Video: As Kim Jong Il dies, what’s next for North Korea?

  1. Closed captioning of: As Kim Jong Il dies, what’s next for North Korea?

    >>> good evening. it's more than just the death of a dictator. kim jong -il of north korea is gone. we believe his son is taking over , but it's the fact that for example we don't really know for sure how old his son is or who is running a big dangerous nuclear-armed and isolated country that has ushered in a new period of uncertainty. some background here briefly beforehand. there are 24 million people in north korea , most of them very poor. it is believed malnutrition affects one in three children. it is further believed a famine a few years back killed a million people. the north korea military is the world's fifth largest. of course we fought a war over korea and have well over 20,000 troops there. they are now believed to be in possession of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons by the ton. it's against that backdrop that we are not just covering the death of an aging and sick dictator. we now look at what happens next as well. we begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell . andrea, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening. the sudden death of kim jong -il known to his people as dear leader creates hunl uncertainties. for now pyongyang's residents don't know who will be in charge of the nuclear weapons . on state tv, images of sobbing north koreans in declining health since a stroke in 2008 north korea said kim died suddenly of a heart attack two days after this picture was taken. emotions seemed to grip the anchor on state television who broke the news. named as his successor kim 's untested youngest son kim jong -un. president obama made a midnight call to reassure south korea 's president. the u.s. with more than 28,000 troops on the peninsula will stand with the south.

    >> we reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of north korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being.

    >> reporter: kim jong -il's reign of terror lasted 17 years. menacing his neighbors with nuclear weapons , holding his own people hostage with prison camps and starvation. two years ago it took a former president to free two american journalists who strayed across the border from china. kim did not look the part. so short he wore elevated heels, adding inches more with bouffant hair, favoring olive drab jumpsuits and oversized sunglasses. drinking cognac and fine wine while millions of his people starved. kim traveled with a harem of women some called his joy brigade in a luxurious railroad car . he collected hollywood films and videos of the chicago bulls . when secretary of state madeline albright visited in 2007 she discussed normalizing relations with the u.s. she gave him a basketball signed by michael jordan . kim staged a military pageant for her benefit. she said she had no illusions.

    >> i can assure you these glasses i have on are not rose-colored.

    >> reporter: kim had years to emulate the cult of personality created by his father, the nation's founder, kim il -sung. now his youngest son takes over. does he have the skill to control the military or will he be a figurehead? almost nothing is known about him. he's believed to be 28 years old, was educated briefly in switzerland. unlike his father has had little time to prepare for his new role.

    >> one of the big questions as we look down the road is whether this is going to be a successful leadership transition or whether the regime will simply not be able to hold it together.

    >> reporter: this is a regime that has confounded generations of american leaders. while u.s. intelligence repeatedly fails to anticipate north korea 's nuclear progress and its missile test.

    >> they are going to send signals that they are tough and don't mess with us. so i think i would expect some more. hopefully they are not going to do it in a way that provokes south korea to respond in kind.

    >> reporter: kim 's death comes on the very day that u.s. diplomats in china were to meet with north korean counterparts on a new food aid for disargumentment agreement that is now on permanent hold.

    >> what do you look for anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks?

    >> reporter: or even longer. the real worry is loose nukes. just who's in charge of those weapons? and the fear of provocative military action by a young leader trying to prove himself or the military trying to show its muscle. and the u.s. is urging south korea , of course, to remain calm but there is no love lost for the so-called dear leader . tonight john mccain said, i can only express satisfaction, quote, that the dear leader is joining the likes of gadhafi, bin laden , hitler and stalin in a warm corner of hell.

    >> a lot of people are making fun of the pictures of mourners because some of them look aware of the camera and perhaps coerced to some eyes.

    >> reporter: exactly.

    >> andrea mitchell in our washington bureau starting us off tonight. staff and news service reports
updated 12/19/2011 7:12:51 PM ET 2011-12-20T00:12:51

As the world digests news of the death of despot Kim Jong Il, 10 facts paint a picture of North Korea's isolation from the international community.

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1. High militarized area
The border between North and South Korea is one of the most militarized areas in the world, according to the State Department, with a combined total of almost two million military personnel under the control of Pyongyang (1.2 million), Seoul (680,000) and foreign powers including the United States (28,000). North Korean arms outnumber those in the South by about two to one, including offensive weapons such as tanks, long-range artillery, aircraft and armored personnel carriers. However, much of the military equipment in North Korea is obsolete.

2. Still at war
Both sides are technically in a state of war, after a ceasefire halted the Korean War more than 50 years ago. Tensions reached their highest levels in years in 2010 with the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors. The South blamed the attack on Pyongyang, but North denied responsibility. Later that year, the North bombarded a South Korean island, the first such attack against civilian target since the 1950-53 Korean War.

3. 51 social categories
North Korea groups its citizens into 51 social categories, graded by loyalty to the regime, according to The Economist. Of those groups, 29 are considered to make up a mostly rural underclass that is hostile or at best ambivalent towards the regime.

4. Gourmet cuisine, starvation
Kim Jong Il had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, while four in five of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition because food is poorly distributed. In March, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 6 million North Koreans needed food aid and a third of children were chronically malnourished or stunted  Daily potato rations have been cut by a third, to two for each person.

5. 2 inches shorter
Analysis of escapees from North Korea shows that those born after the partitioning of the Korean Peninsula in the North were consistently about 2 inches shorter than their counterparts in the South, according to a 2004 report in Economics and Human Biology. The minimum height for recruitment to the North Korean army is reported to have fallen by just under an inch. The well-nourished Kim Jong Un was fit enough to have been a keen basketball player while at school in Switzerland, according to fellow students.

6. Secret children
Kim Jong Un was kept from public view until September 2010, when he was 27 years old. The existence of his eldest brother, who was passed over in Monday's succession, was hidden completely from grandfather Kim Il Sung until his death in 1994.

7. 'Clairvoyant wisdom'
North Korea is famous for its colorful use of language, praising its leaders and denouncing its critics. Monday's statement announcing Kim Jon Il’s death ran to 1,500 words, and was addressed to "All Party Members, Servicepersons and People." It praised his "clairvoyant wisdom" and said he had "put the dignity and power of the nation on the highest level and ushered in the golden days of prosperity unprecedented in the nation's history." It concluded: "Arduous is the road for our revolution to follow and grim is the present situation. But no force on earth can check the revolutionary advance of our party, army and people under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un."

8. China crucial
North Korea's survival depends on crucial trade with China: Last year, trade between the two was worth an estimated $3.5 billion, up nearly 30 per cent from 2009.

9. What a golfer!
Kim Jong Il piloted jet fighters, according to the country's propaganda machine, even though he traveled by land for his infrequent trips abroad, reputedly because he was nervous about flying. He penned operas, had a photographic memory, produced movies and accomplished a feat unmatched in the annals of professional golf, shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played — if North Korea is to be believed.

10. War, war or jaw, jaw?
Despite the regular tensions, at least one expert thinks the North and South have too much to lose from a full-scale military conflict. Dr Jim Hoare, a British former diplomat who served in the country, told that both sides had "gone to the brink of conflict several times" but stopped short. "Seoul [20 miles from the border] is a vulnerable city and the North would face annihilation," told

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Kim Jong Il through the years

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  1. Happy family

    Kim Jong Il as a child with his father Kim Il Sung and first wife Kim Jong Suk. (Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Young student

    A1963 photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong Il when he was a student of Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. With his friends

    Kim Jong Il, second person from right, takes part of a souvenir picture with his friends in this undated photo. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Official business

    In his young days working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Training exercise

    Kim Jong Il leads the firearms training of the February 2nd National Sport Defense team members while he was working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Meeting with farmers

    Kim Jong Il talks with farmers when he was in the Central Committee, May 21, 1971. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Test drive

    Kim Jong Il takes a test drive of a play equipment combat plane in Taesong amusement park, Pyongyang in North Korea,Oct. 2, 1977. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Filmmaking

    Kim Jong Il gives advice at the shooting of "An Jung Geun Avenges Hirobumi Ito," a narrative film. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Father and son

    Kim Jong Il was anointed successor to his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1980. Known as the "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung and his son are shown attending a Korean Worker's Party convention in October of that year. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Family portrait

    Kim Jong Il, bottom left, poses memebers of his family in this 1981 photo in Pyongyang, North Korea. Sitting at right is his son, Jong-Nam, Kim's sister-in-law Sung Hye-Rang stands at top left with her daughter Lee Nam-Ok, center and son Lee Il-Nam, top right. While virtually nothing is known about the leader's personal life, an attempt by his first-born son Kim Jong Nam, bottom right, to enter Japan on a false passport in May, 2001, briefly shone a light onto his family's private dealings. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Applause please

    Kim Jong Il meets with Korean People's Army personnel in this Sept., 1988, photo. North Korea is believed to be the most heavily militarized country in the world on a per capita basis. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Like father, like son

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il stands next to his father, Kim Il Sung, inspecting a football field in Pyongyang. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Silent famine

    Residents of Taziri, North Korea, wait for Red Cross food supplies in December 1995, not long after the death of Kim Il Sung left Kim Jong Il in control of the country. At the time, around 130,000 North Koreans were reportedly on the brink of famine and 500,000 were homeless. (Calvi Parisetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kim looking at things

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspects cucumbers harvested inside the 770th army base near Nyon Won power plant in Pyonan-Namdo. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Frenemies?

    South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, right, hugs North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the end of their summit meeting at the airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. The two leaders held historic talks for three days in June 2000. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A visitor from Russia

    Kim Jong Il walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, as he arrived in Pyongyang in July 2000 for talks on halting North Korea's missile-development program. (Itar-tass / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Toasting the U.S.

    Kim Jong Il toasts U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a dinner in Pyongyang in October 2000. The visit was part of an coordinated effort by Washington and its allies South Korea and Japan to end the country's isolation. (Chien-min Chung / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A giant leader

    A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il displayed at an entrance of the foreign ministry in Pyongyang August 2002. (Shingo Ito / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Welcoming Japan

    Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, left, shakes hands with Kim Jong Il after signing a joint statement at the end of a one-day summit in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002. North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and using them to train spies. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crowds in the square

    In January 2003, more than one million people gathered on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to hear political leaders hail North Korea's dramatic decision to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Tearful goodbyes

    Emotional South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean families following a brief reunion in July 2004. The families were separated by the border that was imposed after fighting ended in 1953. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. X marks the spot

    A South Korean protester holds a picture of Kim Jong Il marked with a cross during a rally in Seoul on July 7, 2006. Demonstrators denounced Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Wining and dining

    South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun joins Kim Jong Il at a farewell lunch in Pyongyang on Oct. 4, 2007, after the two sides signed a pledge to seek a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old cease-fire that ended the Korean War. With no treaty in place, the two countries technically are still at war. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Military matters

    Kim Jong Il visits a military unit in this picture released by North Korea's official news agency on Aug. 11, 2008. It was Kim's last public appearance before intelligence officials suggested he had fallen gravely ill. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. In the public eye again

    In this image taken from North Korea's KRT state television, Kim Jong II attends the first session of the Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, 2009, in Pyongyang. It was his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke in August 2008. (APTN) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Paying his respects

    A gaunt-looking Kim Jong Il, sitting center in the front row, is surrounded by high-ranking officials during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of his father's death on July 8, 2009. Kim Il Sung, who founded North Korea, remains known as the country's"eternal president." (KCNA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Visit from Clinton

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, right, meets with Kim Jong Il, left front, in Pyongyang on Aug. 4, 2009. North Korea pardoned and released two detained U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, after the meeting. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Calling on a cotton farm

    Kim Jong Il inspects a cotton plant farm of the Korean People's Army's 1596 unit on Nov. 29, 2009. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Meet-and-greet

    Kim Jong Il waves as people including soldiers applaud during a visit to the construction site of the Kumyagang Army-People Power Station in South Hamgyong Province in an undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency in August, 2010. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. China visit

    Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, meets with Kim Jong Il in Changchun, in northeast China's Jilin province, on Aug. 27, 2010. (Ju Peng / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Likely heir

    North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, seated at center in sunglasses, and his youngest son Kim Jong Un, seated at left, pose for a photo with the newly elected members of the central leadership body of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the participants in the WPK Conference, at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on Sept. 30, 2010. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il anointed his youngest son as successor this week, promoting him to senior political and military positions. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (2nd L) and his youngest son Kim Jong Un (3rd R from Kim Jong-il) visit the cemetery for Chinese soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War in Hoechang County, North Korea, Oct. 26, 2010, in this picture released by North Korea's official KCNA news agency. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un attend a massive military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 10, 2010. Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Pass in review

    Kim Jong Il attends a military parade to celebrate the 63rd founding anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Pyongyang on September 9, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A tearful announcer dressed in black announces the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong il on North Korean State Television on Dec. 19, 2011. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died on a train trip, state television reported on Monday, sparking immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program. The announcer said the 69-year old had died on Saturday of physical and mental over-work on his way to give "field guidance". (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is seen inside a glass coffin as people pay their respects, Pyongyang, North Korea, on Dec. 20, 2011. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma
    Above: Slideshow (36) The life of Kim Jong ll - Kim Jong Il through the years
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    Slideshow (42) The life of Kim Jong ll - World reacts
  3. Daryl Cagle /,
    Slideshow (30) The life and death of Kim Jong Il
  4. Image:
    David Guttenfelder / AP
    Slideshow (53) Journey into North Korea
  5. Elizabeth Dalziel / AP
    Slideshow (7) Daily life in North Korea

Interactive: Meet North Korea’s first family

The North Korean dictatorship established by Kim Il Sung after World War II was taken over by his son Kim Jong Il in the 1990s. Now, as Kim Jong Il’s health fails the power is apparently being formally handed to his eldest son Kim Jung Un. In addition, the Kim family holds dozens of powerful positions throughout the North Korean bureaucracy.


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