Kim’s health, Lim said.

Mausoleum Visit

Kim probably didn’t visit a Pyongyang mausoleum where the bodies of his father and grandfather lie in state as he had done at midnight the previous two years, South Korea’s Yonhap News said, citing a lack of official reports from the North.

The U.S., South Korea and even China, which has been North Korea’s biggest benefactor, monitor unusual military activity in the country for indications of political instability such as a coup or an assassination. U.S. and South Korean defense officials say they haven’t seen abnormal or noticeable changes by the Korean People’s Army to back such scenarios.

The country’s system, devised by state founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, and perfected by his son and successor Kim Jong Il, is “designed to prevent conspiracy, designed to prevent coups,” said Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel who served in Korea, Japan and the Philippines. “And the personal loyalty aspect of it is what prevents outsiders from getting in.”

Most attempts at such insight on North Korea are made by defectors or nongovernmental rights organizations that maintain contact with North Koreans through illegal mobile phones or USB drives that are smuggled in and out across the Chinese border.

Kim’s Wife

Such hit-or-miss information only fans speculation that can’t be confirmed. When Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju was absent from public view for almost two months in 2012, poorly sourced reports flooded social media claiming she’d fallen out of Kim’s favor because of something unsavory in her past.

Kim Jung Bong, who served in South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and now teaches political science at Hanzhong University, call the constant rumors “a real headache” for intelligence officers seeking credible evidence. He cited a rumor last month that a coup led by North Korean military officer Jo Myong Rok had toppled Kim. Jo died in 2010.

The diplomats, spies and human-rights activists who lament such poorly sourced and vetted information are also the biggest consumers of it.

Defectors have broken some of the most important news about North Korea in recent decades, such as the great famine in the 1990s that killed an estimated 2 million people or the botched 2009 currency overhaul that sent the North Korean won plunging 96 percent.

Fiction Industry

South Korean intelligence officials, who can’t be identified due to policy, often joke bitterly that they’re in the fiction industry, in which everyone will believe anything about North Korea. One senior official once lauded the country for its ability to reduce the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies to interpreting state propaganda videos and official statements.

The starkest evidence of North Korea’s opacity was the December 2011 death of Kim’s father Kim Jong Il, whose fatal heart attack was hidden from the world for two days before state media announced the news.

At least there was a line of succession then. After suffering a debilitating stroke in October 2008, Kim Jong Il had three years to prepare a hereditary succession and had three sons and two daughters from which to choose.

Should young Kim suffer a sudden death, the stakes are higher because there is no clear path of succession. There’s been no mention in state media of the young Kim and his wife Ri having children.

Purges, Execution

That raises the prospect of powerful figures in the military taking over and struggling to claim the divine right of leadership that the Kim dynasty had cultivated.

The young Kim consolidated his grip on power by purging senior officials, including the removal in July 2012 of Chief of the General Staff Ri Yong Ho, who guided him in the succession process. In December, Kim removed his uncle and de facto deputy, Jang Song Thaek, on charges of factionalism and graft, and then had him executed.

“With all of the purges of hundreds of officials in the last several years, really there is no sense as to who the next leader would be if there is a sudden departure by Kim,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based policy research group.

“No one knows who would get the golden ring of power,” said Klingner, a former head of the CIA’s Korea branch. “There would be concerns over factional fighting, loss of control of nuclear weapons, and perhaps North Korea lashing out at its neighbors. So even though it doesn’t look like North Korea’s on the edge of a political overthrow now, in a way it’s one bullet or one heart attack away from a crisis.”

Contingency Plans

The U.S. and South Korea have military contingency plans for possible scenarios in North Korea, including regime collapse, an invasion of South Korea and provocations short of all-out war.

Operations Plan 1527 maps a course of action for U.S. and South Korean troops in response to a military invasion. Concept Plan 5029 outlines six to 10 “less serious” scenarios, including regime collapse. In addition to these plans, which are rehearsed and updated yearly, the U.S. and South Korea installed a combined response plan to counter any provocations from the North.

“It’s not that we’re not prepared,” said Maxwell of Georgetown University. “The alliance has been preparing for some time. If there’s a sudden change in the regime, then the question is one, will we know it; two, when will we know it; and then of course what actions will we take?”

While the world would be better off without the Kim regime, Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said, “there is concern about the ramifications if there is a sudden collapse.”

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