The not-so-shocking death of Kim Jong Nam


The death in Malaysia of Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, was shocking on its surface. But despite the brutal and spy-thriller nature of the death, in some ways, it was not shocking, say analysts Joshua Kurlantzick and Scott A. Snyder. Kim Jong Nam is known to have publicly questioned the sustainability of Kim Jong Un’s rule in the early days following the 2011 death of their father, Kim Jong Il and the 2012 transition to Kim Jong Un’s rule, they write for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Despite North Korean orthodoxy that North Korea follows a line of direct father-son succession, eliminating prospects of rule by “side branches,” the absence of a confirmed male heir means that the regime remains vulnerable, especially in the event that something happens to Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Nam’s elimination removes the prospect that Kim Jong Nam could be put forward, for instance with Chinese backing, as an alternative to Kim Jong Un’s rule if dissent were to grow in North Korea and the country were to become more unstable. It also symbolizes Kim Jong Un’s quest for absolute security through rule by fear, a leadership style that ultimately could come back to haunt him.


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