Who Really Rules North Korea

In North Korea, the ruling family has been in power since the country’s foundation in 1945. A single family, the Kim family, has maintained control throughout North Korea’s history. It is a totalitarian regime, tended by a single ruler who is essentially all powerful. The people in the government are part of an intricate system of control to maintain the obedience and fervor of the citizens.

The current leader of North Korea is Kim Jong-Un, the son of former leader Kim Jong-Il. He is the third in his lineage to assume position of power in the secluded nation; his grandfather and founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, attained power through the Japanese occupation. Together, the three leaders have held tight reign over the people of North Korea, stopping at nothing to preserve the totalitarian government.

The Kim family is the supreme leadership of their own self-governed nation. They hold all official power, with any government and military decisions determined through them. The position of power is deeply entrenched and is seen as a birthright – once one Kim ascends to power, they will be securely and unwaveringly maintained until there is a stronger force to remove them from power.

The Kim family is viewed not just in North Korea as a powerful political figure, but a religious figure too. In North Korea’s state sanctioned version of Juche, an ideology that places the welfare of the masses in the hands of their leaders, the Kim family figurehead is a figure of worship. Residents of North Korea are held to impossible, unattainable standards, and those deemed to be transgressing can literally lose their lives. The Kim family is considered by citizens to be infallible.

Beyond the ironclad grip of legitimacy which the family holds on North Korea is another more sinister layer of control. The Kim family aligns itself with a secretive network of officials who devote themselves to maintaining the country’s outward and inward loyalty, a very literal definition of ‘by all means necessary’.

Exploitation of Power

The Kim family has used their position of power to exploit the people of North Korea, denying basic human and civil rights, using the economy as leverage to gain more money, and ostracizing the population from the rest of the world. North Korea has been known to use its citizens as a means of negotiation, in exchange for food and international recognition. The North Korean government is supported financially and militarily by China, keeping the figurehead’s powerful. Food is also rationed and made available only to those who strictly toe the line and agree with the Kim’s stance.

Censorship and control are key weapons the Kim family wields in order to stay in power. North Korea maintains one of the most censored internets in the world and a highly secretive media, denying any alternative view or opinion to the state-held opinions. Journalists who report accurately and realistically on the goings-on in the country have been threatened or removed from the country, and international communications is nearly impossible. This has helped restrict any type of alternative voice, making it easier for the Kim family to stay in power.

Oppression of Dissidents

The ruling family has made exiles of those who speak against their reign – political dissidents who oppose their power are arrested, tortured, and often sentenced to labor camps. Political opposition is not just discouraged but actively suppressed, with the government reportedly operating detention centers for people who are deemed hostile to the Kim family or its policies. Liberty and expression of opinion as people experience in other countries is an idea which is quickly squashed in North Korea.

The belief in the infallibility of the Kim family is pervasive within the North Korean population – its citizens are expected to be completely loyal and dedicated to the ruling family. Those who step out of line, disobey, or criticize face harsh punishment, with the threat of being sent to labor camps or worse. There is a climate of fear in the nation which ensures the loyalty of the people.

The ruling family holds so much power in North Korea that mentioning the Kim family in anything but the most worshipful of contexts has been known to put those speaking out of line at risk of severe consequences. The country runs under their unchecked power, with the people of North Korea having no say or control over their own lives.

Human rights Violations

The Kim family has been accused of a wide array of human rights violations, including mistreatment and torture of political prisoners, forced labor, lack of free speech and religious freedom, abduction of individuals from foreign countries, and various other forms of discrimination and suppression of dissent.

It was only in 2018 that the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) concluded its findings of more than a decade of deep-rooted human rights abuses and violations in the country. Their findings included systematic and gross human rights violations carried out by the government which have no parallel in the world, and have yet to be rectified in any significant way.

The current United States policy towards North Korea has been to negotiate sanctions and economic and political pressure in order to bring some form of peace to the country and its people, but with no tangible results in sight – North Korea is a country crippled by the power of its own leader and the maintenance of the strong control that the Kim family holds. It is a nation whose people cannot easily come together or publicly call for change – despite being a nation with a population of millions, the Kim family still manages to rule North Korea indisputably.

Economic Decline

The North Korean economy is heavily reliant on the foreign aid it has historically received from China and Russia. In return it sends labor, raw materials, and weapons to these countries. However, in recent times, many nations have taken an increasingly hostile stance to North Korea due to its human rights violations, nuclear weapons programme, and bellicose geopolitical stance. This has caused massive economic insecurities within the nation.

North Korea also suffers from a lack of foreign investment due to its economic and political isolation. Many countries are unwilling to invest in a nation that is considered to be a pariah state, instead preferring to invest in nations with more stable regimes. This has caused a lack of modernization and technological advancement within the country, leading to a struggle for resources and an increase in the poverty rate.

The Kim family has failed to put any substantial policy in place to alleviate the deep economic depression and stagnation in North Korea. Policies aimed at helping the people of North Korea, such as free-market reforms and an easing on trade restrictions, remain out of reach as the Kim family unwilling to relax what many believe to be a necessary but ever tightening grip.

Political Turmoil

The political situation in North Korea is fraught with danger, with the United States and South Korea taking a tense stance towards the nation. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly threatened nuclear warfare, challenging the international community to take action. Although the United Nations Security Council has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, they have had very little affect on the daily lives of North Koreans.

The Kim family have also been accused of fomenting instability in the region by supporting the development of nuclear weapons and missiles which could threaten the entire world. In addition, they have continued to flaunt international regulations and treaties, furthering the diplomatic isolation of their country.

The North Korean government has also fostered a culture of mistrust between their nation and the outside world. For instance, North Korea has conducted numerous cyber attacks against other nations, and continues to blame those nations for their own actions. This has further deepened the divide between North Korea and the rest of the world.

The Kim family has established itself as the ultimate power in North Korea, with its citizens subject to the rule of the dictators and their government. The North Korean people stand no chance at overthrowing their leaders, meaning that the power of the Kim family will remain unchecked for the foreseeable future.

International Pressure

In addition to economic and political pressure, the Kim family has been able to maintain its grip on power due to a lack of international pressure. Despite numerous reports of human rights violations, the international community has done little to take meaningful action, instead favoring diplomatic negotiations and sanctions as a means of enforcing their message.

This is due in part to the difficulty of finding effective ways to deal with North Korea’s isolation. The country’s heavily censored media and total lack of independent press makes it difficult to gather reliable information, and the actions of the country’s leaders often go unchecked and unnoticed by the rest of the world.

The international community has been severely critical of the human rights situation in North Korea, and has imposed sanctions in an attempt to inflict economic pressure on the country to bring an end to its oppressive regime. However, with no end in sight to the Kim family’s reign, it seems unlikely that these sanctions and pressures will be enough to bring about significant change.

Continued Power

The Kim family has maintained a stranglehold on North Korea for the past seven decades, and with no sign of international pressure or any form of leverage that could shake the foundations of the country’s infamously oppressive rule, it appears unlikely that anything will bring about a change in the near future.

Given the power that the Kim family hold over their own nation and its people, North Koreans will continue to live in fear of the repercussions of disobeying their rulers. This leaves the people of North Korea with an impossible choice – acquiesce or face the consequences of defying their supreme leaders.

The Kim family has managed to maintain its stranglehold on North Korea through a combination of oppressive tactics and a fierce loyalist following. Their rule may be untouchable by the people of North Korea, but that doesn’t mean that the world has to accept it.

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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