Not much is known about the heir apparent.  On December 19th, North Korean state news agencies reported that Kim Jong Il had died.  This event has catapulted Kim Jong Un into the seat of power and into the role of “dear leader”.


So what do we really know about Kim Jong Un?  According to the Washington Post, he loves Michael Jordan.  Other than that?  Not much.  Most people assume he was born in 1983 or 1984, however, his mere existence was a moderately guarded secret until 2009 when he was named as the eventual successor to his father.  As a child, he was educated in the west at a private school in Switzerland under an assumed name.  No one, except for possibly a few officials, knew of his true identity.  And while it was reported that he studied and received his college degree from Kim Il-Sung Military University in 2007, he was largely kept out of the public eye until his designation as the next “dear leader” of North Korea.  Jong Un was given the military rank of general but, until the Worker’s Party anniversary celebration in 2010, only one picture was known to have existed of Kim Jong-Un in the West; it was from when he was eleven years old (front row, right).


Even the decision to name Jong Un the successor was not free of controversy.  Jong Un’s oldest half brother, Kim Jong Nam, was originally expected to take over power after his father’s passing.  But he was passed over after he attempted to enter Japan with a false passport (he was on his way to visit Disneyland).

The unification of Korea has been both a dream and a sore spot for the North Koreans since the end of the Korean War.  In recent days, the North Korean military has been involved with multiple attacks on South Korean troops.  With a new leader, we could see several different scenarios play out in the Korean Peninsula.  Because so little is known about the new leader of the DPRK, one can merely speculate as to how he will act on the world stage.  Many experts speculate that he could be as hardline and merciless as his father, and it is also believed that his uncle, Chang Sung Taek, will serve as regent until Kim Jong Un is prepared to lead North Korea on his own. The Kim Jong family’s hardline military actions could bring more tension to the region, but who knows? Maybe his western education will influence Jong Un to favor a different approach to governance.

Until they’ve shown otherwise, it would be wise to assume that North Korea will remain a rogue nuclear state.  It appears as if they will continue to bully South Korea, strengthening both their conventional and nuclear arsenals.  Kim Jong-Un’s little-known reputation as fiercely competitive and a heavy drinker leads me to believe that it is incredibly unlikely that the region will become more stable.  But for now, all we can do is wait and see.

Mark Mayberry // University of Tennessee at Chattanooga // @MarkMayberry85