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April 10, 2013

N. Korea keeps locals guessing

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — Area residents with knowledge of the situation said they were unsure how military threats by North Korea would progress.

Robert Compton, SUNY Oneonta Associate Professor of Africana and Latino Studies and Political Science, said the heightened tension is the result of the country’s transition to its current leader, Kim Jong Un. Kim took over the post on the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his own father. 

The dynastic succession model is firmly in place, but every time it happens, “the leadership has to consolidate its power,” Compton said. “We’d like to think it is a monolith, but that is not the case.” 

Compton speculated that the power struggle may be an example of the military trying to assert its control over policymaking.

While some popular media in this country have uggested Kim is crazy, that is not the case, Compton said.  But the professor acknowledged that Kim’s reasoning may be erratic, or based on information that’s inaccurate or limited.

Like the North Korean leader, our ability to understand the current situations is based on limited information, Compton said. 

“We don’t know what the military is doing,” he pointed out. However, it remains “a very tense situation, especially with the American presence. Something can go wrong, but I don’t expect a large scale conflict,” he said.

North Korea’s isolation since the collapse of the Soviet Union have made it difficult for Western analysts to penetrate. But one area resident has seen the country firsthand. 

SUNY Oneonta senior Shawn Dacey visited North Korea last spring, along with stops in China and South Korea. The geography and social studies education major said he has a love of travel.

Dacey agreed with Compton that it has hard to say what is happening, and that there is not a lot of information about Kim. 

“He is enjoying being in the spotlight and he will perpetuate that,” Dacey, a 2009 graduate of Delaware Academy Central School, said. “He is pushing the envelope as far as he can to see what he can get away with and establish himself.” 

Kim knows that if he starts a war he will lose, Dacey said. But it is hard to know if he wants to go down in a blaze or if he is just testing the limits.

From what Dacey saw on his trip, it seemed North Korea was trying to improve its relations with the world, he said. Kim was popular, and mentioned about such things as the disparities between those who live in the city and country, talking about how “we need to come together and help everyone.”

But with tests of nuclear bombs and missile launches, things are going backwards. 

The current situation is “unsettling” to South Koreans, Dacey said, but “it’s something they have had to live with for years.”