According to the AP, North Korean heir apparent Kim Jong un has been promoted to general, in advance of a key party meeting. The promotion is yet another sign that the DPRK is beginning its next political transition.
At the ripe old age of 27, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il has no military experience, but then again, the old man never served, either--unless you count his expulsion from an East German military academy in the early 1960s, and the later, ceremonial appointments that accompanied his climb to the top.
Whatever it takes to preserve the world's only hereditary communist dictatorship. Millions of North Korean peasants, surviving on a diet of rice and grass, will be very pleased.
For what it's worth, Kim Jong-il also promoted his daughter, Kyong-hui, to the rank of general. Her military resume is equally thin, but her support of Kim Jong un is considered important, so she gets flag rank as well. The promotions came on the eve of a rare Party Congress, the first since 1980, when Kim Jong-il was officially anointed the successor to his father, Kim Il-sung.
The real questions, of course, go something like this: how long will Kim Jong-il survive, and can his son gather enough support to make the transition work? Then, there's the matter of the DPRK's bankrupt economy and whether it will expire before the elder Kim. If that happens, all bets are off and the world will face a staggering military, political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
Still, as we've cautioned before, don't bet against the regime in Pyongyang. Back in 1994, we put Kim Jong-il's long-term survival prospects at well below 50%, and he managed to hang on. But the current leader of North Korea was well-prepared to assume the mantle of power--especially in comparison to his son.