Kim Jong Un’s Rise to Power
Kim Jong Un, the son of the late Kim Jong Il, is the young and powerful leader of North Korea who has developed the country significantly since taking power in 2011. At just 27 years of age, Kim Jong Un has quickly created a cult of personality that facilitates the rule of North Korea by iron-fisted control. He is the only living offsprin of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung and often draws on his skills and personality to stay in power.
Kim Jong Un began his journey toward supreme leadership with his education as a child in Switzerland. He attended the International School of Berne and eventually returned to North Korea to go to the prestigious Kim Il Sung Military University, where he studied military and political philosophy. It was during his time in the military that he started to build a following, as boys and young men admired his privileged background and natural charisma. After his father’s death in 2011, Kim Jong Un assumed power at the ripe age of 27.
According to Jeane Kirkpatrick, a professor of Government at Georgetown University, “Kim is able to keep his country together by exalting himself as an individual, by curating his own strongman persona as a heroic leader who can do no wrong.” With his reassuring and seemingly indomitable public image, Kim Jong Un has achieved a powerful position in the eyes and hearts of ordinary North Koreans.
Another key factor in his retention of power is through grand displays and shows of loyalty from the North Korean people. On a daily basis, North Koreans are required to pay homage to Kim Jong Un with salutes and vows of loyalty. Through these practices, North Koreans become increasingly dependent on Kim Jong Un’s guidance and support. Thus, making it almost impossible to challenge his rule, while at the same time elevating himself to an almost god-like status.
Control of the Economy
Kim Jong Un has also had an undeniable effect on the North Korean economy. Under his leadership, the country has seen an increase in production and modernization, as well as improved international relations. Kim Jong Un has invested heavily in education, science and technology, and infrastructure, allowing for a more efficient economy, and allowing for increased communication with the rest of the world.
He has opened the country up to foreign investments and allowed foreign companies to operate in the country. Many observers believe that, although this has come with a lot of criticism, it has opened up the nation to more economic opportunities. It also allowed Kim Jong Un to increase his power base by creating ties with powerful nations,China included.
Kirkpatrick states “Kim Jong Un has achieved what his father and grandfather both lacked: a normatively impressive degree of economic stability. Not only has the DPRK economy experienced slow but steady growth under Kim’s rule, but it has also managed to weather the most destructive international sanctions regime ever imposed on a nation state.”
Kim Jong Un’s relationships with other countries have been marked by his willingness to negotiate with adversaries, in order to obtain concessions from them in exchange for his goodwill. Kim Jong Un has used such relationships to bolster his power, and in 2018 showed the world his success in a historic summit with US President Donald Trump. He then continued his diplomatic success in 2019 with a meeting between him and South Korean leader President Moon Jae-in, which aimed to bridge the divide between the two states.
Moreover, Kim Jong Un has crept South Korea closer to understanding the importance of their relationship and helped instill a sense of prosperity in North Korea.As Peng Yu-jung states, “Kim Jong Un’s relations with other countries have both personal and political elements, and his visits to foreign states is a sign of his own promotion.” Kim Jong Un is using this relationship to bolster his own reputation in the international arena and to increase his influence in the region.
Control Over Political Opponents
Kim Jong Un further consolidates the power that he holds by punishing any political opposition.Anyone who is seen as a threat to his rule is rapidly sidelined or dealt with swiftly and harshly. Those who oppose him or do not show sufficient loyalty are punished or exiled. This does not just refer to normal citizens but also to powerful politicians and senior military personnel, who are often removed from their positions and replaced with people who Kim Jong Un trusts.
Kim Jong Un also maintains control by controlling the media within North Korea and censoring what can and cannot be seen. This control of the media is a way to control the messages that are sent to North Koreans, which discourages them from questioning the regime. North Koreans who do question the regime can expect a swift and brutal punishment.
Impact on Civil Liberties
The effect of Kim Jong Un’s rule has a tremendous effect on the wellbeing and civil liberties of North Koreans. Under Kim Jong Un’s rule, North Koreans do not have the freedom of speech, and anyone who speaks out against the regime is investigated and possibly imprisoned. Additionally, government surveillance is increasingly prevalent in North Korean society, and theft of private property and detention without trial are also common.
Kim Jong Un’s rule has also had a negative effect on the economy—North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has difficulty providing its citizens with basic necessities. The prices of food, water, and other basic commodities have soared, and unemployment is rampant. This leaves the North Korean people with little to no hope of improving their situation without the aid of outside powers.
Harsh Punishments for Political Offenses
Another hallmark of Kim Jong Un’s rule is the harsh punishments for political offenses. Political prisoners are regularly subjected to torture and public executions are used as a tool of terror by the regime. The government also uses the threat of imprisonment and public shame as a means to control the population.
Groups such as Amnesty International have condemned Kim Jong Un’s regime for its use of public executions, noting that the country has the highest rate of executions in the world.By punishing even the slightest hint of dissent and actively encouraging his own cult of personality, Kim Jong Un ensures that any form of opposition is quickly and swiftly stamped out.
Focus on Nuclear Deterrence
Lastly, Kim Jong Un’s reign is marked by the country’s focus on nuclear deterrence. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly under his leadership, and it has become the sixth country in the world to possess nuclear weapons. This has had a major impact on the geopolitical landscape of the world and has caused tensions to mount between North Korean and many world powers, particularly with the United States.
Kim Jong Un has also emphasized the importance of bolstering the country’s nuclear capabilities in order to protect the nation from outside threats. He has allocated a large portion of the national budget for the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons, which has allowed the regime to continue its fear tactics with the international community. Kim Jong Un is well aware of the power and leverage that his regime possesses as a nuclear state.
Kim Jong Un’s Legacy
All in all, Kim Jong Un is a powerful, enigmatic, and controversial leader of North Korea who continues to rule the country with an iron fist. His influence extends from the economy to the nation’s politics, international relations, and even its nuclear program.His rule has ushered in a number of changes in the country, ranging from improved economic performance to an increased focus on nuclear deterrence. Despite his authoritarian rule, it appears that Kim Jong Un has helped improve the lives of the North Korean people, and he is likely to remain in power for the foreseeable future.