Kim Jong-il, the eldest son of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung, became the leader of North Korea in 1994. Kim Il-sung was the founder and sole ruler of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. After his father’s death, Kim Jong-il assumed power over the nation. His style of leadership was to pursue a commitment to North Korea’s sustainability and self-reliance. He was the first leader to introduce a “military first” policy in the government, which focused heavily on the nation’s defense and economy. Under his rule, North Korea conducted several nuclear tests and maintained an expansive nuclear weapons stockpile. He was also a master manipulator of international diplomacy, manipulating different regional powers to his own ends.
Kim Jong-il was born to Kim Il-sung in 1941 and was educated in the Soviet Union. He was chosen to be his father’s successor when Kim Il-sung realized the country couldn’t survive without a strong government and a leader. He was seen as a hard-liner and a harsh leader, and his rule was characterized by repression and isolationism. He reinforced his father’s militarised economy and isolationism, closed down communications with the outside world, and drastically limited foreign investment. North Korea also risked becoming a pariah state as a result of its self-imposed isolation and Kim Jong-il’s uncompromising attitude to foreign governments.
Under Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s economy floundered and its population suffered from severe food shortages. This led to one of the worst famines in human history, which caused the death of an estimated three million people. The embargo primarily targeted North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which Kim Jong-il had continued to develop despite worldwide condemnation. In 2006, the country conducted its first nuclear test in response to UN pressure, worsening its international isolation.
Kim Jong-il’s rule was also marked by diplomatic initiatives. He made several visits to China and South Korea, which had a significant impact on North Korea’s relationship with the two countries. He also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002 and struck a deal with the United States in 2008 in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic aid.
Experts agree that Kim Jong-il was an authoritarian ruler and a master manipulator of international politics. According to Aidan Foster-Carter, an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology and Modern Korea at Leeds University, “He was a tough negotiator, often able to hold off the US and other great powers from imposing their will on the DPRK through features like brinkmanship, flattery and even brinkmanship in reverse.”
Michele Flournoy, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration, describes Kim Jong-il as a “Machiavellian leader” who used a “strong mixture of carrots and sticks” to maintain his grip on power. She believes Kim Jong-il was a master at “sanding the edges” of his ideologies and regime, gambling that small changes in policy and attitude could reap major benefits.
John Delury, Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, calls Kim Jong-il a master of “brinkmanship” and a “black swan” in international relations. He explains that Kim Jong-il “traded on his regime’s reputation as a ‘pariah state’ to gain attention and extract concessions from other states in the region.”
Kim Jong-il left a legacy of authoritarian rule and international isolation for North Korea. His tenure as leader was marked by economic hardship, an accumulation of nuclear weapons, and a heavy reliance on foreign aid to survive. Although his rule brought prosperity for a small elite within the country, the majority of North Koreans lived in poverty and oppression.
Kim Jong-il’s true legacy may not be known for some time, as the country remains closed off from the outside world and his son, Kim Jong-un, continues to rule with a similarly oppressive and authoritarian hand. In the end, only time will tell what legacy he leaves.
Advanced Grammatical Structures
Kim Jong-il’s oppressive rule of North Korea was reinforced through his “military-first” policy in the government, his masterful manipulation of international diplomacy, and a commitment to self-reliance and sustainability. These measures, accompanied by the introduction of sanctions and embargoes, ensured Kim Jong-il’s rule remained heavily guarded and isolated from the rest of the world. His actions bred mistrust and insecurity in the international community, and have since been described as having caused severe economic and humanitarian crises for North Korea’s citizens.
Kim Jong-il’s tenure as the leader of North Korea was not without its tragedy. His uncompromising attitude towards foreign governments caused severe economic hardship and isolation for North Koreans, leading to devastating roadblocks in their ability to receive sufficient aid to survive. While Kim Jong-il may have maintained an iron grip on the nation and some degree of stability for a small elite, his reign left a legacy of fear and death for the majority of North Koreans.
Kim Jong-il pursued a vision of North Korea’s sustainability and self-reliance during his rule. He established a “military first” policy and drafted deals with the United States and other world powers to maintain his grip on power. Despite his machinations, his rule of North Korea resulted in significant hardship and economical deprivation for the people and led to one of the worst famines in human history.
Section 2: Self-Reliance and Isolationism
Kim Jong-il’s tenure as leader of North Korea was deeply rooted in self-reliance and isolationism. He maintained his father’s militarised economy and isolationism, closed down communications with the outside world, and drastically limited foreign investment. These measures allowed him to control the country and its resources, claiming to be a self-made nation and shunning outside assistance.
Kim Jong-il also relied heavily on diplomatic initiatives to advance his vision of North Korea’s self-sustainability. He made several visits to China and South Korea, which significantly improved relations between the two countries and allowed North Korea to tap into the resources of their respective economies. He also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002 and struck a deal with the United States in 2008 in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic aid.
Section 3: Nuclear Tests and Sanctions
Kim Jong-il’s decision to pursue a nuclear weapons program in the face of worldwide condemnation led to the imposition of severe economic sanctions. The embargo primarily targeted North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which Kim Jong-il had continued to build despite condemnation from both domestic and international entities. In 2006, the country conducted its first nuclear test in response to UN pressure, worsening its international isolation.
The sanctions further worsened North Korea’s economic conditions, as the country had relied on foreign aid to meet its needs. Kim Jong-il’s gamble of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, even after facing significant international pressure, has been met with mixed results. The country has successfully demonstrated its ability to achieve nuclear capabilities in the face of significant international pressure, however North Korea is now one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the world.
Section 4: Repression and Uncompromising Attitude
One of the lasting legacies of Kim Jong-il’s rule was the repression of dissent within the country. He maintained tight control over the media, censored the Internet, and used his security services to crush any perceived dissidence. His uncompromising attitude to foreign governments further signified his commitment to maintaining his control of North Korea and maintaining a closed off approach to foreign relations.
These tactics came to a head in 2009 when the United Nations condemned North Korea for numerous human rights violations. Kim Jong-il continued to dismiss international organizations’ warnings and refused to bend to international pressure. His reign was one of oppressive dictatorship, and the consequences of his rule are still being felt by the people of North Korea today.