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Kim Jong-il’s alleged health problems in the fall of 2008 have had mixed effects on North Korea’s foreign policy and the responses of the United States and South Korea, among others, to the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis. This paper explores in detail the implications of Kim Jong-il’s health scare for U.S. policy, including specific aspects of policy implementation that may have implications for U.S. efforts to respond to possible future political instability in North Korea. Second, the paper will identify current challenges and dilemmas facing U.S. policy toward North Korea and analyze how these challenges interact with concrete policy initiatives that might be taken to prepare for possible future instability in North Korea. Finally, the paper will draw some conclusions regarding the Obama administration’s preparations for and assumptions regarding prospects for instability in North Korea and how those assumptions are influencing the formation of U.S. policy toward North Korea.


Kim Jong-il’s alleged health problems in the fall of 2008 have had mixed effects on North Korea’s foreign policy and the responses of the United States and South Korea, among others, to the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis. This paper explores in detail the implications of Kim Jong-il’s health scare for U.S. policy, including specific aspects of policy implementation that may have implications for U.S. efforts to respond to possible future political instability in North Korea. Second, the paper will identify current challenges and dilemmas facing U.S. policy toward North Korea and analyze how these challenges interact with concrete policy initiatives that might be taken to prepare for possible future instability in North Korea. Finally, the paper will draw some conclusions regarding the Obama administration’s preparations for and assumptions regarding prospects for instability in North Korea and how those assumptions are influencing the formation of U.S. policy toward North Korea.