Kim Jong-un: Panicked Tyrant?

Korean leader Kim Jong-un seen here in this AP file photo. (Image courtesy Home Box Office)

Korean leader Kim Jong-un seen here in this AP file photo.
(Image courtesy Home Box Office)

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since this week’s horrific news of his recent execution-by-antiaircraft-gun of former defense chief Hyon Yong Chol. CNN’s Christian Whiton has more, but you might not like the answer:


It goes without saying that deciphering what is really going on in North Korea is extremely difficult — it is run by one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. Still, some analysts believe the recent activity suggests Kim is in a precarious position. The thinking goes that Kim is deeply fearful that his rule could be challenged, and thus is willing to kill anyone he sees as a potential rival. A sense of insecurity about his position may also explain the recent cancellation of Kim’s planned trip to Moscow for Russia’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day — Kim had been scheduled to attend last week, but canceled due to what Russian officials described as “internal Korean affairs”.

But precariousness and insecurity are two different things. While no one on the outside really knows, there are signs that the Kim regime is actually stable. Rapidly expanding trade with China in recent years has helped the economy. (Beijing often says it is fed up with Pyongyang, but its actions tell a different story.) North Korea reportedly now has as many as 20 nuclear weapons and the ability to strike North America directly. It recently tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile. State propaganda casts Kim as a beloved figure jovially dispensing military, industrial, and social guidance to a degree that equals or exceeds his father’s and grandfather’s cults of personality.

Some of this suggests that contrary to the image of a panicky, unsure, inexperienced boy dictator, Kim may be perfectly in his element as an effective tyrant.


I’m thinking now of a bit of dialogue from Silence of the Lambs, as Clarice Starling and Jack Crawford discuss the profile they’re building of the serial killer known only as “Buffalo Bill.”

Starling: He’ll never stop.

Crawford: Why not?

Starling: He’s got a real taste for it now. He’s getting better at his work.

You get that same feeling about Kim Jong-un?


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