1991 saw the collapse of the USSR into its constituent republics, a victory for the Western world, or so we all thought. Nearly twenty years on and Eastern foreign policy is a nightmare of dozens of regional crises all ruled over by a spectrum of fairly friendly governments (at least capable of doing business with) to downright hostile regimes. One more Cold War relic, however, has yet to thaw: North Korea. And when it does, some year, the consequences could be dire, not just for South Korea, as everyone assumes, but China as well.
Kim Jong-il's recent, still rumored, stroke put him out of the "public" eye for a few months this past autumn and winter. While he rules as Commander-in-Chief (his late father, Kim il-Sung, is still technically President of the state) the Dear Leader can't live forever, despite his "divinity." I postulate in my JauntWorld timeline a disaster effectively removing the Kim Dynasty from power some time in the nearly distant future, a vacuum filled by the military. This would have repercussions not just politically, but economically. No country with its lid welded on as tightly as North Korea's simply goes from bad to good; a real-life lesson was the ex-USSR; we've all seen how well that's worked out. If the various cadres and parties in North Korea were to be suddenly freed from the Kims, chances are the People's Republic would be carved out into dozens of fiefdoms at the mercy of any strongman (generals, perhaps), a medieval scenario no respectable or responsible outside country would want on their foreign policy plates. China and South Korea would be flooded with refugees and old scores would be settled (post-America Vietnam, anyone?). The chances China or even Russia would intervene to "keep the peace"—as those two nations have done so brilliantly in the separatist Uighur and South Ossetia enclaves—are quite high.
We ignore the Kim succession plan at our own peril.
Update, 04/09: He's appeared in public, and he's not looking too hot.
Who Will Succeed North Korea's Kim Jong-il?
Profile: Kim Jong-il
North Korean Leader Appears In Public