Tensions on the Korean Peninsula approached the breaking point earlier this year after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in February, its third. China has called for a return to multilateral negotiations to settle the crisis, though U.S. officials said they didn't see any positive signs from North Korea.
Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corp., said the North Korean government of Kim Jong Un is likely to collapse. He said the ruling dynasty itself could unravel or face opposition from various internal elites.
Bennett outlines a variety of scenarios in a 295-page report published Thursday on the consequences of a collapse he said is inevitable.
"The study describes many of the possible consequences of a North Korean government collapse, including civil war in the North, a humanitarian crisis, the potential use and proliferation of the nation's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and even war with China," he writes.
He said it's imperative for policymakers in the region and in Washington to start making preparations now. A severe food crisis in North Korea would be made worse by the regime's collapse. A military response may also be needed to ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula.
"A failure to do so would lead to military battles with North Korean forces and a defection of some of those forces to insurgency or criminal activities, which could disrupt local security for years," he writes.