OK, so as we have seen Europe has the potential to turn into one long thumping headache for the Coalition. But at its heart, it is an economic and political problem – one that will be solved, or at least ameliorated, by hours and hours of meetings, talks and policy proposals. What’s brewing up down in the Yellow Sea on the other hand could be a lot nastier.
The West is used to viewing Kim Jong Il as part comic opera dictator, part evil genius. What’s more concerning about the Cheonan incident is the possibility that it was not done on the orders of Kim Jong Il, but was done as part of an internal power struggle in Pyongyang. Now, I know two parts of bugger all about the power system in North Korea – which is something I have in common with most of the West – but a power vacuum in a nuclear-armed totalitarian state is not a good thing. As Reudiger Frank says:
If the North Koreans torpedoed the ship, and if it was not done after a self-destructive order by Kim Jong Il, this may be proof of a destabilization of the current leadership in Pyongyang. Sinking the Cheonan without consent by the top leader would be an open act of insubordination. An autocratic leader who does not have his lieutenants under control becomes a liability to the system. It is fear and the unchallenged authority of the top that keeps an autocracy together. Many of us have argued that such considerations had allowed Kim Jong Il to take over power from his father so smoothly despite his very different personality: the elite knew that regime stability depended on a strong and undisputed leader, and he was the only realistic candidate for the job.
This could be about to get extremely messy.