As tensions have ratcheted up on the Korean peninsula following a new round of provocative actions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK; North Korea), the prospect of war has once more become prominent. Renewed hostilities between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK; South Korea) is an old and oft studied scenario for the U.S. military. Although potential combat is likely to be intense, there is consensus that ROK forces and their U.S. allies would eventually prevail.
There is a great deal less clarity about what might happen after a military defeat of the DPRK. Military analyst and Columbia University professor Austin Long has taken a very interesting look at the prospect of an insurgency arising from the ashes of the regime of Kim Jong Un. Long does not confine the prospect of an insurgency in the north to a post-war scenario; it would be possible following any abrupt or forcible collapse of authority.
Long begins by looking at some of the historical factors for insurgency in a post-regime change environment and then examines each in the North Korean context. These include 1) unsecured weapons stockpiles; 2) elite regime forces;3) disbanded mass armies; 4) social network ties; 5) mobilizing ideology; and 6) sanctuary. He concludes that “the potential for an insurgency beginning after the collapse of the DPRK appears contingent but significant.”
With so much focus on the balance of conventional conflict, the potential for insurgency in North Korea might be of secondary concern. Hopefully, recent U.S. experience with the consequences of regime change will lead political and military planners to take it seriously.