Does Kim Jong-nam's Assassination Point to Unrest in N.Korea?

      February 15, 2017 13:09

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother Kim Jong-nam was probably assassinated in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday. Kim Jong-nam has lived a peripatetic and increasingly reclusive life in self-imposed exile since Kim Jong-un was anointed to succeed their father in 2009, and it is said he was afraid to return to the North to attend his father's funeral in 2011.

      Instead he has traveled restlessly between mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. He was rumored several times to have been killed or to have defected to South Korea, and his whereabouts had become subject to international interest.

      The North Korean regime must have known that his assassination would make global headlines, but it seems to have felt that was a risk worth taking.

      Kim Jong-un had his own uncle Jang Song-taek executed in public in 2013, and pictures of Jang being dragged out of a courtroom by security guards before his execution were all over the state media. The human rights group North Korea Strategy Center puts the number of officials who were either executed or tortured at the time at a cool 1,000. Former defense minister Hyon Yong-chol and Kim Yong-jin, a vice premier, were among them.

      The incessant purges clearly show that the North Korean regime is unstable. According to Thae Yong-ho, a former deputy ambassador to the U.K. who defected last year, Kim's reign of terror has suppressed dissent but has also led to increasing disillusionment among the elite.

      If Kim Jong-nam's assassination has anything to do with an internal power struggle, a closer look at what may be going on is needed. There is no telling what could happen as the bloody purges intensify. Perhaps some kind of coup attempt is already in the works.

      It all bodes ill for South Korea. North Korea tested a new ballistic missile just three days ago to mark Kim Jong-il's birthday, and his son Kim Jong-nam was assassinated the next day. There is no telling what type of provocation North Korea will resort to next as South Korea and the U.S. prepare for massive joint military drills in March.

      South Korea needs to remind itself of just how brutal its neighbor is and take adequate steps to protect itself. It cannot simply hope that North Korea will not dare to fire a gun at fellow Koreans.

      Recently, presidential hopefuls from the opposition camp have been opposing the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. here and called for the resumption of inter-Korean economic projects. Minjoo Party presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, who leads opinion polls, has even suggested that he wants to visit the North first if he is elected. Opposition candidates seriously need to reconsider the ramifications of such comments.

      Right now in the U.S., government officials are weighing the option of fomenting regime collapse in the North or launching a preemptive strike against its nuclear and missile facilities. Kim Jong-nam's assassination should only embolden proponents of these plans. If Kim Jong-un's hand is proven to have been behind Jong-nam's assassination, all possible steps must be taken to bring the North Korean dictator before the International Criminal Court.

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