After only the second power transition in North Korea’s history, the government, essentially a Kim family criminal enterprise, appears to be stable. However, the regime’s foundation is weak.
Last December “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il died, and his son, Kim Jong-un, tagged the “Great Successor,” was left nominally in charge. However, it remains unclear if Kim also is the Great Decision-maker. Kim is surrounded by party officials and military officers who have long awaited their turn to rule. Who is most accomplished at brutal intrigue? Probably not the spoiled brat who spent his time in Swiss boarding school playing computer games and American basketball.
Greater power likely lies with Jang Song-Taek (Kim Jong-un’s uncle), Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-un’s aunt) and other regime elders. Indeed, Jang’s experience with Kim family governance—he was purged and rehabilitated by both his father-in-law and brother-in-law—suggests that he might not desire to elevate the third generation to supreme power.
In any case, Jang promoted his ally Choe Ryong-hae to oversee the military. And the State Security Ministry, long overseen to some degree by Jang, also has gained in status.