Who Is In Charge Of North Korea Right Now

North Korea is one of the most isolated nations on Earth, so it is not always immediately obvious who is currently leading the nation. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly known as North Korea, is a single-party state ruled by the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which is led by chairman Kim Jong-un. Kim has held this position since 2011, and currently resides at the presidential palace in Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-un is the third leader of the Kim dynasty, with his grandfather Kim Il-sung being the founding leader of the state and his father Kim Jong-il being the second leader. After Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011, Kim Jong-un assumed control of the country upon the recommendation of the WPK’s Central Committee and the National Defence Commission. He later assumed the leadership position of the military in 2012, and was formally declared the leader of North Korea at the 2nd Conference of the WPK Central Committee in 2012.

Unlike many nations, North Korea has a highly personalized leadership structure. The nation’s apparatus consists of two main elements: the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), which is the elected national legislature and serves mostly in a formal capacity; and the National Defence Commission (NDC), which is the supreme commander of North Korean armed forces and effectively holds executive power. Kim Jong-un is the chairman of both the WPK and the NDC, representing the highest political and military authority in the nation. He is supported by a ‘troika’ of powerful senior officials— Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Yong Nam, and Hwang Pyong So — who serve as his key advisers.

Kim Jong-un is known for his highly unorthodox — and mostly undemocratic — style of rule. His style is characterized by autocratic decisions, which may be influenced by the military or other powerful groups, as well as occasional assertions of his own personal preferences. For example, in 2014 Kim famously declared that traditional economic policies and institutional reforms would be replaced with a “line of red and blue” — that is, a policy of rigorous isolation and central control. His decision to erect a new statue of his father and to replace the iconic currency notes of the North Korean won with new ones featuring his own portrait has also been seen as a display of his authoritarian instincts.

In addition to his strong grip on North Korean politics, Kim Jong-un is also a symbol of North Korean military strength. Under his rule, North Korea has continued to modernize and expand its nuclear weapons capabilities, as evidenced by its two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017. In addition, the North Korean military has conducted an increasingly aggressive series of cyberwarfare and cyber-espionage operations against its enemies, including numerous hacker attacks against the US and South Korea. The perceived threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear-armed forces has in turn put a great burden on the international community, forcing the US and its allies to pursue a long-term policy of sanctions and diplomatic pressure in order to dissuade Pyongyang from further developing its nuclear capabilities.

North Korea’s Political System

North Korea has a unique political system called “the one-party system with a single political central” and “democratic centralism.” The SPA is the institution that holds the majority of the legislative authority, though its representatives are selected through an electoral system that fundamentally prevents a true representation and minority voices from being heard. The SPA itself is somewhat subservient to the central authority of the WPK, which further perpetuates the lack of accountability and oversight that characterize North Korea’s government.

As part of his governing philosophy, Kim Jong-un has embraced a broader idea of national self-reliance called “juche,” which emphasizes the North Korean people’s ability to work together to solve their own problems without relying on other nations. This philosophy has been expressed in various government initiatives, such as the Five Year Economic Plan, which was announced in 2015 with the aim of increasing economic output by 2021. It has also been used to justify the nation’s controversial human rights record, though many international organizations have protested the continuing abuses suffered by vulnerable citizens.

Although the WPK is the only legally permitted political party in North Korea, several opposition parties have formed both within the country and abroad. These parties tend to focus on promoting democracy and human rights in North Korea and unifying the Korean peninsula. Public dissent is severely punished in North Korea, however, and it is unlikely that any meaningful changes will occur in the near future.

North Korean People’s Attitude towards Kim Jong-un

Despite his sometimes unpopular policies and authoritarian style of governance, Kim Jong-un generally enjoys broad public support in North Korea. He has sought to foster an image of himself as both an effective leader and a loving father figure for the people of North Korea. His recent visits to various parts of the country, in which he frequently distributes gifts and praises the hard work of local citizens, have further cultivated this image among the populace.

Nevertheless, there is a large discrepancy between the perception of Kim Jong-un among ordinary North Koreans and the reality of his rule. While the country’s propaganda machinery has done a phenomenal job in fabricating a cult of personality around him, the effects of his foreign policy decisions, such as the missile tests and the international sanctions imposed on the country, are felt by everyday people.

Moreover, the young leader’s reforms and initiatives have so far been relatively unsuccessful in improving North Korea’s economic woes. Despite repeated calls for reform, North Korea’s economy remains largely dependent on heavy subsidies from China and other neighboring countries, leading to a significant rise in inequality and poverty. The average citizen is largely unaware of the economic realities due to the government’s tight control over the media, but this does not change the underlying situation.

North Korea’s Role in the International Arena

On the international stage, North Korea has been a source of tension for decades. Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, its confrontational posture towards Seoul and Washington, and its human rights abuses have all contributed to the nation’s growing isolation from the international community.

Though the United Nations has frequently condemned North Korea’s actions, the country has largely ignored these condemnations and continued on its path. Its relationship with the United States has reached its lowest point in recent years, with Pyongyang condemning Washington’s “hostile policies” and repeatedly rejecting any offers of negotiations. Similarly, North Korea has also repeatedly violated the armistice agreement with South Korea and has conducted multiple military drills and weapons tests in the Korean peninsula.

However, in recent years North Korea has also attempted to engage diplomatically with other nations. This may indicate that the country is willing to negotiate under certain conditions. For example, North Korea has reopened its embassy in Vietnam, a move that is seen to be aimed at demonstrating its readiness to engage with other countries and to strengthen economic ties with its neighbors.

North Korea’s Relationship with Other Nations

North Korea has long been isolated from the international system. Its membership in the United Nations is symbolic of this, as Pyongyang has largely refused to cooperate on a range of issues, including disarmament and economic sanctions. Moreover, it has pursued an increasingly aggressive foreign policy, often engaging in military provocations and cyber warfare against the US and other nations.

That said, North Korea has conflicting relationships with some of its neighbors. On the one hand, it has a close relationship with China, which provides the bulk of North Korea’s economic and diplomatic support. On the other hand, South Korea remains wary of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and regularly protests any provocations by the North.

The European Union, meanwhile, has generally adopted a policy of cautious engagement with the North, while Japan has remained proactively hostile. In addition, the United States has had a volatile relationship with North Korea, alternating between diplomatic overtures and economic sanctions.

International Sanctions and Pressure on North Korea

The international community has consistently sought to put pressure on North Korea through various forms of economic and political sanctions. Such sanctions have been critical in recent years, as they have hampered North Korea’s ability to procure and develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ability to support itself and its citizens.

The United Nations has been at the forefront of the effort to isolate North Korea by imposing frequent and increasingly stringent sanctions. For instance, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in 2017 that imposed new sanctions on North Korea’s banking and trading partners, as well as on certain individuals and entities in the country. The US and its allies, including South Korea and Japan, have also pushed for more stringent sanctions, refusing to accept North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its aggression.

These sanctions have had an immediate and significant impact on North Korea, leading to a sharp reduction in trade and a number of black market activity. In particular, the sanctions have disrupted North Korea’s ability to acquire essential supplies, leading to a severe shortage of basic goods and commodities and widespread food insecurity in the country.

The Future of North Korea

Despite international efforts to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the country has remained defiant in the face of criticism and pressure. The future of North Korea remains uncertain, as its government appears unwilling to change its behavior or engage diplomatically with its enemies. Nevertheless, recent events may point to an agreement between North Korean and US officials, which could lead to a potentially successful negotiation over the country’s nuclear program.

It is also possible that North Korea could face serious internal challenges in the near future, with discontent among its citizens growing in the face of rising inequality and poverty, and increasing repression from the state machinery. Kim Jong-un, who is now in his early forties and is reportedly in failing health, may be unable to continue leading the nation for much longer. The reshuffling of leadership in Pyongyang could lead to significant and unexpected changes in North Korea’s policies and relations with other countries.

Whatever the future holds for North Korea, one thing is certain — the current situation is unlikely to remain unchanged for long. The country is at a crucial crossroads, and the decisions that its leaders make will no doubt have far-reaching consequences for the international community.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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