North Korea: Beyond Kim Jong Il

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 13, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il may be close to death. According to the South Korean TV news report, 67 year old Kim Jong Il has pancreatic cancer.

The dictator He looked noticeably thin at a recent, rare public appearance, and he reportedly had a stroke last year. The question now, what happens in North Korea if and when Kim Jong Il dies?

Joining us live is Gordon Chang, the author of the book "Nuclear Showdown." Nice to see you, Gordon.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": Thank you very much, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gordon, actually, in reading your book, I learned much about North Korea, including that the big question is what happens if we Kim Jong Il dies, and who is running the country right now?

CHANG: Well, I think the military seems to be running the country right now. And we know that because, in the past, North Korean provocations were once, maybe twice a year. Now they are coming once or twice a week.

We had the launch of the long-range missile in April, then We had the nuclear detonation in May, the renouncing of the Korean War armistice, this launching of these short and medium-range missiles, the freighter that on the water in defiance of the U.N. Security Council. They are just coming one after another. That's the military's hand.

VAN SUSTEREN: There was a lot made of the fact that he came out on the anniversary of his father's death or other of his birthday, recently, but I read in your book that Kim Jong Il never came out anyway. He was never around much.

CHANG: Yes. He spent many, many years in the background, behind the scenes. And he was actually running a lot of stuff in the government, but he never said a word to the North Korean people until one time he said nine words, which was like "Hail to the great North Korean military." And that's about it since then.

So here you've got a supreme leader who doesn't talk to the people of North Korea. They really don't know him. He is just a cartoon character to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems that there are three options when he dies. There is either a military coup, the military takes control, it's his youngest son, or it's his brother-in-law. Care to guess?

CHANG: I would says the military, because Kim is very ill right now. I don't think he's going to last that long. His father took more than two decades to groom him for the top spot. Kim Jong Il has had about two weeks to groom his son.

In a deeply Confucian society like North Korea, you are not going to have an 85-year-old general salute a 26-year-old kid because Kim Jong Il said he should.

So only if Kim Jong Il lasts another five or ten years does son have a chance. Otherwise, it's the military going to be running things.

VAN SUSTEREN: Then it seems that things are going to get even worse between the United States and North Korea, because, at least under your theory, North Korea, it's the military is the reason why they did the long- distance missile, why they did the nuclear tests and the short-range missiles.

So what do you foresee if the military takes over? What happens?

CHANG: I think the regime becomes even more dangerous and more hostile.

The problem is that there is no pushback from the Obama administration in response to all of these provocations. And so, as the military pushes and pushes and pushes, it will be a real problem for us.

And that is why we only have a short window to deal with North Korea while Kim Jong Il is still around, because once these generals take over, anything can happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gordon, thank you.

CHANG: Thanks.

VAN SUSTEREN: For more on this, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger joins us live. Mr. Secretary, what is going to happen when Kim Jong Il dies? What do you think?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I have some disagreements with your previous interviewer. I am inclined to think it is going to be another Kim just to keep it in the family, and that probably means the young son.

But I will accept the fact that behind the scenes, the military will be there. They have always been there. But I also am inclined to believe that these factions over the course of the last year or so may well be Kim's Il-Sung's, his father -- Kim Jong Il, perhaps as indicated in most of these things himself, largely because if he feels he is on the way out, now is the time to get all of these things out of the way.

But whoever it is, I think it is no question, with the military or whoever follows him, whether it's the son or not, there is no reason to predict that anything is going to get any better with the North Koreans between now and 20 years from now as long as that regime remains in place.

And thanks to the pusillanimous attitude of his regime, and unfortunately up to many regimes in the United States and other parts of the world, this is gone on. We should never have permitted it in the first place.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you go back to 50 years.

But the sort of interesting -- I do not know is "interesting" is the right word -- but the people of North Korea, not the leader, not the military, they believe we hate to them. They hate us. They believe we want to invade them. There are so closed off that they have no idea that we would be interested in talking or trying to make things better.

So what would be our strategy in this sort of narrow window when North Korea is in transition? Transition presumably for the worse for us, but what should we do?

EAGLEBURGER: Well, there are some things we should do, but I do not think anything is going to change the attitude of the average North Korean.

That's the most hermetically sealed country that you can find around the world. And they are totally and completely dominated by the government, and the government is dominated by the Kims, by and large, and, I will admit, by the military, as well.

And I don't think it's going to make much difference at all when they should from one regime to another. I think, frankly, we are between a rock and a hard place now.

But ever since we let them build that first nuclear weapon, we have been in a very difficult position to try to do anything with them, because they can hold South Korea hostage for anything we do. And if we make any attempt on them at all, we are in danger of them having them then wipe the slate clean with South Korea.

And I think that's why we are constrained beyond belief in terms of trying to do anything.

VAN SUSTEREN: So are we -- I hate to use the word -- but we're cooked? We have to just sort of sit there and hope for the best? I mean, the way you describe it, there is just nothing we can do.

EAGLEBURGER: Well, I am afraid I think there is not -- there are some things we can do, but they would require the use of force, and you know how popular that is these days.

And I will say, if we had done this, if we had stopped this nuclear weapons business before it even got anywhere, we would be in a far easier position to do something now that we are.

The fact of the matter is that they have nuclear weapons now, and they can use those against South Korea even if they can't get to us yet, and they can really wipe the South Koreans out with these nuclear weapons they have.

What can we do? I will tell you what I think we should do. The minute we know that they have developed a delivery system that can put those in their weapons, however many they may have, into the United States in any meaningful way, I think we have to go to war to clean them out, and do it fast.

And if we have to do it alone, we have to do it alone. I do not think this regime is up to it, this administration is up to it.

So I'm telling you now, I think anything in the next three and a half years, and maybe a lot longer than that, it's going to be sit back and watch these people, maybe pinch them a little bit with a sanction and there, but we are not going to do anything. And we should've done it a decade ago at least.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir.

EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure.

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