The rumored death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could set off what one expert calls a “humanitarian disaster,” sparking a potential refugee exodus and potentially leading to a military struggle in the area.
There have been conflicting reports about Kim’s health, with a report on Saturday claiming he had died after a cardiovascular procedure that went awry. The report came after weeks of speculation about Kim’s health, with fears first being raised after he missed a ceremony on April 25 celebrating the birthday of his grandfather, the country’s founding father. Kim has been a fixture at these state-sponsored events as well as military exercises, one of which he also missed that week.
If Kim were to die, it has the potential to destabilize the region and may lead to a surge in refugees to the U.S. and South Korea, a military expert claims. David Maxwell, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Military Times that his death could lead to internal upheaval and eventually a military conflict that “will make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison.”
Maxwell said that Kim’s death could bring a “humanitarian disaster that will unfold in North Korea.” He noted that there is no clear line of succession for North Korea, and though there is speculation that sister Kim Yo Jong would rise to the country’s top leadership position, that is not set in stone and the North Korean government has said nothing officially about it.
If there is no clear plan for succession, North Korea’s regime could collapse as the Workers Party of Korea is not seen as being able to govern the country or maintain the proper military cohesion.
That could ultimately lead to civil war within North Korea, he predicted.
“South Korea, China, and Japan (via boat) are going to have to deal with potential large scale refugee flows,” he said. “Units of the North Korean People’s Army are going to compete for resources and survival. This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war.”
The exact condition of Kim Jong Un’s health remains unclear, with North Korea not yet confirming or denying the reports of his death. President Donald Trump this week also downplayed reports that the North Korean leader was in dire health, saying they may have been based off old information. He wished Kim well, offering his hopes for a full recovery.