Originally published on Mon December 19, 2011 3:10 pm
Kim Jong Un, who is expected to become North Korea's next leader, claps after inspecting the construction site of a power station. This undated photo was released by the Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 4, 2010.
North Korea has yet to formally name its new leader, and it may take a while before it does. But there's a clear favorite. Kim Jong Un was anointed back in 2009 to succeed his father, Kim Jong Il, the country's longtime leader, whose death was announced on Monday.
If Kim does follow his father and grandfather as ruler of the secretive nation, he will face huge challenges. He's not yet 30 years old, and yet would be running a society that inherently favors leaders seen as experienced and wise, rather than young and untested.
North Korean residents line up to receive food rations at a Red Cross distribution center in Tongsin, North Korea, in 1997. Discussions over U.S. food aid to the reclusive country were to take place Monday. "You could, in a very real sense, see the needs for food assistance," said an official with Mercy Corps, after a September 2011 visit to the country.
The changing of the guard in North Korea poses clear risks for the United States.
Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Un is the likely successor. But he's still in his 20s and has had little time to prepare to take over the country. Analysts say that because he's weak, he won't be in any position to get back to nuclear disarmament talks and make concessions.
Kim Jong Un may also be tempted to take provocative actions to establish his leadership credentials, and the Obama administration has to take all this into account as it decides on next steps.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency distributed this photo of Kim Jong Un on Sept. 23.
Credit hand-out / AFP/Getty Images
It's been two years since Kim Jong Un effectively became North Korea's "Great Successor" and heir to the seat of power in the communist nation run by a family dynasty — a dynasty that began with his grandfather, Kim Il Sung (the "Great Leader") and continued with his father, Kim Jong Il (the "Dear Leader").
But in that time about the only new thing we know is that he's two years older and now thought to be in his late 20s. And, that he appears about to become at least the titular head of an impoverished nation that threatens its richer neighbor to the south with nuclear weapons