On December 17, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il died. The state press announced that his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, is the “great successor.” There’s a clear pattern where each step towards succession is accompanied with a provocation, reflecting the regime’s belief that its ills can be cured through conflict. At only 27 or 28 years old, Kim Jong-Un is out to prove himself, and the short-range missile test that followed his official takeover isn’t going to cut it.
Kim Jong-Un is largely a mystery. He wasn’t even formally mentioned in North Korea’s state press until October 2010. His age, mother and marital status aren’t even known. It is reported that British intelligence assess that he has an “explosive temper” and suffers from severe hypertension, giving little hope that his mental state is any better than his father’s.
In October 2010, he was given the rank of a four-star general, even though he has no military experience whatsoever. His young age, lack of experience and the decreasing support of the North Korean army and population make it difficult for Kim Jong-Un to ensure the stability of the regime. A cable published by Wikileaks reveals that the top national security advisor to the South Korean president believes the regime will collapse within 2 to 3 years after Kim Jong-Il’s death.
Kim Jong-Il believes that confrontation with outside powers is necessary for a successful transition. In 1987, he was the designated successor. He ordered the bombing of a South Korean airliner and took part in a plot to assassinate South Korea’s president in Burma. This is the same type of preparatory steps his son undertook before his own ascent.
On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test. About one week later, Kim Jong-Il had his top officials pledge their loyalty to Kim Jong-Un. It is now known that Kim Jong-Un ordered the March 26, 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, killing 46. Five South Korean properties at the jointly-operated Mt. Kumgang resort were seized almost immediately after, and two North Korean agents were arrested in South Korea as they planned to kill a high-level defector there. Not long after that, the North launched cyber attacks on South Korean websites.
Over the summer of 2010, Kim Jong-Un oversaw a huge purge of political officials in order to solidify power. Older leaders were replaced with younger loyalists. It is said that 1,000 were arrested and 20-30 were executed. In September, new party leadership was chosen. Not long after, North Korea revealed an advanced uranium enrichment facility with 2,000 centrifuges and began erecting a lightwater reactor at Yongbyon.
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