On 28th December 2011, Kim Jong-un took control of North Korea from his late father Kim Jong-il and assumed the titles of Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, Presidium member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and was later promoted to Marshal of North Korea in the Korean People's Army on 18 July 2012. In real terms, we know very little for certain Kim Jong-un from his birth to his emergence as a likely successor to his father in 2009/10. There is general agreement that Kim Jong-un was born sometime between 1982-1984, to his father, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il, and his third and favorite wife Ko Yong-hui. It is believed that Kim attended school in Bern, Switzerland, under an assumed identity as his other siblings likely did during his father’s reign. Kim was described by those that knew him at the time as clever, but a lackluster student, who was shy with women, and very interested in sports, particularly basketball, and he liked videogames. He is reportedly a huge fan of Denis Rodman who visited Kim in 2013. After boarding school, Kim reportedly obtained two university level degrees, one in physics at Kim Il-sung University, and the other as an Army officer at the Kim Il-sung Military University. Kim Jong-un reportedly holds an Honorary degree in Economics from HELP University/Institute in Malaysia. He emerged as a likely successor to his father Kim Jong-il in 2009, after it was reportedly decided that his elder brothers were undesirable in that role. His older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was reportedly viewed as an unreliable playboy with potentially liberalist views, while his middle brother Kim Jong-chol was reportedly too effeminate or unmanly.

Signs that Kim Jong-un emerged as his father’s potential successor started with a reportedly hastily arranged marriage after his father suffered a stroke in 2010. Kim was reportedly married to a former singer, Ri Sol-ju, in 2010, and that they have a daughter, Ju-ae, likely born in 2011/12. In August 2010 Kim Jong-il paid a state visit to China and Kim Jong-un is believed to have accompanied his father on the trip. Kim made his first public speech on the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and the founder of North Korea, on 15th April 2012. There are reports that Kim is a diabetic that suffers from hypertension, and that he smokes, drinks, and eats to excess, is a mean drunk, and has likely suffered from gout. Kim Jong-un is said to be a devotee of the Chicago Bulls and Scotch Whiskey.

Based upon his actions we do know that Kim Jong-un is ruthlessly street smart when it comes to preserving the Kim dynasty and that he is not afraid to use force to achieve strategic-political ends. Since coming to power in late 2011 Kim is believed to have order 340 executions of potential rivals and purged and jailed many more. In April 2012 Kim Jong-un is believed to have had General U Dong-chuk the Deputy Director State Security and General Kim Chol Vice Minister of the Army killed by mortar round. In May of that year he had the Armed Forces Minister, Vice Marshal Kim Jong Gak killed by a method unspecified along with the Deputy Defense Minister, Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun who was executed by mortar round. In July 2012, Vice Marshal Ri Yong-Ho, Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army was killed in a gun battle during his arrest.

In December of 2013, Kim Jong-un had his uncle by marriage, General Jang Song Thaek, Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission, a position considered second only to that of the Supreme Leader, executed by firing squad along with his sister Jang Kye-sun who was killed by poison. Jang Song Thaek’s brothers-in-law, Jang Kye-sun and Jang Yong-chol, an unnamed nephew, and two sons of Jang Yong-chol were executed by unknown means. Two deputies of his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, were reportedly killed by anti-aircraft gun. Up until the purge and executions, General Jang Song Thaek had been considered Kim Jong-un’s mentor and closest adviser.

His paternal aunt and wife of General Jang Song Thaek, Kim Kyong-hui, was executed by poison months later in the Spring of 2014. In August of 2014, Kim Jong-un had his Commander of the Air Force, General Ri Pyong-Chol, Sports official and member of International Olympic Committee Chang Ung, and an architect Ma Won-chun killed by undisclosed method. In October, it was the turn of the Telecommunications Minister Sim Chol-ho to be eliminated, followed in December by the Deputy Minister of Public Safety O Sang-hon who was reportedly executed by flamethrower.

May of 2015 saw his Vice Premier, Choe Yong-san and an un-named turtle farmer executed by firing squad. In February 2016, General Ri Yong-Gil, the Army Chief of Staff was executed by firing squad followed by Kim Yong Jin, Vice Premier of Education in July, and the August killings by anti-aircraft gun of Hwang Min, an Agricultural official, and Ri Yong Jin from the Education ministry. February 13th, 2017 saw the assassination of his older-half-brother Kim Jong Nam by Sarin nerve gas in Malaysia and later in the month five State Security officials were killed by anti-aircraft gun.

On the international stage since coming to power in late 2011, Kim Jong-un has rapidly increased the pace of the North’s strategic missile programs and worked to enhance its nuclear deterrent force. Kim Jong-un is believed to have played a role in 26th March 2010, unprovoked North Korean torpedo attack on the South Korean Pohang-class corvette, Cheonan, killing 46 seamen. He is believed to have played a role in ordering the North Korean military to shell South Korean forces stationed on Yeonpyeong Island, again unprovoked, on 23rd November 2010, hitting both military and civilian targets. Shortly after assuming power, in April 2012, North Korea claimed to have launched a three-staged rocket and satellite, but it was a test of banned long-range missile technology. In February 2013, North Korea carried out a third nuclear test, said to be twice as big as the 2009 test, followed by a forth nuclear test in January 2016, which was allegedly a hydrogen bomb test, and a fifth test in September 2016 that had the biggest explosive yield of all previous tests.

In summary, Kim Jong-un’s early life remains largely an unconfirmed mystery, but the later part of his life is well known through a series of brutal domestic executions of his dynasty’s domestic enemies and a series of internationally threatened and actual uses of force to achieve strategic objectives that appear geared towards preserving his power, dynasty, regime, and acquisition of a nuclear deterrent to strike the US and others who might challenge him. 

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