According to the grim metric of fatalities in the first 10 years of a dictator’s rule, Kim Jong-un has yet to match the records of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, or his father, Kim Jong Il, the two tyrants who reigned. for the terror in North Korea before him. For now, The number of people Kim Jong-un has personally ordered killed – such as his uncle in 2013 and his stepbrother in 2017 – is likely to be in the hundreds.
But his decade in power, which began after the death of his father on December 17, 2011, has been a disaster for the inhabitants of the communist nation. The isolationist state has become even more so, as the northern border with China was closed during the coronavirus pandemic, cutting off an escape route for those desperate to flee. Meanwhile, food insecurity means that “a whole generation of children” is undernourished, as the United Nations has reported.
Hard figures are hard to come by on how many have died of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia, under Kim. But as a student of Korean history, I believe that the young dictator – who will turn 38 next January – has the ability to surpass even the appalling death toll of his two family predecessors.
Kim Jong-un’s first decade in power has been a continuation of the deadly repression and failed policies that have kept North Koreans living in fear and under threat of starvation for the past 70 years.
The Korean War that the current leader’s grandfather started in 1950, just two years after founding North Korea, claimed more than 4 million lives – most of them were North Korean civilians killed by the United Nations coalition he came to defend. to South Korea-.
Once his campaign to take South Korea by force was thwarted by the 1953 armistice, Kim il sung he set about purging pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese party officials who had dared to criticize him. The North Korean leader launched into a massacre in which thousands of party officials were killed or expelled from the Labor Party of Korea.
Your son, Kim jong il, came to power in July 1994 and oversaw a devastating famine in which more than two million people starved.
But instead of buying food, Kim Jong Il sought help, most of which he diverted to the North Korean military. At the height of the famine in 1997, the US State Department estimated North Korea’s military budget to be $ 6 billion. During those dark times, Kim spent more than $ 1 billion a year on his missile programs alone and more than $ 600 million on luxury goods imports.
He also managed to raise enough money to build an approximately $ 800 million mausoleum for his dead father, in which he himself was buried in December 2011 after succumbing to a suspected heart attack.
If he had spent just $ 200 million of his wealth each year on grain and distributed it fairly, no one would have died. Instead, as the 2014 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in North Korea alleges, Kim Jong-un committed the “inhuman act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
The same claim could be made against Kim Jong-un during his decade in power. Famine conditions have been observed in the mid-2010s and have resurfaced during the pandemic.
Even before Kim sealed the border with China in January 2020, North Korea recorded a food shortage of about 1.36 million metric tons in 2018 and 2019. Their solution has been to turn to aid, and in October , telling his people to eat less until 2025. Meanwhile, during his 10 years in power, Kim has diverted about a quarter of North Korea’s GDP to the military.
And under Kim Jong-un, North Koreans are only finding it harder to escape chronic hunger. During the famine of the 1990s, many North Koreans were able to escape to China in search of food, despite attempts by Kim Jong-un to block them.
In the first year of Kim Jong-un’s rule, the number of fugitives heading to South Korea was cut in half from the previous year, to about 1,500.
And in the last nearly two years of the lockdown under Kim, border crossing has become much more difficult. In 2021, the number is expected to be well below 100.
A deadly legacy
When Kim came to power in December 2011, I predicted that his government would be characterized neither by reforms nor by the distribution of power, but by extreme internal repression and strategic threats against neighbors.
Unfortunately, these projections have been proven correct. The atrocious human rights record of Kim’s predecessors has been upheld in the past decade and there has been a breakthrough in the despotic dynasty’s missile programs. North Korea has fired more than 130 missiles in the past 10 years, punctuated by three ICB explosions in 2017. Of the four nuclear tests, the last in 2017, was a thermonuclear bomb.
These lethal weapons are tailor-made to threaten the US with nuclear war while Kim hints at the possibility of peace, thus forcing Washington to withdraw US troops and strategic weapons from South Korea, as Sister requested. from Kim, Kim Yo Jong, in August.
Kim Jong-un’s apparent goal is to make Seoul, Washington’s long-time non-nuclear ally, vulnerable to his nuclear-armed state, bent on completing its “supreme national task” of carrying out the “great revolution.” Juche ”: the absorption of the South and the unification of the Korean peninsula in North Korean terms.
A nuclear war, even if limited, could kill millions of civilians, a horrendous feat already accomplished under the leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
What is different under Kim Jong-un is that he has created the ability to inflict much greater carnage on the outside world, including the United States.
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