Among the most worrisome aspects of Jim Jong Un’s regime is his inexperience and youth, as he is only 30-years old and thus the world’s youngest head of state. Of course, North Korea’s lack of respect for human rights and attacks on its own people have been well documented. As an example, in early January 2011, the North Korean regime began either executing or detaining around 200 protégés of both Jong Un’s uncle-in-law Jang Sung-taek and O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea, in an effort to rid the country of potential competitors to Un. The regime is known to continue its heinous policies of killing defectors, organizing public executions and sending the populace to prison camps.
Perhaps the most heinous of the crimes perpetrated by the North Korean regime is the mass slaughter of its own people. Up to about three million citizens are estimated to have perished through hunger, as its million-man army is fed and the populace is starved. Indeed, it was only a few days ago when a secret video shot in North Korea from the Chinese border showed a starving 10-year old boy left for dead in the street, while sacks of rice are unloaded near him to feed the army. Ordinary citizens, themselves suffering from starvation, simply meander by with no regard. Estimates are that millions of others live close to starvation and children are left to suffer from malnutrition due to being orphaned or having their parents imprisoned.
The regime uses starvation to control the population, leading some North Koreans to resort to cannibalism or eating tree barks. According to Pastor Kim Seung-Eun, a cleric who has helped North Koreans flee, “One man was shot dead, executed because he ate half of another human being and sold the rest as meat. People are living like animals in that country.” The video also shows a North Korean prison camp where laborers are forced to carry wood to repair a bridge and dig crops out from frozen land.
Media reports indicate Un is thought to have been involved in the bombardment of Yeonpyeong and the Cheonan sinking to burnish his credentials and pave to way to a seamless transition of power from his father. He seems to have received the attention of the right crowd when the ruling Workers’ Party said in an editorial “We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader.”
Beyond the threat Un poses to his own population, he continues to antagonize world powers, including the U.S. On March 7th of this year, for example, he threatened the U.S. with a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” and to “wipe out” Baengnyeong Island, where battles have broken out before.
In addition, just a few days ago, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency, announced that North Korea probably has a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, although its reliability is low. Although James Clapper, the director of national intelligence indicated this was not the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, this has only heightened tensions on both sides and the U.S. has increased missile defense systems on the west coast and the island of Guam.
As the rest of the world, both allies and enemies, await the outcome of the near-brinksmanship being pursued by Un, the North Korean regime needs to be viewed through the prism of the past. Too many times, the world has learned the hard way by “turning the other cheek” while dictators terrorized both their own people and other nations who were fully capable of putting a dent in their plans. The path we forge as a nation has important implications not only for the Korean Peninsula, but for our relations with the Middle East, China, Russia, and other potentially aggressor nations. Iran, in particular, is watching closely.