Paper Emperor of North Korea

The North Korean threat seems to be rising, but how much of it is true, and how much of it is based in Kim Jong-Un’s urge to create military confidence in his budding regime?

By: Katie Smith

In April, North Korean raised a missile toward American bases in the Pacific Ocean. In May, the hermit kingdom launched projectiles off the country’s east coast in a muscle-flexing display to the south. Talk is rife about the rising North Korean threat. There are even calls for war.

But the North Korean threat is exactly that — a mere threat. A closer examination of the country indicates that it is not nearly as powerful of war-hungry as many would think.

It is no secret that North Korea is a family-run business — father-son succession has been the norm ever since the country’s founding in 1948. And like all family run businesses, those denied the top job by simple virtue of birth are not pleased.

Kim Jong-un’s rise to power after his father Kim Jong-il’s death, seemingly inevitable, was met with skepticism. Wizened generals who rose arduously through the ranks are now under the command of someone young and inexperienced — not a recipe for stable rule.

Very little is known about the actual distribution of power within the North Korean government, and what is known is very basic. Historically, the military has been the elite in the North Korean government; both Jong-un’s father and grandfather had its support.

But the same is difficult to say for Jong-un.

In 2010, Kim Jong-il, made his son a four-star general even though the younger Kim never served in the military at all.

Jong-un needs to gain favor from the military and prove that he is able to lead as his father did.

The generals need a distraction — and some convincing.

The Peninsula, a blog dedicated to following the foreign and economic policies in the Korean Peninsula, tracked the number of times the words “war,” “nuclear,” and other aggressive words were used in North Korean rhetoric.

The usage of negative words used in 2012 under Kim Jong-un was a 350 per cent rise from Kim Jong-il’s regime in 1998.

It’s always difficult to infer what North Korea’s plans are; the country’s borders are closed to most travelers, but one thing is certain — it’s poor and backward.

Analysts have shown that North Korea’s missiles cannot even reach India. In the event of an actual war, there is little chance it will prevail against even a lone South Korea, an economically strong country with advanced technology and a decades-old conscription system.

Kim Jong-un’s brazen war-mongering can only be interpreted as an attempted to gain the military’s confidence in his regime.

Katie Smith is a rising third-year student at Boston University. She also writes for the Campus section of BU’s lifestyle magazine The Buzz and is interning at Seal Press in Berkeley, California.

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