Last December, North Korea impressed the world by finally succeeding in launching a satellite into space, meanwhile causing concerns about its intentions in developing ballistic missiles. While having celebrated the fact in his first New Year’s address as supreme leader of the country, Kim Jong Un’s overall discourse that day actually presented a peaceful tone, specially in regard to South Korea. But last week, concerns raised again as the Democratic People’s Republic performed its third nuclear test.
All later events considered, the intentions and future of the eastern asian country are rather unclear. But instead of trying to figure them out, perhaps a more pertinent question is: do they even know what they want? While North Korea as a country supposedly has some guidelines, its leader’s attitude suggests that he’s not quite sure about how to conduct his mandate.
Besides the fact that North Korea’s extensive list of economic, political, social, and diplomatic challenges by itself would impose doubts in anyone in charge of leading the country, when we consider that North Korea’s leader is just in his late 20’s, we get further evidence on why his behavior lacks consistence.
Young age leadership is not uncommon in non-democratic politic systems. If we look at the list of world youngest state leaders, we find Kim Jong Un in the first position, and the king of Bhutan, age 32, in second. Back in history, Alexander the Great became king of Macedon at age 20; Queen Victoria inherited the throne when she was 18; and Puyi, the Last Emperor of China, became so at the age of — wait for it — 2 years and 10 months. In democratic countries the picture is more reasonable. Considering the American case, for example, the youngest of the 44 presidents was Theodore Roosevelt, which assumed office at age 42, and the median age of accession is of about 55 years.
It can be argued that being over 30 does not imply certainty about political convictions, as reminded by Mitt Romney’s behavior during the last presidential campaign. But such cases are outliers. In general, it’s not a good idea to assign positions of such broad influence and responsibility to citizens that are barely old enough to be sure about personal affairs such as career and marriage. Complicated issues related with country leadership demand professional and personal experience that require much more time to accumulate.
Of course, the people of North Korea didn’t have much choice, and due to scandals involving Kim John Un’s eldest half brother and previous favorite to succeed Kim Jong Il, neither the current leader did. Still, there’s hope that the situation might end up being beneficial for the North Korean people. If the international community exploits the current scenario by raising its tone on Pyongyangs exhibitionist displays of military power, increasing economic sanctions, and pressing for internet access, eventually their economy will get stagnant enough, and the population informed enough, that Kim John Un will have no alternative but to conduct beneficial reforms similar to those Mikhail Gorbachev implemented in the agonizing Soviet Union.
(A version of this article appeared in Washington Square News.)