Since taking power following his father’s sudden death 10 years ago this week, Kim Jong Un has erased those widespread doubts that greeted his early attempts to extend his family’s brutal dynastic grip over North Korea.
Early predictions about a regency, a collective leadership or a military coup were crushed by an estimated hundreds of executions and purges targeting family members and the old guard. That ruthless consolidation of power, together with a larger-than-life personality seemingly made for carefully packaged TV propaganda, has allowed Kim to make clear that his authority is absolute.
Restoring central control over the economy could also be crucial for mobilizing state resources so that Kim could further expand his nuclear program, which would otherwise be challenging as the economy worsens.
While Kim has suspended the testing of nuclear devices and long-range missiles for three years, he has ramped up testing of shorter-range weapons threatening U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.
“Nukes brought Kim to this mess, but he’s maintaining a contradictory policy of further pushing nukes to get out of it,” said Go Myong-hyun, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
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