How long until North Korea collapses and what will be the most likely scenario and fallout? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Since the early 1990s, North Korean watchers have predicted various North Korean collapse scenarios along with conditions that will most likely lead to regime collapse. Variations of landing scenarios ("soft landing," "hard landing," "no landing," etc.) comprise popular fodder for collapsist discussion. People who study North Korea and are far, far more knowledgeable than me, have made predictions about North Korea's collapse and so far, no one has been right. So I will not even attempt to put an estimated time frame on North Korea's collapse. However, I will suggest one possibility that North Korea could undergo: unification under Seoul's control after the regime's political implosion/erosion/evolution due to the ongoing irreversible economic changes and consequent social changes that are taking root across North Korea.
For the Kim family to remain in leadership, the North Korean state cannot change or modernize in any meaningful way. Any political, social, cultural, and economic liberalization will fundamentally undermine this regime that heavily relies on ideology, cult of personality, an isolated population, and a false history.
However, North Korean defectors comment that Kim Il-Sung, the founder of socialist North Korea, would not be able to recognize North Korea today because of the widespread private marketization of the country. With over two-thirds of North Korean households supplementing their paltry state salaries with income from private market activity, the purity of ideological belief among people continues to erode. More informal trade with Chinese businessmen will continue to open up North Koreans' minds to the outside world and pivot away from their leader and state ideology. Different data sets tally large North Korean private markets comprising hundreds of stalls to range between 400-800 markets across the country. Citizens born during or after the Great Famine in the 1990s grew up without depending on the state's provision, but rather on the private markets.
Irreversible domestic economic changes, small social and cultural changes, and burgeoning corruption among government and law enforcement could cause political erosion within the country. We should not underestimate just how determined the North Korean government is to survive. But eventually, the widening gap between North Korean reality and North Korea's socialist paradise will reach a tipping point and lead to political collapse. This is when South Korea may launch its plan (assuming/hoping it has one) to unify the two nations with the help of other countries.
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