Excerpt form the CNN article below:
Depending on how you read the signs, the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and formerly trusted regent, Jang Song Thaek, either shows a young leader further cementing his control, or the first death throes of a regime teetering on collapse.
Because of these questions I would like to offer a couple of things. First is a definition of regime collapse. Kim Jong-un will be faced with regime collapse when there is no longer central governing effectiveness and there is a loss of coherency and support of the military and security services. So far there is no evidence that he has lost central governing effectiveness and the military and security services seem to be functioning "normally" (from a nK perspective) and in support of Kim Jong-un.
However, the only person to ever conduct a thorough and objective analysis of the process the regime might go through to collapse is Robert Collins who produced the seminal work of Patterns of Collapse which is also known as the Seven Phases of Collapse. I would just like to provide the excerpts of possible scenarios of the phases 4 through 7 below so that we might see the process which could occur in the north if the current suppression phase is not successful (and so far I see no evidence yet that the suppression mechanisms are failing – by definition Jang's arrest and execution indicate the suppression system is working).
Excerpt from Patterns of Collapse (note this was written around 1995 thus the reference to Kim Chong-il).
Possible Scenarios in Phases 4 through 7.
d. Phase Four: Suppression - Both the incorporation of local internal security elements into independent activity and the activity itself are perceived as direct challenges to the authority of Kim Chong-il and the Core Group. The Core Group will respond to such challenges in both indiscriminate and calculated manners. This phase must be successful to prevent the further breakdown of the regime’s control. The regime’s full energies will address whatever the regime itself perceives as threats. nKorea’s track record at suppressing isolated incidents is well established. Again, success here is paramount to the survival of the regime and world public opinion will not be an effective deterrent.1/ Internal Security systems (even paramilitary units) will be mobilized to employ indiscriminate force to make examples of groups of citizens or entire sub-system(s). Entire sub-systems, such as collective farms deemed collectively guilty of independent (read politically disloyal) activity, will be instantly converted into political crime camps guarded by military or paramilitary units.2/ Local active-duty company and battalion-level military units will be mobilized to employ indiscriminate violent force for the most severe cases. A severe case would be organized demonstrations (of any kind, but food riots would be an eminent example) against the local or national government.3/ Suppression operations could be streamlined to improve overall effectiveness in dealing with dissidence and/or independent activity. An example of this streamlining would be the establishment of local “civil order” commands which consolidate local internal security and military assets. (Inter-agency sharing of information and planning is indeed uncommon to the nKorean political structure. However, the severity of the situation most likely would be perceived as justification to consolidate.) This inter-agency cooperation would facilitate both detection of and response to increased dissidence and/or independent activity. The command function could vary. Two proto-types would be a local ministry of state security official obtaining operational control of a military quick reaction force provided by the local military commander for the purpose of immediate countermeasure. A more likely proto-type would be the requirement for local security officials to report not only up their chain of command but laterally or even directly to the local military commander. The commander then acts on this information and, armed with the authority of the “local civil order command,” orders his troops to suppress the reported dissidence with whatever force necessary.4/ Mass arrests and purges. nKorea has a long history of this activity. Political reasons are invariably cited as justification, even when activity is clearly not political but civil crime. The nKorean regime has already divided the nKorean populace into 51 distinct categories of loyalty or disloyalty. Those arrested and their families are reclassified to disloyal categories. Arrests and purges become indiscriminate when local authorities feel personally threatened when pyongyang’s intended impact is not delivered to the expected extent.5/ Show trials and public executions. These are employed to demonstrate regime’s resolve and demand for adherence to political guidelines.e. Phase Five: Resistance - This phase presupposes that the supression phase failed to meet its intended goals. Local groups, even new sub-systems evolving out of independent activity, will gain confidence in their ability not to succumb to the government’s suppression attempts either through open resistance or manipulation of reporting that forwards false data.1/ Refusal to obey government directives. These directives will be ignored because those that resist perceive enforcement is unlikely.2/ Usurpation of government assets, such as storehouses or competing sub-systems. This will enhance the power of local resistance activities, whether economically or politically based.3/ Threats and violence employed against internal security representatives to either win their culpability or simple elimination. Resistance groups will lose their fear of internal security forces and either eliminate them, beginning at the basic level, or incorporate them into their local sub-system to assist in their activity.4/ The more successful local resistance becomes, the more likely a resource-denied sub-system (which is already a paramilitary unit within the nKorean social system) will begin to employ counter-force against the regime’s mobilized military units. Such an incident will become a central issue dominating the attention of the Core Group.5/ Successful armed resistance, though only at the sub-system level (company to battalion-sized paramilitary level) will lead the regime’s Core Group to employ combined arms operations against the resistance group. Some military leaders receiving such orders will hesitate to employ maximum indiscriminate force against local citizens and will immediately be relieved if not executed on the spot. Other leaders will execute the executioner. The depth of the resistance phase can be measured by the rank of the officer who does not obey orders from Pyongyang.6/ Low echelon border units, along both the northern border and the DMZ, will cross the border and the MDL while senior echelons are preoccupied with resistance suppression. Platoon commanders will be capable of initiating a platoon level crossing of the border or DMZ for the purpose of avoiding punishment, chaos, or worse. After eliminating the company’s single political officer, a company commander would be capable of taking a whole company across the DMZ. The senior battalion commander would be forced to call for artillery fires into the DMZ or beyond to halt the platoon or company-sized defections across the DMZ. He would do this knowing that he would probably be immediately executed for permitting it to happen in the first place. This process would not likely end until the division or corps level.f. Phase Six: Fracture - This phase is the most unpredictable. The current regime and its Core Group members must see the success of the suppression phase as critical to their survival. Failure of the suppression phase likely results in a quick transition through the resistance phase to the fracture phase. Fracture will likely result in violence. The types of fracture are calculable but where the fissures begin is not. This phase will be characterized by the following:1/ Internal Security systems (regional or national) will be unable to comply with directives due to ineffectiveness.2/ Core Group members or sub-group(s) openly (as opposed to private consultation) oppose Core Group directives.3/ Division-sized military unit commanders ignore Core Group orders. They perceive the orders extraordinary and do not believe them or are so appalled (through Korean perception) by the orders they make a conscious decision not to obey.4/ Public execution employed against core-group member or members. This is an indication of severe disagreement within the Core Group. However, successful execution of one of these Core Group members is also an indication of containment to a limited degree.5/ Division-sized military unit commanders who oppose Core Group orders ally with one another to oppose counter actions. This amounts to civil war. If Kim Chong-il and the Core Group wait to this point before initiating a nKorean attack against the Republic of Korea (asa means to put an end to resistance energies), it may be too late. As other dictators have in the past, a wartime footing provides the opportunity for internal security apparati to eliminate military commanders previously perceived by the regime to as supporters of resistance.6/ Internal security officers executed or neutralized within entire systems or numerous adjacent sub-systems.g. Phase Seven: Realignment: This will be the most straight forward of the seven phases because the implications of previous actions or non-actions have played themselves out.1/ Pre-identification of a nKorean individual or a oligarchic group as successor to the leadership of Kim Chong-il is extremely difficult to predict. However, centuries-old historical korean patterns of political realignment indicate the nKorean military maintains the only power to actually replace the previous regime, resist internal security apparati, and maintain public stability. This process will be simplified if internal security procedures have been streamlined to include consolidation of control.2/ This military group will be shaped by an associational bond such as common military class, common military training, or regional background. The overwhelmingly dominant common associational bond in existence now is graduation from the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School. Service/duty in the organizational guidance department of the Korean Workers’ Party, whether military or civilian, is also a common associational bond among real power holders. However, this department is so strongly associated with Kim Chong-il that its influence will evaporate with Kim Chong-il’s downfall.3/ This or any other associational bond is likely to search for solutions/methods which enable them to hold onto power in nKorea for themselves. This groups’ announcement of its intention to reform economically is more likely than an announcement supporting the concept of immediate peninsular unification.4/ A new Core Group will move to protect its own interests and new domination of power. The new Core Group will attempt to ensure nKorean sovereignty through international efforts at the United Nations and other world bodies. Because they view it as a method of cementing their new-found control, the new Core Group will seek immediate humanitarian relief for the nKorean populace and will seek assistance in improving the nKorean economic infrastructure.