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May 31st, 2009

Dec. 18, 2011 Update: Kim Jong-Il Dead

North Korean state television reported on Monday morning, Dec. 19, 2011 that Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 at the age of 69.

Updates at CNN and MSNBC


The Personality Profile
of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il


Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
December 2003

The Life of Kim Jong Il

A pictorial look at the North Korean leader through the years


A remote psychological assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was conducted mining open-source data in the public domain. Information concerning Kim was collected from media reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM-IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Kim’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/self-serving (narcissistic) and Outgoing/gregarious (histrionic), with a secondary Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) pattern. In addition, the personality profile contained subsidiary but relatively unremarkable Dominant/asserting (sadistic), Contentious/resolute (passive-aggressive), and Erratic/unstable (borderline) features.

The amalgam of Ambitious (narcissistic) and Outgoing (histrionic) patterns in Kim’s profile suggests the presence of a syndrome that Theodore Millon has labeled the “amorous narcissist” (relabeled hedonistic narcissist in the context of political leadership studies). These personalities have an indifferent conscience and aloofness to the truth, are facile in the ways of social seduction, feign an air of dignity and confidence, and are skilled in the art of deception.

Characteristically, these personalities fabricate stories to enhance their worth and leave behind a trail of broken promises and outrageous acts, including swindling, sexual indiscretions, pathological lying, and fraud. However, the hedonistic narcissist’s disregard for truth and talents for exploitation and deception are rarely hostile or malicious in intent; fundamentally, they are not malevolent. Having never learned to restrain their fantasies, and unconcerned with matters of social integrity, hedonistic narcissists maintain their beguiling ways through deception, fraud, lying, and by charming others through craft and wit. Instead of applying their talents toward the goals of tangible achievements and genuine relationships, they selfishly devote their energies to the construction of intricate lies, cleverly exploiting others and slyly extracting from them what they believe is their due.

In summary, Kim Jong-Il may be characterized as fraudulent, self-indulgent, and conflict averse — preferring guile, craft, and cunning rather than force or confrontation in extracting or extorting from others what he considers his due; he is not a “malignant narcissist.”

The major political implications of the study are the following: First, although North Korea’s military capability undeniably poses a legitimate threat to regional stability, any claim by Kim Jong-Il with regard to his military capabilities are not to be taken at face value, but should be called into question and verified; second, Kim is relatively conflict averse and unlikely to employ military force without provocation; and third, Kim is relatively open to influence by carefully crafted diplomatic and economic means subjectively perceived as bolstering his self-serving ambitions.

Notable development: North Korea ready to deal?


May 2009 update

My 2003 threat assessment should be read in the context of August 2008 reports that Kim Jong-Il had suffered a stroke.

Although I did not find Kim to be paranoid or delusional in my 2003 assessment, it is possible for stroke patients to undergo personality changes, including an increase in suspiciousness, or to develop psychiatric syndromes such as post-stroke depression or post-stroke dementia, which may impair the patient’s mental state and cognitive functioning.

Should that be the case with Kim Jong-Il, it may exacerbate a prior siege mentality, resulting in increasingly self-defeating, erratic behaviors patterns.

Despite remaining convinced that Kim is fundamentally risk-averse, I do have a heightened concern that a possible recent-onset organic brain syndrome could impair his insight, judgment, and decision-making capacity.

In the event Kim’s medical condition should color his pre-existing, premorbid personality with paranoid ideation or delusional thinking, he is likely to become increasingly mistrustful and vigilant; irritable and thin-skinned (hypersensitive to perceived slights and easily enraged by narcissistic injury); defiant, hostile, belligerent, and vengeful (determined to “balance the books” with respect to what he perceives as past wrongs); dichotomous ( “us versus them” social perception); insular (impervious to corrective action in response to sound advice and new information); self-righteous (arrogant and acting with a sense of entitlement); and self-justifying (viewing his own transgressions either as defensive necessity or as “payback” for the malevolence or wrongs of others).

Finally, no threat assessment would be complete without verifying who is currently “calling the shots” in North Korea, so to speak. Considering Kim’s recent medical history, it could be risky to respond to North Korean provocation under the assumption that Kim Jong-Il is fully in charge.


June 2009 update

Image: South Korean protesters
South Korean protesters hold pictures of the North’s Kim Jong-Il and a boy believed to be his annointed successor, Kim Jong-Un, 26, in Seoul, February 2009. (Photo credit: Jung Yeon-je / AFP — Getty Images)

June 2, 2009

North Korea: Kim’s youngest son named successor


North Korea Taps 26-Year-Old Son As Successor

Image: South Korean protesters
South Korean protesters with portraits of North Korean Kim Jong Il, right, and his alleged third son Kim Jong Un, shout a slogan during a rally against North Korea’s recent military policy in Seoul, on March 9, 2009. (Photo credit: Ahn Young-joon / AP file)

June 2, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — One photo shows a chubby-cheeked boy with an impish grin. Former classmates at a Swiss boarding school describe a shy student who loved basketball and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Recent reports describe him as overweight and a heavy drinker.

Now 26, Kim Jong Un has reportedly been tapped to become the next leader of nuclear-armed North Korea. …

Full story


July 2009 update

Kim Jong Il Appears Frail at Father’s Memorial Service

Kim Jong Il, seen in an undated state-issued photo, has made only two public appearances since August.
Kim Jong Il, seen in an undated state-issued photo, has made only two public appearances since August 2008.

July 8, 2009

North Korea’s reclusive leader appeared in public Wednesday for the first time in months to commemorate the 15th anniversary of his father’s death.

Kim Jong Il, 67, seemed frail and gaunt as he walked into the service flanked by senior party and military officials.

It was his second public appearance since he was widely reported to have suffered a stroke in August.

He was seen in April when he was reappointed as chairman of North Korea’s military board.

His recent health problems and long absence from public functions have prompted speculation on whether he was ready to groom an heir to the world’s only communist dynasty.

Wednesday’s service was held to honor Kim Il Sung, who died July 8, 1994 — paving the way for Kim Jong Il’s rise to power.

The elder Kim, known as “Great Leader,” is still considered to be the country’s “eternal president.” Kim Jong Il is called “Dear Leader.”

The rules governing transfer of power in the secretive communist nation are unclear, but it is widely believed that Kim Jong Il‘s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, will succeed him.

In April, the North Korean leader named Kim Jong Un and brother-in-law Chang Sung Taek to the country’s powerful National Defense Commission.

Chang, who is married to Kim Jong Il’s sister, has effectively run the country after the leader’s health problems, according to Time magazine.

Chang is “the bridge from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un,” according to Baek Seung Joo, who watches North Korea at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis and spoke to Time magazine last month.


Report: North Korea’s Kim Has Pancreatic Cancer

Image: Kim Jong Il
This July 8, 2009, image from TV footage shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, arriving at the 15th anniversary of the death of his father Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. Television footage showed him markedly thinner and with less hair – only the second state event he has attended in person since a reported stroke last year. (Photo credit: Associated Press file)

July 12, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, a news report said Monday, days after new images of him looking gaunt spurred speculation that his health might be worsening following a reported stroke last year.

The 67-year-old Kim was diagnosed with the cancer around the time he was felled by a stroke last summer, Seoul’s YTN television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials in South Korea and China.

The report cited the officials saying the disease is “threatening” Kim’s life.

Pancreatic cancer is usually found in its final stage, and considering Kim’s age, he is expected to live no more than five years, the report said.

South Korea’s spy agency said it could not confirm the report. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters he knows of nothing of the report.

Kim’s health is a focus of intense media speculation due to concerns about instability and a power struggle if he were to die without naming a successor. His third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, has widely been reported as being groomed as heir, but the regime has made no announcement to the outside world.

Rare appearance

Monday’s report came after Kim last week made a rare public appearance, in an annual memorial for his late father and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Television footage showed him markedly thinner and with less hair – only the second state event he has attended in person since the reported stroke. He also limped slightly, and the sides of his tightlipped mouth looked imbalanced in what were believed to be the effects of a stroke.

The images touched off speculation that he could have other health problems.

South Korea’s spy agency has long suspected that Kim has diabetes and heart disease.

Medical doctor and professor Min Yang-ki of Seoul’s Hallym University Medical Center has said diabetes usually leads to weight loss. The neurologist also said Kim’s limping appears to be a result of a stroke. However, he said, overall it appeared Kim has recovered from that reported illness.

Kim walked on his own into a Pyongyang auditorium for last week’s memorial at a normal pace and bowed while standing during a moment of silence.

North Korea experts said the latest images of Kim show he is still fit enough to rule.

The totalitarian leader, whose rule is buttressed by an intense cult of personality, knew that the people of North Korea would pay great attention to the memorial, and his appearance there is a message that he is in charge, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said last week.

Kim Jong Il took over North Korea after his father died in 1994 of heart failure at age 82, though he did not take on his father’s title of president. He runs the North from his post as chairman of the National Defense Commission.

In early April, he presided over a parliamentary meeting where he was re-elected as leader.

Son in line to take over?

The South’s spy agency believes that Kim’s 26-year-old youngest son, Jong Un, is sure to inherit North Korea, Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo daily reported Monday, citing a recent report to the National Assembly by the National Intelligence Service.

The agency also reported that Kim Jong Il is expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012, the centennial anniversary of late national founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, the paper said.

But the regime under the son is expected to be unstable and vulnerable to internal political strife as Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, could attempt to snatch power, the paper said.

The spy agency declined to confirm the report.


Kim Jong Il reportedly ill with pancreatic cancer (NBC Nightly News, July 13, 2009) — South Korean television reported on Monday that North Korea’s leader is not expected to live more than five years. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:22)

Related story: Analysts cast doubt on North Korean report


Who Will Succeed Kim Jong Il?

Recollections of teachers and former students at a state school in Switzerland may offer a glimpse of the young man some say is destined to lead North Korea.

Image: A boy identified as Kim Jong Un
A boy identified by South Korean TV station KBS as Kim Jong Un, the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, is seen in this photo. Kenji Fujimoto, who claims to have worked as a cook for the family for 13 years, says Kim Jong Un was aged 11 when the photo was taken. (Photo credit: Kenji Fujimoto / Reuters)

By Andrew Higgins

July 16, 2009

LIEBEFELD, Switzerland — In August 1998, as famine reached a terrible climax in North Korea, the destitute Asian nation enrolled a shy teenager in a Swiss state school. He arrived with a fake name, a collection of genuine, top-of-the-line Nike sneakers and a passion for American basketball.

“We only dreamed about having such shoes. He was wearing them,” recalled Nikola Kovacevic, a former schoolmate of the curiously well-heeled North Korean. Each pair, estimates Kovacevic, cost more than $200 — at least four times the average monthly salary in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where perhaps 1 million people died as a result of food shortages in the mid- and late 1990s.

Today, the student — who vanished from this sleepy Swiss district as mysteriously as he appeared — is a key figure in a puzzle that U.S. and Asian intelligence services are scrambling to solve: Who will lead nuclear-armed North Korea — and where to — once its gravely ill leader, Kim Jong Il, passes from the scene?

The answer is of vital importance to Washington, which has about 25,000 troops in South Korea, on guard against any resumption of a conflict frozen — but never formally ended — by a Korean War armistice accord in 1953. Who rules North Korea will decide whether Seoul, Tokyo and perhaps even Hawaii risk attack from a nation that has tested two nuclear devices, the most recent in May, and built up an arsenal of missiles and long-range artillery. The Pentagon has sent missile-defense systems to Hawaii just in case. North Korea marked July 4 this year by test-firing seven more rockets.

North Korea shrouds the biographies of its rulers and their offspring in a fog of fiction and silence. “It is pretty amazing how very little real information we have,” said Victor Cha, who served as a Korea expert on the National Security Council in the Bush administration.

A rare insight into this sealed world is offered by Swiss recollections of the young North Korean who, from 1998 until late 2000, lived here in Liebefeld at No. 10 Kirchstrasse, a sedate suburban street with two pizza joints, a Credit Suisse bank and a Coop supermarket. He was around 17 when he abruptly left in the middle of the school year, apparently to return to Pyongyang.

There are many signs that he may now be the next leader of North Korea — 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, the third and youngest son of Kim Jong Il.

Known as “Pak Un” to his teachers at Liebefeld-Steinhözli Schule, a German-speaking state school, he was registered with Swiss authorities as the son of an employee at North Korea’s embassy in the nearby city of Bern, Switzerland’s capital, according to Ueli Studer, director of education in the local administration.

Throughout Pak Un’s time in Liebefeld, however, neither friends nor teachers ever met the parents. “I never saw his father or mother,” said the school’s principal, Peter Burri, recalling how they repeatedly failed to show up for parents’ night. Attending in their place, Burri said, were assorted North Koreans who apologized for the parents’ absence and said this was due to their inability to speak German.

A more likely reason: The boy’s father didn’t work in Bern at the embassy but was more than 5,000 miles away in Pyongyang.

Maria Micaelo, the mother of one of Pak Un’s closest school friends, said the North Korean teenager once confided to her son, Joao, that his father was the leader of North Korea. She recalled that she dismissed the claim as a fanciful teenage boast, but had second thoughts when her son saw pictures of Kim Jong Il on television and told her that he’d seen the same man in a photograph with Pak Un. Joao Micaelo, now a cook in Vienna, did not respond to repeated e-mail messages seeking comment.

Kongdan Oh Hassig, an expert on North Korea at the Alexandria-based Institute for Defense Analyses, which does research for the Pentagon, says Pak Un certainly appears to be Kim Jong Il’s third son, Kim Jong Un, adding that members of North Korea’s elite usually use bogus names outside their homeland. Pak is a very common Korean surname akin to Smith.

When reports of a Pyongyang succession plan began to leak out of North Korea this year, heir apparent Kim Jong Un was widely reported to have attended the International School of Berne, a private, English-speaking establishment near the North Korean Embassy in the Swiss capital.

But, North Korea watchers say, that student — who went by the name “Pak Chol” — was most likely Kim Jong Un’s older brother, Kim Jong Chol. Both were born to Kim Jong Il’s third wife, a former dancer who died in 2004. The North Korean leader has another son, his oldest, by another wife. He also has four daughters. The oldest son, Kim Jong Nam, also studied for a time in Switzerland under an alias, as well as in the Soviet Union.


Question of Culture’

The Swiss education of North Korea’s apparent future leader raises a tantalizing question: Did it open his horizons beyond the narrow, xenophobic worldview of his homeland, where schools bombard pupils with the evils of “U.S. imperialism” and instill unquestioning obedience to a highly centralized state headed by a leader-for-life? This is in stark contrast to Switzerland, a democratic federal state in which power is widely diffused, where all laws can be challenged by citizens through referendum, and where the presidency is a rotating position that changes every year.

“There is a big difference between attending a school in a free country and a school where everyone has to salute,” said Studer, the local education director. Schooling, he added, is a “question of culture,” and a North Korean schooled in Liebefeld “will take something away that will have an effect on his life.” Pak Un, along with fellow students, had three classes a week on Swiss history from 1291 and the evolution of the country’s modern system of governance known as “direct democracy,” as well as current events, which in 2000 included the U.S. election campaign.

The North Korean Embassy in Bern, housed in an elegant villa festooned with geraniums in the capital’s most expensive neighborhood, declined to comment. Some analysts in South Korea have expressed uncertainty about whether Kim Jong Un has definitely been selected as successor, noting that no official announcement has yet been made by Pyongyang.

A propaganda display on the embassy’s ivy-covered wall obliquely addresses the issue of succession, stressing the reinvigorating vitality of youth, a frequent theme of North Korean propaganda in recent months as the regime prepares for a transfer of power. Featuring photographs of young soldiers, young athletes and Youth League zealots, it shows Kim Jong Il as he “hands over the torch of revolution to young vanguards of Juche,” the regime’s idiosyncratic state ideology.

Since North Korea’s founding in 1945, power has passed exclusively from father to son. A hereditary dynasty, it mixes communist cant with Confucian emphasis on the primacy of family ties. Its founder, Kim Il Sung, known as the Great Leader, fabricated a patriotic lineage stretching back to the mid-19th century. After his death in 1994, power passed to his eldest son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, who, according to his own falsified biography, was born on a Mount Paektu, a sacred mountain. He was really born in the Soviet Union, where he was known as Yuri.

With Kim Jong Il, 67, now ailing, North Korea is preparing to hand the baton to the third generation — and gearing up for a new round of hagiography and mythmaking. […]

Last month, according to Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based group with extensive contacts in North Korea, Pyongyang began holding lectures for selected audiences to trumpet the “greatness” of Kim Jong Un, the heir apparent. He was celebrated as a “genius of literary arts” and tireless patriot who “is working without sleep or rest” to promote North Korea as a nuclear superpower, according to the organization’s account of the sessions. Among his purported feats: He so inspired North Korea’s national soccer squad that it recently qualified for the World Cup finals, the first time the team has done so since 1966.

A confidential report prepared in May by the Open Source Center, a U.S. agency that monitors foreign media outlets, said North Korea began to prepare the way for a hereditary successor to Kim Jong Il in 2001 with an essay in a party newspaper titled “A Brilliant Succession.” It didn’t name anyone but defined father-son succession as a “pure” tradition, and warned that any revolution that doesn’t follow tradition is “dead.”

This subtle campaign accelerated sharply, according to the report, after Kim Jong Il fell seriously ill, possibly suffering a stroke, last August and vanished for months. U.S. analysts, seeking clues in mountains of North Korean propaganda, noted increasingly frequent mentions of the importance of “bloodlines” and detected veiled endorsements of Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, Jong Nam, was for a time viewed as a likely heir but apparently bungled his chances in 2001 by trying to sneak into Japan under a fake Chinese name on a bogus Dominican Republic passport. He told Japanese immigration officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Interviewed briefly last month in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau by Japanese television, Jong Nam said he had heard reports that his younger brother, Jong Un, had been chosen as successor but couldn’t comment because that “is a very sensitive question.”

Focused and Competitive

Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public since his apparent time in Switzerland. Neither his name nor his photograph has ever appeared in North Korean media. After leaving Europe, he is reported to have attended Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Military University, an officer training school, but virtually nothing else is known about him.

A senior U.S. official says he appears to have “the same interests as most 26-year-olds,” noting that these do not generally involve nuclear strategy.

If Liebefeld’s former student Pak Un is indeed Kim Jong Un, the memories of his former friends and teachers here offer a sketch of his character. He first started school after the summer holidays in 1998, a time when it looked as if North Korea might soon collapse. At about the same time, Kim Jong Il launched a secret program to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb.

During his first few months in Liebefeld, Pak Un attended a remedial language course for foreign students with poor German. A swift learner, he soon switched to a regular class, said Studer, the education official, who described the boy as “well-integrated, diligent and ambitious.” Friends recalled that Pak Un spoke fluent, if sometimes ungrammatical, German but struggled with the Swiss dialect. He also knew English.

A video of a school music class he attended shows a lithe, intense-looking Asian boy wearing black sweat pants, Nike Air Jordan shoes and a long-sleeved black sports shirt. He sways uncomfortably while classmates pound African drums and beat tambourines. Though generally quiet in class and sometimes awkward, particularly around girls, Pak Un showed a different personality on the basketball court, former friends recalled. He fell in with a group of mostly immigrant kids who shared his love of the National Basketball Association. Kovacevic, who shot hoops with the North Korean most days, said Pak Un was a fiercely competitive player.

“He was very explosive. He could make things happen. He was the playmaker,” said Kovacevic, who now works as a tech specialist in the Swiss army. “If I wasn’t sure I could make a shot, I always knew he could.”

Marco Imhof, another Swiss basketball buddy, said the Korean was tough and fast, good at both shooting and dribbling. “He hated to lose. Winning was very important,” recalled Imhof. Pak Un also liked action films featuring hand-to-hand fighting, particularly those starring the Hong Kong kung fu star Jackie Chan, and played combat games on a Sony PlayStation.

This picture of a focused, competitive young man matches what until now has been the only firsthand account of Kim Jong Un. That was provided by a Japanese sushi chef who claims to have worked in Pyongyang as a cook for the Kim family. The chef, who wrote a book on his experiences in Japanese under the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, described the boy as strong-willed, proud and “boss-like.”

During his time in Liebefeld, friends remembered, Pak Un showed scant interest in politics and never vented publicly against Americans. Instead, he worshiped American basketball stars. He spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

At his spacious apartment on Kirchstrasse, said one friend who visited, Pak Un had a room filled with American basketball paraphernalia. He proudly showed off photographs of himself standing with Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. It is unclear where the pictures were taken. On at least one occasion, a car from the North Korean Embassy drove Pak Un to Paris to watch an NBA exhibition game.

With no parents in sight, Pak Un was watched over and waited on by North Koreans who appeared to combine the duties of servants, guardians and guards. A pair of Korean women, says Imhof, often observed him playing basketball and sometimes videotaped the action. A Korean-speaking man frequently hovered nearby. “It was a bit strange,” Imhof said. But he figured this was just “a Korean thing.”

Pak Un’s ultimate guardian in Switzerland was Ri Tcheul, North Korea ‘s veteran ambassador in Bern. Ri has served in the Swiss capital for 21 years, making him the city’s longest-serving foreign envoy. Over the years, he has turned the embassy into the nerve center for Pyongyang’s sometimes furtive contacts with businessmen, bankers, officials and aid workers from across Europe.

Studer, the local education official, said school authorities never had reason to question whether Pak Un really was the son of an embassy employee. Now that he’s gone, he added, “there is no need to go into the matter.”

Pak Un’s former friends are more curious and say they’d like to know the real identity of the teenager they used to hang out with. They last saw him in 2000, when he suddenly vanished. He left no address and didn’t tell anyone where he was going.

“We thought he was ill or something and would soon be back. He never came to school again. He totally disappeared,” said Kovacevic, his former friend. He and others asked teachers what had happened. They had no idea either. “We were just playing basketball — now he is going to be a dictator,” said Kovacevic. “I hope he is a good leader, but dictators are usually not that good.”


Related story

My three sons (Newsweek, July 18/27, 2009) — The Dear Leader may not be quite on his deathbed, but he has become “more angry and impatient,” according to Nam Sung Wook, director of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a government think tank in Seoul. Kim rushed a nuclear test in May and directed harsh criticism toward Moscow and Beijing after those capitals, normally friendly, denounced the test. Some sources in Seoul even linked a recent cyberattack on South Korea and the United States to the Dear Leader’s new round of adventurism. … Full story


March 2010 update

North Korea Vows ‘Nuclear Strikes’ in Latest Threat

By Kwang-Tae Kim

March 25, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s military warned South Korea and the United States on Friday of “unprecedented nuclear strikes” over a report the two countries plan to prepare for possible instability in the totalitarian country.

The North routinely issues such warnings and officials in Seoul and Washington react calmly. Diplomats in South Korea and the U.S. instead have repeatedly called on Pyongyang to return to international negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear programs.

“Those who seek to bring down the system in the (North), whether they play a main role or a passive role, will fall victim to the unprecedented nuclear strikes of the invincible army,” North Korea’s military said in comments carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The North, believed have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs, conducted its second atomic test last year, drawing tighter U.N. sanctions.

Experts from South Korea, the U.S. and China will meet in China next month to share information on North Korea, assess possible contingencies in the country, and consider ways to cooperate in case of an emergency situation, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported earlier this month, citing unidentified sources in Seoul and Beijing. The experts will also hold follow-up meetings in Seoul in June and in Honolulu in July, it said. …

South Korean media have reported that Seoul has drawn up a military operations plan with the United States to cope with possible emergencies in the North. The North says the U.S. plots to topple its regime, a claim Washington has consistently denied.

Last month, the North also threatened a “powerful — even nuclear — attack,” if the U.S. and South Korea went ahead with annual military drills. There was no military provocation from North Korea during the exercises. …

The fate of the North’s nuclear weapons has taken on added urgency since late 2008 as concerns over the health of leader Kim Jong Il have intensified.

Kim, who suffered an apparent stroke in 2008, may die within three years, South Korean media have reported. His death is thought to have the potential to trigger instability and a power struggle in the North.


September 2010 update

North Korea Releases Photo of Kim’s Likely Heir

Image: Kim Jong Un
The front page of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010 shows a group photo of senior North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un. The newspaper identified Kim Jong Un as being second from left in the front row. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
September 30, 2010

North Korea on Thursday released what is believed the first official image of leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son and heir apparent.

A photo of a group of senior Workers’ Party officials was published in the country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

An article accompanying the photo lists the names of those in the picture. The 20-something Kim Jong Un was one of the officials named.

The photo’s release comes after the younger Kim earlier this week was handed top military and party posts at a Workers’ Party conference.

The ascension of Kim Jong Un to a prominent ruling party post put him well on the path to succeed the supreme leader at the helm of nuclear-armed North Korea and carry the family dynasty into a third generation.

Rising with him were the ailing Kim Jong Il’s sister and her husband, creating a powerful triumvirate ready to take over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two.

Kim’s Swiss-educated, youngest son was made a four-star general in his first mention in North Korea’s state media on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, the communist nation announced that Kim Jong Un was appointed to the Workers’ Party Central Committee.

After months of speculation, the state KCNA news agency announced on Wednesday that the untested Kim Jong Un had been made second in command to his father at the ruling party’s powerful Central Military Commission.

“It is another step toward a new power structure which will consist of Kim Jong Un, a young and inexperienced dictator, and two people — his aunt and her husband — who will be making all real political decisions while mentoring the young leader,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University. “A figurehead and a couple of powerful regents, if you like.”

Kim Jong Il’s sister Kim Kyong Hui, 64, retained her position as a department director on the Central Committee and gained a new post as a member of the Central Committee’s Political Bureau — the country’s second-highest political body. She has risen sharply in prominence in recent months and has been seen frequently at her brother’s side.

Her husband was also awarded new political titles. Jang Song Thaek was named an alternate Political Bureau member, KCNA said.

‘Military-first’ policy

Kim Jong Il has led the nation with absolute authority since taking over in 1994 upon the death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, in the communist world’s first father-to-son transfer of power.

Speculation has been brewing about another dynastic succession since the 68-year-old reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008. There are concerns that his sudden death without a leadership plan in place could spark chaos in the nation of 24 million that he rules under a “military-first” policy.

Noticeably thinner and grayer, Kim Jong Il has resumed touring factories and farms but is said to be suffering from diabetes and kidney trouble.

But Kim Jong Il showed no sign of losing his grip on power and was reappointed on Tuesday as secretary-general of the Workers’ Party.

The meeting, attended by Kim Jong Il, also elevated long-time loyal family aides to its supreme leadership body.

Kim Jong Un is believed to be only 27 and until this week held no known political or military positions. However, he was always his father’s favorite, and the most like him in looks and ambition, the family’s former chef wrote in “I Was Kim Jong Il’s Cook” under the pen name Kenji Fujimoto. …

A stable succession will be a relief to its economically powerful neighbors — China, South Korea and Japan.

But regional powers will be watching for any signs of a change in the policies which have driven the North’s economy to near ruin and potential collapse. That would put a huge burden on China and, especially South Korea, which would end up with much of the cost of absorbing a likely flood a refugees.


They will also be looking for any change in the reclusive state’s efforts to build a nuclear arsenal that has been central to forcing aid out of the outside world even though it has meant sanctions have largely cut it off from the global economy.

Experts are skeptical of any new dawn.

“Even with a new leader, North Korea is not likely to give up its nuclear ambitions,” said Anh Yinhay of Korea University. “But the North faces a dilemma — while keeping the reins of power within the family, the North needs to find a way to overcome its economic crisis.

“They have no choice but to rely on aid from other countries, and they may try to use their nuclear weapons as leverage during negotiations.”

Financial markets favor a continuation of the current system and relative stability.

“Externally, it’s in everyone’s best interest to support the status quo,” said Shaun Cochran, head of research for brokerage CLSA in Seoul. “Internally it is simpler to avoid conflict.

“There is an argument that there is less political stability now but I would argue there is potentially more simply because we have a direction everyone is aware of.”

China, its only powerful friend and main benefactor, said Beijing would “always handle, maintain and boost China-DPRK (North Korea) relations from a strategic height and a long-term perspective … despite the ups and downs of the international situation.”


November 2010 update

North Korea’s November 25, 2010 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island, in conjunction with the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26, 2010, most likely is indicative of a hardline policy shift in North Korea coinciding with the military leadership cementing its control over Kim Jong-il’s successor, Kim Jong-un.

In that context, my 2003 assessment of the threat posed by North Korea, conducted for the U.S. military, should no longer be regarded as valid. By all indications, North Korea’s saber-rattling of late is inconsistent with the personality profile of Kim Jong-il, who is essentially threat averse — suggesting that Kim no longer features prominently in the decision-making process of the North Korean elite.

Consequently, South Korea, the United States, and their allies now face an elevated military threat from North Korea, with the imminent risk that miscalculation on the part of South Korea or the U.S. could prompt misperception on the part of North Korean decision-makers, resulting in a military conflagration.

As suggested in my 2003 threat assessment and associated briefing reports in 2004 and 2005, the ability of the United States and its allies to emerge victorious from a militarily conflict with North Korea is not at issue; the point is that it will be a Pyrrhic victory, considering the capacity of the North to inflict mass civilian casualties on South Korea — most notably in Seoul — where fatalities could run into the hundreds of thousands.


July 2012 update

Containing North Korea:
The Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-Il


Vladimir Sayapin / Time

Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
July 2012


This report presents the results of a remote psychological assessment, conducted 2003–2004, of the personality of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s leader at the time of the study, from the conceptual perspective of personologist Theodore Millon.

Psychodiagnostically relevant data regarding Kim was extracted from open-source intelligence and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM–IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed in accordance with interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Kim’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/self-serving (narcissistic) and Outgoing/gregarious (histrionic), with a secondary Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) pattern. In addition, the profile contained subsidiary but relatively unremarkable Dominant/asserting (sadistic), Contentious/resolute (passive‑aggressive, or negativistic), and Erratic/unstable (borderline) features.

The amalgam of Ambitious (narcissistic) and Outgoing (histrionic) patterns in Kim’s profile suggested the presence of a syndrome that Millon has labeled the “amorous narcissist” (relabeled hedonistic narcissist in the present context of political leadership studies).

This political personality type is narcissistic and histrionic, with antisocial tendencies, but not substantially paranoid or sadistic. Although not as dangerous in terms of threat assessment as the so-called “malignant narcissist,” the hedonistic subtype offers its own distinctive set of challenges in the international arena.

Hedonistically narcissistic leaders are most notable for their indifferent conscience, their fraudulence, and their skill in the art of deception. Unlike malignant narcissists, they are conflict averse, preferring guile, craft, and cunning rather than force or confrontation in extracting or extorting from others what they consider their due.

The major policy implications of the study with reference to psychological operations to contain North Korean military adventurism and aggression were the following: First, it suggested that no claim, concession, or threat by Kim Jong Il could be taken at face value; he was the consummate con artist. Second, compared with malignantly narcissistic personality types such as Saddam Hussein, Kim was relatively conflict averse and unlikely to employ military force without provocation. Third, the profile suggested that Kim, like the more benignly narcissistic Muammar al-Qaddafi, was relatively open to influence by carefully crafted diplomatic means subjectively perceived as serving his self-interest and regime survival.


Related report


Containing North Korea: The Psychological Profile of Kim Jong Il. Paper presented by Aubrey Immelman at the 35th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Chicago, July 6–9, 2012. Abstract at Digital Commons:


Topical reports on this site

North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un (April 8, 2013)

Looming North Korean Nuclear Threat (Jan. 11, 2011)

Winds of War in Korea (Nov. 25, 2010)

Perilous Flare-Up of Korean War (Nov. 24, 2010)

North Korea ‘Very Dangerous’ (Nov. 22, 2010)

Kim Jong-un Succession in North Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

North Korea Threatens ‘Sacred War’ (July 23, 2010)

No Chinese Support on North Korea (May 30, 2010)

North Korea Fraud Charge (May 28, 2010)

North Korean Saber-Rattling (May 20, 2010)

Iran, North Korea Threat Level Rises (Dec. 13, 2009)

North Korea Ready to Deal? (July 26, 2009)

Independence Day Missile Barrage (July 4, 2009)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Tensions Rise in Korean Peninsula (May 30, 2009)

Tense Stand-off with North Korea (May 28, 2009)

North Korea Warns of Possible Military Action (May 27, 2009)

North Korea Launches Rocket (April 5, 2009)

U.S. Warns N. Korea on Missiles (Feb. 17, 2009)

Korea Headache Looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)

Obama Faces Daunting Challenges (Nov. 6, 2008)

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