Has there been a coup in North Korea?
Where is Kim Jong-un?
He has not been seen in public for nearly 40 days. There is increasing speculation that there has been a coup in North Korea.
It’s now been 36 days since Kim Jong Un was last seen in public. Is his absence good for North Korea and the threat it poses to the rest of the world? Or should we hope that he returns?
Most North Korea experts seem to believe that he soon will indeed end his absence — or that he will at least give a signal of his continued grip on power. Oct. 10, which marks the country’s Party Founding Day, has been cited as a possible time for his return. By contrast, many Western news sources — or at least their headlines — are speculating that Kim has met with a serious illness, or been ousted in a coup. Headlines like theGuardian‘s “Kim Jong Un: Has the North Korean Dynasty Fallen?” abound.
Setting aside for now the impossible question of where Kim has gone — Pyongyang’s state-run media say he is sick, though he could also be under house arrest, dead, on vacation, or simply bored of appearing in public — North Korea is arguably much more stable with Kim at the helm. (First, the eternal caveat when writing about North Korea: The country is more opaque than an eye afflicted with cataracts, so much of what I’m writing is speculation.)
The most dangerous thing about North Korea is its unpredictability. Because we know so little about what Pyongyang wants, or why it does what it does, it’s difficult to prepare for contingencies. North Korea has recently taken several steps to improve its ability to fire missiles at the United States: It has upgraded its main rocket-launch site, increased production of fissile material, and tested engines for a missile that could reach U.S. territory. Military planners and decision-makers in the U.S. government — and in other countries — need to be able to predict the likelihood that Kim will launch an attack on their country.