North Korea’s official source of information and incendiary insults, the Korean Central News Agency, announced Friday the regime has executed the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un.
Jang Song Thaek was considered extremely influential, a confidant who helped Kim consolidate power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il two years ago. The startling news was accompanied by the extreme rhetoric which characterizes Pyongyang’s public announcements.
This is the latest incident in continuing erratic behavior by isolated Pyongyang. On March 11, the North Korean army declared that the 1953 Korean War armistice was ‘invalid,’ implying hostilities would resume. The military ‘hotline’ connecting the two countries was abruptly cut. At the end of that month, bellicose threats against the United States were added.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded by describing North Korea as a clear threat, while Secretary of State John Kerry and South Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se held a joint Washington news conference to emphasize the security partnership.
Pyongyang prevented South Korean workers from entering the Kaesong industrial center, located six miles north of the DMZ, and then shut down the facility entirely. Cooperation resumed and the facility reopened in September. In early December, collaborative installation of new electronics began. The center is an important source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
For several years, North Korea has been acting erratically in military matters. In March 2010, a North Korean torpedo sank the South Korean ship Cheonan. In the same vicinity, North Korean artillery bombarded South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.
In February 2012, North Korea appeared yet again to cease its on-again, off-again nuclear program. In joint announcements coordinated with the U.S. Department of State, the regime agreed to halt enrichment of uranium and construction of weapons, and permit international inspection.
Yet two months later, Pyongyang tested a missile, which ended in embarrassing failure. This unpredictable behavior, unfolding over a long period, implies infighting at the top.