When Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011, many experts saw his ascent as an opportunity for the West to transform the last bastion of hard-line communism, believing that the untested leader would shy away from confrontation with the U.S. and even South Korea.
Instead, North Korea’s leader has “proved to be more ruthless, aggressive and tactically skilled than anyone expected,” Peter Sanger of The New York Times reports. Here are a few things North Korea’s supreme leader has done in the past 18 months to surprise and unnerve the U.S.:
1. The U.S. expected Kim to ease up on obtaining a nuke, but North Korea conducted a third nuclear test in February 2013. Kim is expanding the production of highly enriched uranium to get a more plentiful supply of nuclear fuel, and recently threatened to conduct “a new form of nuclear test.”
2. When the world thought that any North Korean rocket launch would be a farce, the North launched a rocket 1,600 miles in December 2012. The event is suspected of being a test for long-range ballistic missiles.
3. In April 2013, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said it believed the North had learned how to make a “low-reliability” nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile.
4. “Defense officials say they now have less warning time on missile launches than they had two or three years ago because Mr. Kim has put his resources into mobile launchers that are regularly moved from tunnel to tunnel, making them harder for American satellites to track.” – New York Times
5. President Obama had been told that Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek would keep Kim in check, but Kim executed Jang, who was seen as an experienced diplomat with close ties to China.
6. While many waited for the North’s economy to collapse under sanctions, Kim has developed an underground illicit economy.
7. China, the world’s second-largest economy, has Kim’s back: Beijing recently rejected a damning report about horrific human-rights abuses by Kim’s regime, provides it with military hardware, and reportedly holds a trust fund for the young leader in Chinese banks.
8. Despite bans on military hardware, North Korea probably has drones to spy on South Korea, and the technology will get only better.