North Korea, the hermit kingdom with high walls, was in the news for an unusual reason. No, not for Kim Jong shaking his fists at USA, nor an ex-NBA singing to the birthday boy, not even the video of a North Korean dreaming of blowing New York, I said “unusual” reason. It was the execution of Jang Sung-Taek, uncle and mentor to the young Supreme Leader, and said to be the second most powerful man in the country. Under the glorious rule of the Kims, executions in North Korea are more common than an ordinary man getting lunch. But the powerful were supposed to be above such punishments, especially the person second in stature only to the Supreme Leader. The young dictator chose a grotesque way to show that power resides only in his hands. But with this killing, he may as well have chopped off his own thumb.
Jang Sung Taek was an important cog in the North Korean machinery. Despite having strained relations with Kim Jong Un’s aunt, he was able to maintain his position (and his head) for many years, particularly because of the fact that he served as the umbilical cord between China and North Korea. The official biographies may portray the second Kim as a brilliant strategist, author of thousands of books, and a world record holder in golf, but even he needed people like Jang to manage mundane matters like diplomacy and economy. Kim the third has established his expertise in both the fields; by irking the main benefactor of the country beyond damage control, and putting up amusement parks and ski resorts.
In today’s world, the ground is shrinking beneath the feet of dictators. This millennium has already seen big guns like Saddam and Gaddafi meet their Maker. Kim and his regime need allies to survive. But as it turns out, the DPRK has been losing friends faster than making any. They fell out with Russia decades ago. Every nuclear test takes them further away from China. They have a venomous relationship with their southern neighbour, and portray the only superpower in the world as “hook-nosed monsters.” North Korea is like the whiny child at the dinner table whom all the adults are ignoring. Kim Jong can put up as many fireworks shows over the Pacific as he pleases, but that’s not going to sink the USA.
For seven decades, the Kim family has held the reins of North Korea. Kim Jong Un is tugging harder than his father, but he doesn’t see that he’s about to ride off a cliff. An oppressive regime, harsh living conditions, and a reckless ruler; it’s the perfect recipe for a rebellion. Throw in the nuclear weapons, and you have the biggest crisis of this century. The North Korean rule has its roots deeply embedded in an all-powerful military and decades of propaganda. Such a regime won’t go down easily. But when the centre collapses, there’s no telling how many will be crushed.