Despite the death of longtime dictator Kim Jong Il, don't expect the North Korean people to flood into their nation's squares demanding democracy for their impoverished and long-isolated nation, according to University of Notre Dame professor George Lopez.
"There is no Arab Spring-style movement ahead for the Korean peninsula," he said, referring to the revolutionary wave of demonstrations that began this year in the Middle East.
Following the Saturday death of Kim, some observers might now expect the people to throw off the yoke of the long-standing repressive regime. Nothing could be further from the truth, Lopez said Monday in a telephone interview.
Lopez, a peace studies professor, spent 10 months working on a panel of experts advising the United Nations Security Council on loopholes that exist in the sanctions against North Korea. His area of expertise was analyzing international finances related to that nation's activities. His work for the council ended in July.
He and fellow panel members concluded that the council has much work to do to plug holes that exist in the sanctions system.
"The power structure of North Korea is utterly entrenched, mostly among an iron-fisted inner circle of military leaders who are 75 years and older," Lopez said. "The nation is run by a close-knit family and military people whose actions are designed to endlessly perpetuate their own power/"
Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his late 20s, is expected to succeed him.
"The son will take over as leader, because the established structure needs a Kim family member as its head, but don't expect major changes in the first few years," Lopez said.
"There is no new leadership coming to the North. It's an entrenched leadership," he said.
"The son is not so much the new leader as another cog in the wheel," he said. "They need a leader from the family in order to perpetuate the dynasty."
Kim Jong Il came to power after his own father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.
"Other members of the extended family don't need to block the son's rise, because the family and its followers already are the power structure," Lopez said. Much of the illicit trade North Korea is involved in is run by family members and their followers, he said.
Tensions are high in that area of the world, with North Korea long known to be pursuing nuclear weapons. Tens of thousands of American troops are stationed in South Korea and Japan. China wants to keep its socialist neighbor stable -- and avoid a flood of refugees -- but also keep it free from American and South Korean influence.
Before Kim's death, there were reports that North Korea might agree to a large donation of food aid in exchange for ending its uranium-enrichment program. American leaders were cautiously optimistic that disarmament talks might resume.
International observers will be closely watching the state funeral. Whether top-level leaders from such countries as China, Burma and Iran attend or send lower-level delegations might help predict North Korea's future path, Lopez said.
"Whatever happens, don't expect the plight of the people in North Korea -- where food and other resources are scarce -- to change anytime soon," Lopez said.
"I don't see any change in the general economy that is related to this. I see no change in the knowledge base that North Koreans have of their own society," Lopez said, noting North Korea is such a closed society that ordinary people there have no knowledge of the recent political revolutions in the Middle East.
"I think it's going to be business as usual. It's not going to be a very good life for the general population of North Korea," he said.