North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun’s extended absence from public view opened a flood gate of rumors.

It went from a military coup to broken ankles, with gout, diabetes and obesity also mentioned. International concern with Kim’s absence was justified, given the immense power this 31-year-old leader inherited from his father, Kim Jong-il, who passed away in December 2011.

An objective assessment of Kim’s dismal performance during the past two-and-one-half years is compelling: North Korea has become a more isolated and despised nation. The missile launches, nuclear test, threats of a pre-emptive nuclear attack, the brutal execution of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and the routine vitriol coming out of Pyongyang all contributed to North Korea’s pariah status.

Thus the initial hope that this young leader would move North Korea in a more positive direction gave way to despair, when North Korea assumed a more strident and belligerent attitude; an attitude that alienated its leadership from all countries, including China. It would not have been unreasonable to assess that this period of failed leadership was the catalyst for a military coup by those seniors in North Korea who wanted to reverse this negative trajectory; who wanted North Korea to engage economically with the international community and have United Nations sanctions lifted.


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