His government is believed to be trying to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop a missile capable of striking the United States. To that end, Kim Jong Eun’s government completed a new tunnel this year for the test detonation of what would be the North’s third plutonium device and possibly for a bomb made from highly enriched uranium, according to an August report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The young leader has also spent lavishly this year on the family cult, funding $40 million worth of statues and paintings of his father and grandfather, according to a recent South Korean government report. Notably, imports of liquor, luxury cars and foreign appliances have spiked since 2009, when it became clear Kim Jong Eun was his father’s favored son, according to a South Korean parliamentary report in October.
In the months after his father died of a heart attack, there were tantalizing hints that Kim Jong Eun might move in a more moderate direction. Unlike his father and grandfather, he had lived in the West. He reportedly spent a few teenage years in a private Swiss school, where he played basketball, wore expensive sneakers and admired Michael Jordan. He was untested and seemed callow to outsiders looking in, but after his father died, he proved with surprising speed that he was not a puppet of scheming relatives and headstrong generals. As surprising, he emerged in the first half of this year as a chubbily charismatic agent of change.
He sacked generals, sent bureaucrats to China to study capitalism and talked openly of using economic reform to improve the lives of ordinary North Koreans. His father had never talked this way. Indeed, his father had never delivered a speech in public.
Kim the younger smiled often (also unlike his dad) and seemed YouTube-savvy. As state television followed him around, he embraced small children, attended a “Mickey Mouse” performance and won global attention by showing off an attractive and well-dressed woman who turned out to be his wife. He allowed her to touch his arm in public — a stunning change from the crabby behavior of his father, whose many wives were always hidden.