January 22 2014
photo by Reuters/KCNA
This commentary appeared on U.S. News & World Report on January 21, 2014.
The execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korea's young dictator last month raises new questions about the most opaque polity on the planet.
The ruthless purge of 67-year-old Jang Sung Taek appears to be the culmination of a power struggle that makes 30 year-old Kim Jong Un the undisputed supreme leader of North Korea. Two years after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, the younger Kim felt he needed to make an unambiguous statement to elites in the Korean Worker's Party and the Korean People's Army that he was firmly in command and had zero tolerance for dissent. What better way to signal his omnipotence than to send the message that no one in the country is immune from the ruler's wrath than to physically eliminate the most politically prominent member of his own family?