North Korea's despotic leader Kim Jong-un may become a bigger threat to the stability of his nation as the small inner circle advising him continues to shrink, often by banishment and killings. Though former advisers may have offered some balanced perspectives on his decisions, the men who are left are terrified and completely controlled by the young leader, experts note.
Kim demands absolute obedience from his aides, reports Bloomberg. Those who have dared to challenge him have not fared well in the hermit nation. He quickly purged aides who served his father and grandfather, either by sending them away or ordering them killed.
Kim had his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who handled relations with China, executed in 2013 after charging him with graft and factionalism. Jang's wife and Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, the most influential woman under Kim Jong-il, hasn't been seen in public since.
"There is essentially no one now who could stop Kim if he gave an absurd instruction and turned stubborn," said Oh Gyeong Seob, an expert on North Korea's leadership at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, speaking to Bloomberg. "The regime's unpredictability has grown since Kim came to power and most surviving officials are just pandering to his views."
"Kim has publicly deprived himself of family members and close aides who can speak candidly to him," agreed Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog.
Officials of South Korea's intelligence service believe Kim may have ordered the killing of his defense minister Hyon Yong Chol with an anti-aircraft gun for disagreeing with him, though that hasn't been confirmed.
Worker's Party secretary Choe Ryong, who took over for Chang, has apparently been banished. Moderate, seasoned confidant Kim Yang-gon died recently in a traffic accident, and vice premier Kang Sok Ju has a terminal illness. Those are just a few of the men once close to Kim who have dropped from sight.
The Yonhap news agency has reported that some 70 North Korean officials have been executed since Kim took office in 2012 following the death of his father, and that in early 2015, several officials were fleeing the country amid ongoing executions and Kim's "reign of terror."