North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is the world’s youngest head of state — and behaves like it. He commands an active-duty military almost 1.2 million strong, has an attractive wife who likes European fashions, a celebrity pal (retired NBA player Dennis Rodman, who called Kim a “great guy”) and the chutzpah to suggest that President Obama “call him” anytime. He also claims to have nuclear weapons (most of the world believes him) and has an apparent need to prove himself. His missile and nuclear tests might be intended as posturing rather than genuine warmongering, but even so, he may yet tip the region into conflict.
North Koreans think that Kim resembles his grandfather Kim Il Sung, who built from the ashes of the Korean War a communist country that until the 1970s had a higher standard of living than South Korea, and they hope this youngest Kim will focus on the economy instead of following the path of his father Kim Jong Il, who, despite the conspicuous displays of grief at his funeral in December 2011, is widely blamed for the deaths of millions of people from famine since the 1990s. Kim Jong Un is still on his honeymoon. He needs to prove that he can deliver the rice, not just bluster and anti-American rhetoric. Otherwise, he too will be just another tin-pot dictator ruling from the barrel of a gun.
Demick is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and the author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
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