Inside Story Americas
North Korea, a new leader and his nukes
How will the death of Kim Jong-il impact US foreign policy in the region?
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2011 10:25

The sudden death of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, has the potential to raise fears of regional instability. It comes at a time when the US is seeking to increase its military and economic might in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Our real goal has to be to try to reduce to [an] absolute minimum the possibility that North Korea will proliferate its nuclear weapons ... and for that we need tight cooperation with the Chinese."

- Kenneth Lieberthal, a former special assistant to Bill Clinton

North Korea is one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world and it has one of the largest military forces - made up of around a million men.

But more worrying for the US is North Korea's nuclear capabilities - it has already conducted two nuclear tests, and has a missile capable of reaching the western coast of the US.

On a recent tour of Australia and Asia, Barack Obama, the US president, signalled his shift of diplomatic focus from the Middle East to the security challenges and economic opportunities of the Asia-Pacific region.

"The last thing you want to do with a country that is going through a sensitive and uncertain political transition is to poke them with a stick."

- Jim Walsh, a nuclear expert

The US has pushed for negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme but those talks - known as the six party talks - have not taken place since 2008.

The US has also used trade sanctions as leverage to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, as well as offering humanitarian aid. In fact, the US was due to announce another aid package on Monday.

So how will Kim Jong-il's death affect US policy in the region?

Inside Story Americas discusses with guests: Jim Walsh, a nuclear expert; Chris Nelson, an Asia expert and editor of The Nelson Report; and Kenneth Lieberthal, a former special assistant to Bill Clinton, the former US president, and director of the John L.Thornton China Center at Brookings Institution.

"It's [North Korea's] provocations would be met not with rewards but with even stronger sanctions and isolation."

Barack Obama, the US president

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