If you pay attention to the news, you know that the Hermit Kingdom is a fickle country. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has long been a thorn in the side of international politics. Every few weeks, the nation pops back into the news for something that leaves the world aghast.
The current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is as reclusive and secretive as the country he runs. However, many have been questioning how much longer he’ll be in power after he left the public’s eye for a few weeks. The speculation regarding the end of Kim Jong-un’s reign has accordingly increased conjecture about who will run the country next, and the resounding answer appears to be Kim Jong-un’s sister: Kim Yo-jong.
Starting with her appearance at the Seoul Winter Olympics in 2018 as a display of unity between North and South Korea, Kim Yo-jong has risen to prominence in the public eye. As it appears that Kim Jong-un is working to bolster his sister’s appearance, similar to what occurred before Kim Jong-un took power, speculation has arisen that she is being groomed to take his mantle. The prospect of a new North Korean leader merits analysis and, in some respects, a certain level of fear from the international community.
While she is just starting to rise to prominence, some of her actions already have sparked worry about the direction her leadership might take North Korea. Already a volatile nation, North Korea has often swayed on its stance towards maintaining peace, especially with its neighbor to the South, and with the varying web of interconnected alliances and treaties, each incident pushes the world closer to mayhem.
For a while now, the public goal of South Korea is reunification with the North. That is why they jointly opened a liaison office on the border of the two countries in 2018. However, a few weeks ago, North Korea demolished said office. And who was at the front of the North Korean response, likely in an attempt to prove her strength and resolve to her people? Kim Yo-jong. After the incident, her words were striking and gave a clear indicator of tumultuous times ahead, “I feel it is high time to surely break with the South Korean authorities,” alongside other brazen statements about South Korean leadership, especially President Moon Jae-in.
As a response to South Korean protesters sending anti-North Korean pamphlets and other resources into North Korea, Kim Yo-jong was extremely effective: South Korea is already crafting legislation to prevent people from sending pamphlets over to North Korea. While it’s not certain that Kim Yo-jong herself is directing these actions, as the head of North Korea’s Department of Organization and Guidance, she has the capability to inflict massive damage on world politics and use most of the resources at North Korea’s disposal to do so.
This is only the beginning of the troubles Kim Yo-jong might pose for the world and, more specifically, the United States, one of South Korea’s strongest allies. If her claiming Moon Jae-in was placing himself in the “noose of pro-United States flunkeyism” isn’t enough proof of her disdain directed at the United States, maybe her saying that he’s “mentally challenged” and a “frightened dog” for having friendly relationships with the United States is.
As a close ally with the People’s Republic of China, any action taken against North Korea would likely either be ineffective or cause strain with one of the largest economic and military forces in the world. While North Korea is most-reported on and feared for their nuclear arsenal, economic issues are far more probable and immediate. Already, China consistently breaks international standards and economic sanctions to aid North Korea and has a fragile relationship with the U.S. and, by extension, a large part of the world, but actions North Korea might take in the future could result in even more tension.
Another large concern right now is the issue of cybersecurity. North Korea has proven time and time again that they pose a huge threat to the integrity of cybersecurity both in the United States and internationally. What’s of largest concern is their capability to impact the 2020 U.S. elections, especially amid threats coming from the government that appears to be increasingly forceful under Kim Yo-jong’s direction. To mitigate the national security threat that North Korea and Kim Yo-jong’s rise poses, the United States needs to take quicker action in ensuring that it’s electoral infrastructure is secure, especially amid the fears of other international outsiders attempting to interfere in U.S. elections. Alongside this, policymakers must find appropriate ways to ensure their support of allies who North Korea threatens, and they must work alongside China rather than against to create the best course of action to de-escalate the situation with North Korea. The rise of the dangerous and volatile Kim Yo-jong poses an increasing threat as North Korea increasingly becomes more militaristic, so it is vital the U.S. take clear and comprehensive action to prevent the impending danger.
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Maryland, Joel is a rising first year student at Boston University and intends to study International Relations and Computer Science. In high school, he was president of his school’s Model UN Team and the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation Club, and was Vice President of the Cybersecurity Club. In college, he intends to continue his participation in political activism as well as Model UN. In his free time, he binge watches Netflix shows, tries to cook, and screams about politics and current events to his friends.