Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

Global Security Newswire

Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

Produced by
NationalJournal logo

U.S. Commander: North Korean Leader May Not Be Consistently 'Rational'

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the command of the Korean People's Army in this undated picture, released earlier this month by official state media. The head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific said Kim does not appear to consistently make decisions in a rational manner. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the command of the Korean People's Army in this undated picture, released earlier this month by official state media. The head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific said Kim does not appear to consistently make decisions in a rational manner. (KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific on Thursday questioned whether North Korea's Kim Jong Un consistently makes lucid and logical decisions.

Kim's "behavior" -- or at least what has been reported out of the notoriously isolated country -- "would make me wonder whether … he is always in the rational decision-making mode, and this is a problem," U.S. Pacific Command head Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear said at a Pentagon press briefing.

Since coming to power in late 2011, Kim has presided over a number of startling events in North Korea, including last month's execution of Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and former adviser. Last spring, the hermit nation engaged in nuclear saber-rattling against South Korea and the United States. Kim also has overseen long-range missile and nuclear-device tests, as well as expansion of the country's fissile material-production capabilities.

These actions have puzzled and unnerved senior U.S. military officials, some of whom now worry that the Kim regime may not be as stable as was once thought. Were the government to collapse, North Korea could be faced with a power vacuum that might jeopardize the security of the country's weapons of mass destruction or sensitive materials.

"The way ahead with the new leader is not clear to me," said Locklear, adding that Kim's actions have contributed to making the region a "very dangerous place."

North Korea watchers similarly have said they are uncertain why Pyongyang risked such potentially regime-destabilizing activities as last spring's brinkmanship tactics with the United States and the more recent purge of Jang.

The latter event is particularly mystifying to some issue experts who wonder why Kim allowed state-run media to report Jang was executed for plotting to seize power from him. Such an admission would seem to tarnish the carefully crafted Kim dynasty brand of being beloved by all in North Korea.

More recently, Pyongyang has demanded that the U.S. and South Korean militaries cancel their annual joint exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, or risk what North Korea has termed "unimaginable holocaust."

However, Locklear said there is no chance of a cancelation.

"We don’t to plan to stop the exercises; the exercises are part of the alliance, the cornerstone of how we train and maintain the alliance," he said.

NTI Analysis

  • Future of Global Nuclear Security Policy Summit

    March 14, 2014

    A full transcript of an event previewing the March 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. Co-hosted by National Journal and NTI, featuree a keynote by Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall of the White House National Security Council and a panel discussion with NTI Co-Chairman Sam Nunn; Norway's Ambassador to the United States, Kåre R. Aas; the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Renée Jones-Bos; Congressman Jeff Fortenberry; former Congresswoman Jane Harman; and Harvard's Will Tobey and Matt Bunn.

  • Ukraine Must Not Become a New Berlin Wall

    March 13, 2014

    On Friday, March 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Five statesmen from Germany, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States call for the urgent formation of a Contact Group of Foreign Ministers to address the crisis and more broadly, create a new approach to building mutual security in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Country Profile

Flag of North Korea

North Korea

This article provides an overview of North Korea's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →