Malaysian authorities arrested the second of two women in connection with the death Monday of Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who died on his way to a hospital after an unidentified woman covered his face with a cloth containing an agent of some sort.
North Korean diplomats unsuccessfully tried to prevent an autopsy and obtain the return of Kim Jong Nam’s body.
Jong Nam in recent years lived under Chinese protection. Beijing apparently wanted a Kim in reserve to possibly serve as a China-friendly leader of a successor regime in Pyongyang. Jong Nam, often called a playboy, appeared to harbor no desire to do so and exhibited little aptitude for such a demanding role. In reality, Jong Nam posed virtually no threat to his half-brother’s rule, but that did not mean Jong Un did not try to kill him. (There was also an assassination attempt in 2012.)
Ordering a hit on a Kim, in a society where family members were once considered divine and where regime legitimacy rests on bloodline, is an especially heinous act. It is also a desperate one. The execution of a family member can intimidate others in the short term, but it erodes support and undermines regime credibility. The murder could even be interpreted as a last resort.
The killing of his Nam Jong is not the only sign of instability in Pyongyang this month. Two weeks ago, for instance, the world learned of the demotion of the minister of state security, General Kim Won Hong. On Sunday, the chief of North Korea’s strategic missile forces did not witness the launch of the Pukguksong-2 intermediate-range missile, indicating instability at the top of the Korean People’s Army.
Whether Kim Jong Un is deeply insecure or suffering from a “delusional disorder”—the diagnosis of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service—the international community faces a North Korean supremo who now exhibits a low threshold for risk, largely because he feels he has so little to lose.
Kim has long-range missiles—three that can reach the western U.S.—and a stockpile of enough plutonium and uranium to fashion about 16 to 20 warheads. His technicians have almost certainly learned how to mate a nuclear warhead to his intermediate-range missiles and within, say, four years will have mastered the ability to strap on nukes to his intercontinental-range missiles as well. So call his murderous family drama “Macbeth with Nukes.”
[The Daily Beast]