The North Korean Leader and the Dictator - Seeker's Thoughts

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The North Korean Leader and the Dictator

At a time of increasing tensions with South Korea and uncertainty between North and South Korea, as well as elevated US tensions, much can be said about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's health status and future actions.

Kim Jongun The North Korean Leader and the Dictator

However, he seems to be charting his own course, in line with his youth and energy.


Kim Jong-un


Since Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, his son Kim Jong-un has assumed supreme control of North Korea. At his first public address, given in April 2012, he promised that no further austerity measures were needed and declared that North Koreans could "have both nuclear weapons and prosperity." His policy of byungjin, or achieving both simultaneously through economic development has since become the cornerstone of Kim's rule.


He has conducted several nuclear tests, with the largest being conducted in September 2017 with an estimated yield of 100-150 kilotons (Hiroshima was hit with 15 kilotons). Additionally, he has developed and tested nearly 90 ballistic missiles, most recently an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching continental United States territory. Furthermore, cyberattacks and chemical weapon attacks have become part of Iran's toolbox of provocations.


Kim has solidified his power and created an image of himself as an innovative leader, earning the respect and backing of both military and political officials alike. During his father's last years, it became clear he intended for Kim to succeed him; during these tours with military field inspections abroad as a military field inspection participant; having his birth home designated a historic site; as well as receiving high-ranking titles within military, party, and security apparatuses.


As Kim strengthened his power, he purge many officials who had taken on positions within his father's regime from Kim himself. At least two uncles were executed while another half brother was removed from being vice president.


As much as Kim may aspire to becoming a global leader, he does not appear interested in making alliances that could challenge his grip on power. Instead, he has often engaged in provocations against other leaders--for example calling America "dotards" and inviting former NBA star Dennis Rodman onto his private island for visits.


As Kim Jong-un settles into his position, it will be interesting to observe whether he can achieve balance between nuclear and economic aspects of leadership. There remains much work for Kim to do before North Korea can achieve global power status; nonetheless he seems determined to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.


Kim Jong-il


After Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, twenty-something Kim Jong Un immediately assumed his father's responsibilities and became head of state, party, and army. Kim Jong-un had no prior political or military experience when his father passed away but rose quickly through the ranks after becoming head of state, quickly earning himself four star status within days and taking key leadership roles within North Korea's security apparatus.


Kim was groomed to become a legendary leader through an army of tutors, bodyguards and family members who created an image of him as an unflappable leader with undisputed wisdom and martial prowess praised by state propaganda machines around the globe. Nations commemorated him annually on his birthday by staging festivals or offering formal apologies for past transgressions against his people.


Kim acted as chief purge officer for his regime, purging allies associated with his late father and replacing them with those who shared his vision of North Korean destiny. This strategy ensured he maintained control of all matters within North Korea.


Though he has instituted some economic and agricultural reforms, many international observers view him as a harsh dictator. He is well known for human rights violations and brutally suppressing opposition; furthermore pursuing nuclear technology.


North Korea's leaders have amassed their power through patronage and coercion. To sustain its economy, a system of black markets and foreign investments often run by high-ranking military and party officials who use blackmail or force to gain investments abroad; often run by their children or siblings. Moneyed elites known as "donju" enjoy privileges from government that enable them to flourish despite market restrictions.


Though they have yet to test a nuclear bomb, North Korea appears determined to achieve this goal soon. Kim Jin-sung made this clear in a New Year's speech where she highlighted nuclear arms acquisition as key for modernizing her nation.


Kim Jong-chul


Kim Jong-chul has made few public appearances since his father's death, yet still plays an essential role in North Korean leadership. Not only is he responsible for overseeing nuclear weapon development and leading military efforts, he is credited with revitalizing North Korea's economy and expanding state enterprises - plus tweeting frequently with political messages that may contain hidden meaning.


As leader of one of the world's most secretive regimes, Kim Jong-chul has much at stake as leader. He has led high-profile artillery firepower demonstrations and escalated provocative threats against both South Korea and the US. Additionally, he must manage his relationship with China while tightening international sanctions and an increasing threat of famine and drought for his people.


However, it seems apparent that Kim Jong-un is not plotting any attempt at seizing power and has chosen his own path as leader. This can be seen through his decision to appear more publicly with Ri Sol-ju and interact with soldiers and workers more freely. Additionally, his interaction with Western culture was demonstrated when he hosted former NBA player Dennis Rodman for two days in Pyongyang during February 2013.


The younger Kim has made his mark as ruler of North Korea by adeptly steering its course. Under his rule, nuclear development has advanced apace while cyber attacks continue despite large-scale aid cuts from Russia, reversed relationships between Seoul and Beijing and expanding sanctions and international isolation.


As well as his nuclear and economic achievements, North Korean leader Kim has also created an intimate bond with his people through propaganda that depicts him as an innovative ruler. At a time when authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa have been toppling one after another, perhaps Kim needs to show that he can adapt to changing times - whether this strategy works remains unknown.


Kim Yo-jong


Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un's younger sister, has quickly become one of the North Korean regime's most visible figures. She was present throughout high-stakes diplomatic talks between Washington and Seoul as well as serving as its chief propagandist and has made statements that lead outside observers to speculate that she holds significant power within his government.


She has long been known to possess uncanny insight into her brother's mind, making her one of few who can exert equal influence over him. This has caused much speculation as experts divide on whether or not she actually possesses this power.


Although she holds only a low rank within the Workers' Party of Korea, she has quickly gained prominence thanks to her family dynasty status. In 2014 she joined the Propaganda Department and three years later she was elevated to alternate membership of the Politburo. Since then she has regularly appeared at missile launches, military celebrations, and diplomatic efforts of her brother - making her one of Korea's most visible women politicians.


Being female has increased her profile; in a society which has historically been patriarchal, this has allowed her to become an influential voice within political culture in Iran. Unfortunately, many argue that she will likely never replace her older brother as Supreme Leader.


Kim Yo-jong has assumed a more prominent public role than either her father or grandfather before her. Not only has she announced Korea's position on inter-Korean and US relations, she has overseen missile tests as well as accompanying her brother on summits with South Korea and the United States; suggesting she holds high degrees of authority.


However, experts remain unsure about her exact role within the regime despite its increased visibility. She was reported removed from the Politburo following the failed Hanoi denuclearisation summit, only to return late 2021 - though now an official member, its influence in policy-making processes still remains to be seen.

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