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Kim Jong Un's Reign of Fear: What's Next?

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
December 16, 2013
Los Angeles Times


When a political crisis hits Pyongyang, the leadership's normal antidote is to hide the real drama in rumors and shadows while assuring the world that outside forces are no match for North Korea's spirit of "single-hearted unity." But North Korea's real-time media coverage of the vituperative public denunciation and execution of Jang Song Taek, the uncle by marriage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has exposed deep divisions within the Kim family leadership and has shocked North Koreans and outsiders alike with its suddenness and its brutality.

By making this bold move to consolidate his power, Kim has shown great confidence. But Jang's public humiliation and execution for, among other things, "half-heartedly clapping" for Kim at a party conclave, have likely bred fear and shock at every level of North Korean society. Under Kim Jong Il, the current leader's late father, senior cadres (and especially family members) were sidelined but not executed. Jang's execution broke this pattern.

The fear pervading North Korea is likely to further sap productivity, setting back the stated goal of achieving a strong and prosperous nation. The task of excavating the roots of Jang's network of supporters will further weaken the resiliency of the regime.

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