Let’s engage in some perspective taking.
You are Kim Jong-un.
You’re twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old.
You were educated in Switzerland.
You like basketball.
And you’re the newly crowned leader of one of the most internationally despised regimes on the planet.
You’ve inherited a starving populace, political prison camps holding hundreds of thousands of your own people, a military with aggressive and isolationist tendencies, and a relationship with your closest ally and benefactor that is rocky at best.
Your government is filled with people who have been running the country a lot longer than you have. There are rumblings from the general populace and your inner circles that you’re too young and too unqualified to rule. Your dad made promises before he died that the disaster ridden nation would be “strong and prosperous” by the year in which you took power. You’ve been tasked with replicating the persona of your deceased grandfather who had near godlike status with the citizenry, but who held power during a time when the nation had not yet ruined itself economically and benefited from a lot more foreign support than it does now.
The nation, which has survived for decades on a policy of controlling the way people think and restricting freedoms, is slowly but certainly opening up to outside influence. Novel forms of information and technology are bleeding over the border at an ever increasing rate. The people are gaining a more realistic understanding of the world outside of country walls than ever before. They are learning that neighboring nations and declared enemies are much better off than they are. They are are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that they are suppressed, and that it’s your government’s fault.
Let’s be honest, you’ve got a mess on your hands.
That said, you haven’t really done anything yet. You’re a tabula rasa leader. The policies of the past were instituted by your predecessors, not by you. You didn’t facilitate the famine, you didn’t construct the political prison camps, you didn’t create the nation’s military policy. You don’t necessarily have a predetermined seat at the International Criminal Court.
What kind of leader are you going to be? Even if you have no interest in doing what is best for your people, but are concerned solely with self preservation, how are you going to make sure that you live out the rest of your life in power without ending up killed or imprisoned?
Will you continue with the status quo? Clamping down on the people and acting aggressively towards the outside world? Hope that repression will continue to be sustainable and that you’ll live the life of your father who denied pleas from the international community, but died of natural causes as an old man?
Will you change the policies of your nation for the better? Try to own the undeniable marketization, technological, and informational shifts already spreading through the populace? Turn away from your father’s path of embodying the role of a defiant dictator and try something new?
Kim Jong-un is currently an unknown quantity and there are a lot of factors involved in trying to predict anything about his future. Some experts suggest that he is pigeonholed to follow directly in the footsteps of his predecessors, bound to be evasive and hostile. Others hypothesize that he will not survive long without undertaking some kind of reform, and that embracing change is a necessity for self preservation.
Maybe he’s open to suggestions.
What would you do if you were Kim Jong-un?
JONATHAN J. LUEBBERS | Research & Strategy / Administrative & Event Planning Intern