With escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, some are starting to look to what would happen after a war with North Korea and what could be the hermit nations future.

With news of a new missile test that went over Japan and landed in the ocean and South Korea bombarding the border with a bombing run, there’s a lot of talk about what could cause an outbreak of law and what could be the end game.

Some analysts are saying that if the United States and its allies were to launch a pre-emptive strike there is a potential a war to further expand to include China and Russia fighting along side North Korea. Other analysts say that if North Korea would launch a pre-emptive strike then we could potentially have free elections by Christmas.

Instead of speculating how war could break out between Kim Jong Un and the rest of the world (it could happen on Twitter), lets have a look at what could be the outcome of such a war. In speculating what would happen after war, there are four possible scenarios that could potentially happen at the end of hostilities.

Lets keep in mind that these are all hypothetical situations that could potentially never happen but based on history and what analysts are saying, they are possibilities to consider.

  1. The Occupation Begins, pending free and democratic elections

Yes a very likely scenario that has been estimated to cost between $7 to $10 trillion over ten years, we would likely be left with a situation that would be similar to Iraq and Afghanistan where we overthrow a government, kick a dictator out and have troops occupy the country until free elections can be held.

This would be tricky in North Korea; whilst there is no information to suggest a regime change within the country (mainly because there is no data that exists to support that assumption) there is also no indication of how free elections might happen in the hermit state and how the people would react to it. They have never been given the option to vote on anything let alone government officials so when “we” (the occupying forces) decide to help the country have its first elections, it really has no certainty as to how it will go. Iraq and Afghanistan had elections in the past before the regimes took over and even countries like Libya, Egypt and even Syria had a desire to hold elections and move away from the regimes that held them tight for a long time.

It also would mean a period of uncertainty for the country; North Korea would become an occupied state of western allies and would require a large contingent of military personnel to be stationed there for the decade to come. Whilst there is no indication that there could be elements of the old government that would carry out terrorist attacks similar to what we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, its something that can’t be discounted. These attacks could come in the form of the old guard of the military attempting to stop elections from occurring or further destabilize the country.

There is no certainty in what could potentially happen in the lead up to an election but there is one thing that the allied occupying forces could potentially do (and have done in Iraq and Afghanistan) – appoint an interim government to run the country. This would be either a North Korean figure that the west figures would be a good interim leader or a South Korean figure that would aim to use the interim government as either a pathway to reunification (more likely) or a free and democratic North Korea (less likely). Either way, elections would be a precursor to reunification between the two countries – either way elections may be difficult if North Koreans don’t want to reunify with their brothers and sisters in the South.

  1. Unification 

President Moon Jae-In has indicated that he would like to take the road of diplomacy and has held the political view that reunification between the north and south could potentially be on the table. This would be a rather large political move that would require a massive change in not only governance but also in policy.

If the reunification between the two countries were to happen then it would mean the Seoul would have an influx of a large amount of North Koreans. It would also put a massive economic burden on South Korean, which has been unpopular with the youth vote, as they know they would potentially need to pay the costs with higher taxes.

It also would make North Koreans second-class citizens within the South and could potentially lead to their exploitation; North Koreans don’t have the same technical skills as their brothers and sisters in the South. It has been predicted that North Koreans immigrating to the South would be put to work in factories and paid well below the poverty line and could cause job security issues with South Koreans being replaced by cheaper labour.

On top of all that, the South could find itself in the situation where it needs to spend more on training North Koreans in how to use technology, speak the South Korean language (the two languages are different, but South Korean is more used around the world) and teach them skills for them to survive in the new world.

The idea, or the concept, of unification is popular however the reality of it isn’t and a lot of people in the South, including politicians, would choose to shy away from it which means the South’s allies would need to potentially pick up the tab on this bring us back to the $10 Trillion statement. 

  1. A Government Overthrown from the Inside

Unlikely to happen but still probable with Kim Jong-Un being an inexperienced leader, there is the potential for a rival within the hermit nations government to attempt an assassination of the Supreme Leader.

This could occur in two different circumstances; towards the end of a potential war with North Korea or when the government is in an interim or elected stage. Lets look at when the country is still at war first; a rival to Kim Jong Un (potentially a family member) may assassinate the leader in order to become the next leader of the state. This would leave us with two different scenarios to consider if an assassination were to occur during wartime, a cease-fire that could lead to the status quo or surrender or an escalation of war further than what would be occurring. The latter would be quite horrifying as a new leader may step up an offensive and cause more harm. If the assassination was to occur when there was an interim government in place or an elected government in place, it could lead us to the fifth scenario where the hermit state goes leaderless.

 4. A Leaderless Nation

This one is likely in the sense that if free and democratic elections happen but the government turns out to be unstable, the world could end up with a situation that is similar to Libya. In the case that elections are held but we end up in a situation similar to Libya where the government is worthless and the country becomes a failed state.

It could happen in the instance that a government (even an interim government) pushes reunification and the North Koreans dislike the idea so much that elements of the old military push to overthrow the government; it could also happen if the government that is elected is considered unstable and the North Koreans have a dislike towards that.

A power vacuum or a return to what North Korea is under the Kim Jong-Un would have a devastating impact that the country would not be able to recover from. Poverty and violence would likely rise in these circumstances and it could be a precursor to a civil war where different factors that can openly admit to their goals and aspirations for the future of the North fight openly to secure their views.

That could cause for a longer than wanted occupation of North Korea and potentially more casualties for any forces that occupy it.

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Gianpaulo Coletti
Gianpaulo is based in Australia and is a student of Counterterrorism, Intelligence and Security. Interested in everything related to National Security. 24 News Enthusiast, political junkie and working on his first book 'Hitchhikers Guide to National Security'.
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There was a good analysis of this topic on the World Service. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05951pc

An interesting point made was not only would the language and education be an issue but also the actual physical body size of the North Koreans. Years of poor diet mean that they are apparently 6 inches shorter than the average South Korean who has had a better diet and life style over the years. This would lead to a distinct “second Class citizen” mentality should reunification occur…

The stuff you learn on the World Service….


I haven’t listened to it all yet but it sounds really excellent. Thanks for the link.

If anyone wants to depress themselves more quickly there is also a short piece on the UK BBC website about what the war itself would look like.

andy reeves

given the life of an ordinary north korean citizen, a power vachume is the worst thing that can happen, look at the mess of iraq, where there was no exit strategy. there’s every chance a popular uprising could occur. either way the ‘silly boy who started all this will be toast by then.

Bigbro Iswatchingu

Non of these scenarios are possible because neither China or Russia would cross their hands if Murdering America even tries an invasion. The Chinese always said ” We will do the right thing” which was arming North Korea.


This is all based on the assumption that Kim Jong Un doesn’t just blow his own country up with nukes before they can be secured, so as to spite the invaders.

andy reeves

he’s not bright enough the people will get him first.

Gianpaulo Coletti

That’s true. In doing this article I operated under the assumption that North Korea wouldn’t use nuclear weapons in close combat (within it’s own country) as it seemed somewhat unlikely. If that situation was to arise and war had already broken out it is likely that those missile sites (which launch nuclear weapons) would be destroyed by the US and it’s allies to ensure nuclear options weren’t able to be used.


This article assumes a western occupation, however a more likely secnario is that China would forcefully occupy the country up to the DMZ as Geopolitically they cannot allow western (seen as an extention of Japanese) encroachment towards Manchuria. This is already evidenced by the significant build up of forces along the China-North Korea border in recent months. They would possibly be a better fit for transitioning the populace towards modernity, albeit not in a democratic way. The question remains as to whether a conflict develops between Chinese and western forces as a result of the opposing objectives. Suffice it to… Read more »


The article omits what I would have thought was a likely, and possibly least-worst option: Chinese intervention and regime change. Beijing wants to avoid having a border with a strong American ally, it’s the whole reason they have tolerated North Korea for so long. If Kim threatens that with his actions then China may well move in to occupy North Korea to prevent it from starting a war that could send millions of refugees into China and lead to a potential clash with the United States.


I would imagine the US would be very happy with China stepping in, saves them from having to put their own people in harms way and removes the nuke threat.

andy reeves

junt don’t give putin any excuse to get involved or we really could looking at a ww3.russia taking the baltic states pakistan and india going at it over the hindu kush,israel and the arabs.chile and the argies doing what they’ve been itching to do to each other for years, the u.s and nato wouln’t be able to stay out of it. ww3? its not a far fetched scenario

andy reeves

i hope i’m very wrong. till then its back to digging my bunker under the shed.


Room for how many?