North Korea acknowledged today that the country's maximum leader, Kim Jong II, has pancreatic cancer. We take that to mean that he is near death. A "routine" illness would have been covered up, and not disclosed to the world.
In a way, North Korea is preparing the world for a succession crisis. At some level it is a plea for help. Clearly, there will be chaos when the maximum leader dies, because there is no clear line of succession (he is 67 years old and has no children).
Probably no one has any idea how the transition will play out. But just about everyone has to be afraid of the outcome. Perhaps they are hoping that the "cavalry" will ride to the rescue, in the form of international sponsorship.
This could be an opporunity for U.S., Japanese, or more likely South Korean intervention. But whoever moves will have to do it slower and smoothly. But this may represent the best chance in a generation for a stable Korea.
Because life after Kim in North Korea could get a lot better. Or else it could become a lot worse.