The regime in North Korea is going to be tough to dislodge. Kim Jong Il is firmly entrenched in power, and has created such a climate of fear that there are few who are prepared to challenge him. It is evident that Kim Jong Il enjoys tremendous popular support from his people, and regardless of how mischeivious the techniques have been to achieve this, people strongly identify with him and will not easily be persuaded to support an opposing force. If only there was an opposing force.
There is no organised opposition group whatsoever that could be identified. This is little wonder given that it is known amongst the population that the penalty for opposing KJI is to be banished to the political prisons which dot the northern part of the country, possibly along with successive generations of family members. All senior figures are therefore, publicly at least, highly supportive of the regime. It is possible that deep within the KPA or the KWP that there is a clique in opposition to the regime, but it will be near impossible for it to act on it's anti-KJI sentiments. Decades of glorification of the Kims as well as the threat of severe punishment has left civil society within DPRK non-existant.
As to the nuclear situation, things are no clearer having gone into DPRK than they were beforehand. Our guide confirmed the statement made by the government on Feb 10, which confirmed its nuclear status, but said little on the subject beyond that. There is plenty of conjecture on the subject, but it seems fair to assume that DPRK has nuclear capacity, or is not far away from acquiring it. Rather than possession nuclear weapons for the purpose of using them, the North Koreans are possessiong them to strengthen their bargaining position for any future negotiations. The more of a threat the DPRK is, the more it can demand diplomatically and financially from the rest of the world. The withdrawl of North Korea from the six-party talks last month will be temporary, since it doesn't serve the DPRK's interests to kill off the bargaining process which will eventually give it what it wants.
Ultimately, the Kim Jong Il regime is focussed on self-preservation. The suggestion has recently been aired that the rest of the world will has to make a choice - either push for the end of nuclear weapons in North Korea, or push for the removal of Kim Jong Il, but that achieving the daily double is unlikely, at least in the short term. Taking self-preservation sa the objective, the DPRKers may well cut a deal along the lines of "we'll give up our nukes, so long as you don't make us the next Iraq", hence ensuring that the regime will be around for a while yet.
Presuming that one day the North Korean regime collapses, the next question to be confronted is that of how to integrate two Koreas into one. The effort required to bring North Korea up to the first world living standards that are currently enjoyed in the south. The infrastructure in the North seems poor, and will need plenty of investment. Industry is very unsophisticated, and will need to improve. For reunification to succeed, the rest of the world will need to give a blank cheque to the new Korea if it is to be a success. A massive cost, but it will be worth every Won if it works.
One day Korea will be one, and the journey from Seoul to Pyongyang will be a languid day trip taken by families carrying picnic baskets filled with kimchi. For now, the Korean peninsula is at the front line of one of the most dangerous disputes the planet has known. Resolution is a long and tricky path, but can ultimately be achieved - what is needed is a two-step solution. The first objective needs to be one of containment, stripping DPRK of its nuclear weapons and reducing the immediate threat. The second step needs to happen some time later, with the ending of the Kim regime, either through voluntary reunification or the application of force, to acheive the same end. Either way, the days of KJI and his thugs are numbered, though the countdown has a while to go yet.
One last thing...
Three weeks after it was sent, my postcard from Pyongyang arrived at my home in Australia. Curious to see just how sensitive the North Korean satire-meter was, I wrote this mildly amusing piece of smartarsery on the back:
I hope you are all well in the land of Oz. Here people are happy, food is plentiful, architecture is tasteful and I'm an alien. We've had great fun all day celebrating the birthday of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il who runs the joint. Lucky Kim!!
Lucky for me, it got through.