Dictator Kim Jong Il Dead at Age 69; What Happens to North Korea Now?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died this week after 17 years as leader of the communist nation. State television portrayed men and women of all ages crying in the streets, though skeptics said they believe the persons were paid actors.

Despite the fact that he was a tyrant and prone to delusion, the passing of Kim Jong Il is troubling given that little is known about what goes on inside the most isolated nuclear-armed country in the world.

Many are left to wonder what will happen next. Experts remain on the fence on whether his son and successor Kim Jong Un can be an effective leader. Some have even gone so far as to suggest a possible military coup. Either way, whether or not Kim Jong Un can hold power, the instability of the transition has the potential to further set back efforts for North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapon program.

Long before his death, Kim Jong Il had named his third son, Kim Jong Un, who was promoted to the rank of a four-star general late last year, to be the nation’s successor. His eldest son fell out of favor when he was arrested for traveling with a forged passport in an attempt to visit Disneyland (true story).

Kim Jong Il was said to be 69 when he suffered a heart complication and died on a train, where he spent much of his time due to an extreme phobia of flying, on December 17. According to Russian records, however, he was born in Siberia in 1941 and was 70 years old. The Il dynasty began with his father Jim Jong Sung and they are known to alter details of their life histories to be in synch with certain myths and numerical synchronicity.

As such, North Korean folklore has it that Kim was born on Mount Paektu in 1942, one of North Korea’s most cherished sites, in a birth heralded in the heavens by a pair of rainbows and a brilliant new star. In fact, he was born while his parents were in exile.

The dictator’s death may bring new opportunities for countries to open roads of peace that were impossible while he lived and ruled with an iron fist. Unfortunately, there is nearly no information about the young leader Kim Jong Un. He did attend a private school in Europe as a teenager under a pseudonym, and friends from that era describe him as being friendly and having a good sense of humor. Looking at his more recent pictures however, he has grown the dour expression one would expect from a dictator.

The death of Kim Jong Il did not come as a total surprise as reports of the ruler’s declining heath had been known. Kim Jong Il allegedly suffered a stroke in 2008, but appeared healthy in recent photos from his visits to China and Russia. China claims to be “distressed” over his passing, expressing “deep grief” for the death of a long-time friend. How friendly the two regimes truly are is up for debate following releases from Wikileaks earlier this year that showed the Chinese regime appeared fed up with Il’s unusual attitude and antics.

Other nations spoke out as well, offering condolences, and hopes for freedom. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, “We hope that one day the North Korean people will find freedom,” reaffirming it’s support on humanitarian projects in North Korea.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle looks at the passing of Kim Jung Il with promise, saying that there was “hope that a window of opportunity will open for the people of North Korea,” while Japan has indicated that Kim Jon Il’s passing will not create a setback for the people of North Korea. The U.K Foreign Minister extended the nation’s hope and support for the people of North Korea, in light of Kim Jong Il’s passing.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak responded to Kim Jong Il’s death, saying, “For the sake of the future of the Republic of Korea, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is more important than anything else. It should not be threatened by what has happened. We must make thorough preparations to maintain peace and stability and continue to work closely with the international community…All citizens are asked to go about their lives without wavering so that peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula will not be hampered.”

South Korea has strengthened its borders and said that it will not be sending a delegate to the dictator’s funeral. The high alert follows a decision by North Korea to conduct short-range missile tests shortly after the death announcement.

One of the last Cold-War leaders, Kim Jong Il, or “Dear Leader” as his subjects called him, was always in pursuit of nuclear weaponry, despite the numerous calls for disarming from around the world. This, in addition to his poor handling of a countrywide famine leading to the death of as much as 15 percent of his nation’s population, gained him a bad reputation and made him an antagonist of the U.S.

In 2002 President George W. Bush’s referred to the nation as being a part of an “Axis of Evil.”