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BLITZER'S BLOG: Tense times ahead as North Korea transitions
December 19th, 2011
03:26 PM ET

BLITZER'S BLOG: Tense times ahead as North Korea transitions

By Wolf Blitzer, CNN

(CNN) - Exactly a year ago, I spent six days in North Korea. It was an incredibly tense time on the Korean peninsula but things eventually calmed down. The past year has been relatively quiet.

But I now fear that could change with the death of Kim Jong Il. This is likely to be a very tense time as the transition to his young and untested son, Kim Jong Un, unfolds.

What’s most important right now is for everyone to take a deep breath and calm down. One miscalculation – by North or South Korea, or the United States or Japan – could result in disaster.

Remember: there are more than a million North Korean troops along the Demilitarized Zone, and nearly a million South Korean troops. About 28,000 American troops are in the area as well.

The North Koreans not only have thousands of conventional rockets and missiles aimed at the South, but they also have a small nuclear arsenal.

When I was in Pyongyang, I was impressed by the sophistication of the elite leadership. The nuclear negotiators and diplomats knew what was going on in the world.

They spoke English well. Some had lived in New York representing North Korea at the United Nations. Others had served at North Korean embassies in London and elsewhere in Europe.

They, of course, are in sharp contrast to the 99% of the North Korean population who really have no clue about the outside world. They hear only North Korean official propaganda on their televisions and radios – if they are lucky enough to have televisions or radios.

The social media revolution has not come to North Korea. Forget about unrestricted Internet service or Facebook or Twitter. That’s not happening.

North Korea is a very poor country. The leadership has trouble feeding its own people even as they spend whatever money they have on the military.

As potentially dangerous as it is right now on the Korean peninsula – and it is – there is also a small window of opportunity for an easing of tensions and an easing of

North Korea’s isolation. But that will require outstanding diplomacy and lots of luck.

Follow Wolf Blitzer on Twitter: @WolfBlitzerCNN

RELATED STORY: North Korea: Should we fear change?

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Filed under: North Korea • Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. BD

    I was shocked by the disrespectful reporting this evening on CNN covering the death of a foreign leader. Jeanne Moos did another tasteless segment on the mocking of the Korean leader. If we don't agree with a foreign leader, their policies, treatment of their people or world view the news is there to expose the information and inform the world of the facts. To openly disrespect a nation and its fallen leader is tasteless. North Korea is now an unstable state with unknown leadership. We do not win a war of ideals and inspire the people to open up to our freedoms and capitalism by insulting their fallen leader. I expect more from Wolfblitzer and the producers at CNN.

    December 19, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  2. geesam47

    THe U.S. should send food to the people after the funeral. Small actions can make the people think larger over time. But we shouldn't think all we be well in quick time.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  3. nepetacataria

    Interesting to see the difference between our 99% and N Korea's 99%

    December 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  4. Thomas

    Korean Spring

    Imagine living in a country with such poverty . Looking at your two neighbors who are thriving. China is not looking forward to millions of refuges coming across the river looking for sanitary. And South Korea is not looking forward to the economic drain that will a cur if reunification dose happen.
    It will cost 80 times the cost of the reunification of East and West Germany.
    Look for a coup , a late Asian Spring . Any military confrontation between North and South Korea would be a burden to China economically.

    The Power of the Iphone !

    December 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  5. Rich

    Only time will tell Wolf. No one knows what the future brings to North Korea. The rest of the world is just along for the ride.
    America has it's own problems. Worst case scenario North Korea shoost off a nuke. If that happened then it would be the end of North Korea. End of story. America has more nuclear weapons then any other country in the world and no one is worried about it. Not because Americas leaders are intellectually superior or have more ethics that other country America has invaded and attacked more countries in the last 10 years then the rest of the world in the last 20.

    We may need to think about who is the greatest threat to the rest of the world and ourselves.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  6. cja

    I see many photos of "Kim II" and now "Kim III" standing in front of a group of army officers. I wonder is he out in front to lead them or maybe the officers are (figuratively?) holding guns to his back and forcing him to wave and smile. Especially with the new 20 year old Kim. Is he really leading or is he only standing in front so the others can keep their eyes on him.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  7. Keith

    Unfortunately, the statements above are probably true concerning the near future. Personally, I feel it all going very badly, very quickly. Not only in Korea, but in Iraq as well.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  8. Patriot

    This will be a time where the United States needs to be sincere in their diplomatic approaches. This is a chance that hasnt come around in decades. We must work with a "New" North Korean regime to not only ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula but gauge the new regime. The United States must stand up for our beliefs all the while compromising on some areas to let the North Koreans know we are firm in our stance yet willing to accomodate.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  9. caj

    Who cares......such a small country and so easy to wipe off the face of the earth if we need to. Be vigilant, not afraid.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Not even Christian

      Is that what Jesus would have said? let's just "wipe people off the face of the Earth" – nice – very evolved.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Person

      Do you have any friends or family who live in S.Korea, Japan, or Australia? I'm guessing you don't.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  10. DCE

    More like lots of prayer!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  11. sonmoonstar

    As a goodwill gesture, there's free kimchi for everyone.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  12. Anthony Miggiani

    Hi Wolf.


    CNN footage showed over and over again Kim making his way to the podium constantly guiding himself with his right hand/arm along the guard rail. Notice the very young uniformed officer walking in tandem behind him? OBVIOUSLY NO BODYGUARD. Notice the officer's downward attention every step of the way with arms seemingly reaching down. Look closely. Kim is not walking, but gliding while trying to keep his balance! Why? Because Kim is riding on top of a cart/doily being pushed by that young officer, but so no one can see. A sign of Kim's frailty at the time of the video. Then watch Kim struggle to sit down immediately to applause. Ya wanna bet?

    Now the saga begins. Will Kim's son, third generation product of the communist country's founder, be able to rule with his European education mettle, or will he be pushed to carry on with his family's dictatorship? Interesting times ahead.

    Anthony Miggiani.
    Toronto, Canada

    December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  13. Phil in KC

    I would like to better understand why Kim Jong Il chose his youngest son – someone who is obviously inexperienced. I have heard that his oldest son made a political faux pax a while back, but is there no one else? I am encouraged when I hear that he was educated in Switzerland and is multilingual. Maybe it gives him a different perspective.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Person

      I'm not sure how much of this is true but apparently his older son is compassionate and what Kim Jong-il describes as feminine. He picked his youngest son because he reminds him of himself. From what I hear, his son may be even more ruthless. At a young age he would criticize and lash out at men twice his age.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  14. Mike

    Anyone but me notice a lack of tears from the grieving citizens of North Korea. I see a lot of people who appear to be crying and over dramatic displays of grief. Looks like a show for the cameras to me. I haven't seen anyone who appears to be sincerely upset.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  15. Andrew Hartshorn

    Here we go again! 30,000 US troops in S. Korea. Why doesn't the US send the Iraqii troops over there and start a new war. For a so called 'christian' country, the US sure likes to make wars.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  16. Jim Thomas

    This is going to take a very good bunch of peaople to handle the situation.I would appoint Colin Powell to be in charge and 4 other people for a panel to take care of the situation.It has to be people with brains and musle to handle the problem.Jim Thomas Phx.Az.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  17. Truth and Nothing But The Truth

    North Korea is a very poor country. The leadership has trouble feeding its own people even as they spend whatever money they have on the military
    It is painfully obvious that all the "evil rich" people have bankrupted the country and oppressed the middle class in North Korea. Workers of the world, unite! Break out the guillotines and pitch forks and ... wait a minute!

    Think people. Think real hard....

    December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  18. Grady

    even demi-gods die...sooner or later they all pass into oblivion.
    this presents an opportunity to a new leadership, tear down the walls and join the rest of the human race or continue to suffer the existense of a pariah....We can look forward to an interesting, if not dangerous, time as an internal power struggle ensues between those who resist change and those who may want to drag their country from the darkness into the light.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  19. cali girl

    There is a saying,"You knew what you were with when you were with it." No doubt we will be on the edge of our seats waiting to see what will happen next. Hopefully for S Korea there be peace, but we can not ignore the facts. Kim Jong Il held no love for any country not even his own. Watched over his people starving to death and have no feelings about it.
    The apple does not fall far from the tree, we can only hope everything will be alright.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Griff

    "You're carrying far too much baggage itnto this, Wolfi. No more than Kim Jong was in control, will the younger be in control. It's a dictatorship yes, but as in most; nobody knows who really holds that power."

    December 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

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