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71 Republic Person of the Year: Kim Jong Un

From a sharp yet silent tension to nuclear posturing: How one man has brought the future of international defense and cooperation to the Korean peninsula.

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By Andrew Zirkle|USA

Somewhere, deep in a land fortress implanted in the far East of the world, is a man with his hands on a trigger. This man, so isolated from all, yet known by so many, has used this year to captivate an audience, build his power, and prepare his trigger finger for the ultimate decision. Kim Jong Un has single-handedly made the earth tremble, both figuratively and literally, by presenting a nuclear threat of a magnitude unseen since the 1960’s. This year, the leader of North Korea has shown an intense desire to shift American and Western attention from the Middle East to the Far East through aggressive threats and a new wave of missile and payload performance tests that have kept the defenders of democracy in Asia awake throughout all of 2017. Before this year, Kim Jong Un struggled to share the spotlight with other world threats. However, with the downfall of ISIS as a major threat combined with a surge in Korean nuclear capabilities, he has managed to give his threatening regime much more attention from South Korea, Japan, the United States and even China.

Kim began the year with a threat that fell on deaf ears. In a thirty-minute television speech on New Years Day, 2017, Kim personally delivered a message that North Korea was approaching the apex of nuclear technology, with a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile to be ready soon. Kim made a New Years resolution that his country would “translate the people’s ideas and dreams into brilliant reality on this land,” a promise that fell apart as the regime aggressively pursued nuclear hellfire ahead of the welfare of the country, pushing its citizens to the brink of starvation.

Kim began to make good on his threats starting in February, when on the 11th, North Korea tested a Pukguksong-2 medium/long-range missile, a test which prompted concern from Japanese President Shinzo Abe, who was meeting with President Donald Trump during the launch. Kim followed this fairly routine missile test with something much

Image: FILES-NKOREA-KIM

Jim Jong Nam

more ambitious. On February 13th, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam was found dead at a Malaysian airport, later found to be assassinated by DPRK operatives using nerve gas. This calculated killing of his half-brother showed that Kim was now willing to do anything to solidify his position as the supreme leader [of the DPRK] and prevent any political challenges so that he could operate more freely through the rest of the year. The assassination provoked a concerned response from the international community, including accusations from the South Korean government that the assassination of the fairer brother was “an intolerable crime against humanity and terrorist act.”¬† Just weeks after these two February incidents, China announced that they would be banning all coal exports to North Korea, a decision that would have severe financial ramifications for both countries.

 

Despite creating a heightened tension in the international community, Kim Jong Un and the DPRK continued upping the ante by firing four ballistic missiles into Japanese waters on March 6th, testing a rocket engine designed for ICBM use on the 20th, and launching a failed missile test towards the end of the month. Kim continued his provocations into April, firing 3 more ballistic missiles as tests throughout the month and showing off new ICBMs and other military technology in a military parade. The United States tried to calm tensions throughout the month by taking part in joint exercises with South Korea and Japan, as well as engaging in talks with China. However, the US response came to an abrupt stop, after a carrier strike force group that was said to be headed for the peninsula as a show of force never showed up.

As tensions began to heat up in the Korean peninsula, the US finally had achieved concrete success through the installation of the THAAD missile defense system, that despite receiving heavy criticism from China, finally was installed in South Korea for its protection from a nuclear strike. Nevertheless, North Korea continued their unprecedented volume of tests, with more missile launches occurring in May on the 14th, the 26th, and the 29th. Following a busy month by Kim and the DPRK, the UN Security Council voted unanimously on June 2nd to introduce some of the toughest international sanctions on any country ever, further pressuring North Korea and endangering their progress towards a nuclear weapon. The situation between Kim Jong Un and his enemies escalated, after an American prisoner and college student, Otto Warmbier, was returned to the United States in such a state of medical neglect that he died days after returning home. Kim Jong Un pushed the envelope even more when on July 4th, on American Independence day, he ordered the test of the Hwasong-14, an ICBM

Hwasong-14-missileTA2-807438520

Hwasong-14 Missile

that most experts agree could strike most of the United States. Another successful long-range test on the 28th of July confirmed the opinion of many defense officials that North Korea was now capable of hitting cities in the United States as far inland as Denver and Chicago. Rhetoric reached a height on the 8th of September, with Donald Trump vowing that North Korean nuclear threats would be met with “fire and fury,” a threat that was directly countered by a North Korean threat to fire ballistic missiles at the US territory of Guam in the next month. Despite not attacking Guam, Kim did authorize another missile test on the 29th of September, one that flew so close to Japan that anti-missile sirens were activated. Testing and threats reached their pinnacle on the 3rd of September when after high volumes of missile tests, the DPRK tested a hydrogen bomb. The bomb, which had a yield of 120kT and produced a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, caused a flurry of responses from world leaders, with some like Vladimir Putin and various state department officials stating the time for dialogue with North Korea was useless and would not help the situation. North Korea has restrained themselves only slightly after September, with only 2 missile tests occurring since then. With the slowing down of missile tests, horror stories have been pouring out of North Korea displaying the dire conditions of hunger and radioactive poisoning that the citizens face under the Kim regime. The month of November was then capitalized by the successful escape of a DPRK soldier over the demilitarized zone and into South Korea, despite being shot multiple times during his escape.

Although there has only been one missile test in the last two months, Kim Jong Un has left his personal mark in 2017. A year, that otherwise would have been capitalized by the victory over ISIS, has been marred by the countless tests and empty threats by the Kim regime. Although it may not be apparent, Kim Jong Un now sits upon a foundation of instability, with UN sanctions spreading resources thinner and unrest at an all-time high The nation that Kim Il Sung built decades ago is now only held together by the momentum of its nuclear program and the threat it poses to international security. Kim Jong Un is now on the cusp of history. Will he strike the democracies of the East and the United States with unrelenting nuclear fire? Or will his exhausted state fade back into obscurity under international pressure? This is a question with an answer that is dependent on the one most important man of the year, the one still hiding in his fortress of Pyongyang. Until Kim himself makes the hard decision, he will remain alone, isolated and with the fate of the world in his hands, his hands wrapped around a trigger.

(Note: This is not an endorsement of North Korean policy or the Kim regime)

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