On 19 December 2011, the world awoke to the news of Kim Jong-il’s death, ending his 17 year reign as Supreme Leader of the DPRK and ushering in a new age of dictatorship under the fledgling Kim Jong-un. At only 28 years of age, Kim Jung-un is the world’s youngest head of state, commanding a vast array of artillery, missiles and tank, coupled with the fourth-largest military on earth.
But amid the calamity of botched rocket launches and the sudden “illness” of the politically powerful, Ri Yong-ho, are cracks in the North-Korean façade starting to appear? Heralded as the icing on the cake of the deceased Kim Il-sung‘s centenary celebrations, the launch of the Unha-3 rocket turned out to be the DPRK’s most recent failure: the craft exploded into a multitude of pieces roughly 60 seconds after taking off. On full view to dozens of spectators, such public embarrassment will surely strike doubt into the North Korean people’s confidence in their leader’s impressive, but seemingly defunct, panpoly of Cold War weaponry.
A committed and trusted ally of the late Kim Jong-il…
Only time will tell if such unsuccessful attempts will lead to a strategic review and subsequent overhaul of the nation’s military policy, or, even worse, a renewed vigour in the army’s desire to forge a nuclear programme truly worthy of Western attention.
Perhaps such ambition is the reason behind the aforementioned “illness” and departure of Ri Yong-ho from both his position as Vice-Marshal and as a leading public figure. A committed and trusted ally of the late Kim Jong-il, he was widely seen as one of the most influential of North Korea’s top brass, a key component in the succession of Kim Jong-un and chief mourner at the former leader’s funeral.
…a new, perhaps more dangerous path…
Taking over from his formerly in-favour predecessor, Hyon Yong-chol, a relatively unknown figure in the DPRK hierarchy, has subsequently been named as one of the nation’s new Vice-Marshals. The unexpected news has thus led many to speculate as to the hidden power plays occurring beneath the surface of Pyongyang’s extremely murky political scene.
One thing is for certain, however, Kim Jong-un, much like his father, is a reactionary. His fresh attempts to demonstrate North Korea’s might within East Asia comes as no surprise, but will alert both Western and Eastern nations to the notion that the country’s leading family may cling on to power for longer than was previously expected. With ruthless efficiency, it seems as if Kim Jong-un is forging a new, perhaps more dangerous path than his father and those around him could have ever imagined.