February 25, 2024

Like (Grand) Father, Like Son?

History Shows Kim Jong Un No More Reckless Than Predecessors

While tensions appear to have subsided on the Korean Peninsula recently after a few months of threats and tests, the feeling that the situation is more dangerous now than ever remains. The scale of the bombast that marked March and early April has even left some analysts nostalgic for the “more rational” rule of Kim Jong Il. Typical of this thinking is a Max Boot column from April, where he wrote, “Sure, (Kim Jong Il) may have been a murderous tyrant who lived the high life while his people literally starved — but at least he was predictable and conservative in his actions.” In addition, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had a similar thought, which he expressed to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation: “Frankly, I worry a lot about Kim Jong Un. I think that he does not have the experience or the sophistication, if you will, of his father or grandfather in terms of knowing where the red lines are.”

But these longings for the “devil we knew” ignore that much of what Kim Jong Un is doing now follows the same script established by his grandfather (Kim Il Sung) and father (Kim Jong Il). Not only that, it ignores the numerous provocations, attacks and outright acts of terrorism perpetrated by his predecessors, far surpassing any of Kim Jong Un’s actions in the short time he has ruled North Korea. The fact that the current crisis ended in a predictable fashion — North Korea ramping up its belligerent tone in response to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, then calming down once they ended — is evidence that Kim III is likely to approach these situations in much the same way his grandfather and father did.