HUFFINGTON POST
04/03/2013 01:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Who's In Charge North Korea? A Brief Look At Who Pulls The Political Strings

As North Korea intensifies its belligerent rhetoric against Washington and Seoul, the world has turned its eyes on Kim Jong Un -- the country's enigmatic leader.

The young Kim rose to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011. But is the 30-year-old "Dear Leader" the only one pulling North Korea's political strings? HuffPost World investigates.

THE INSTITUTIONS

The International Crisis Group explains that the Korean Workers Party (KWP) is North Korea's main political organ. The 124 members of the party's Central Committee select a General Secretary, the 10-member Secretariat, a 14-member Politbureau, a Presidium and the members of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).

As the ICC notes, the party structure fully support the dictatorship. Deceased leader Kim Jong Il is the party's "Eternal Secretary," while Kim Jong Un is First Secretary. Kim Jong Un also heads the powerful National Defense Commission (NDC), a position that gives him control over the armed forces.

Powerful figures in the regime can take up different mandates within the party or the security apparatus over time and can even combine several positions.

THE FIGURES

Kim Kyong Hui
Since the death of her brother Kim Jong Il, Kim Kyong Hui has become one of North Korea's most powerful officials. The Dear Leader's 66-year-old aunt was appointed the most important member of the KWP's Politburo and first among members of the Secretariat. In addition, she was made a general in the army.

Jang Song Thaek
Kim Kyong Hui's husband, Jang Song Thaek, is deputy chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and an alternate member of the Politburo, Reuters explains. The Soviet-trained technocrat was first spotted in a general's uniform in the wake of Kim Jong Il's death.

Kim Jong Un's aunt and uncle were crucial figures in the transition of power after Kim Jong Il's death in December 2011. John Park of the U.S. Institute for Peace told the Associated Press after the former leader's passing that the powerful couple are "key pillars" of the young Kim's reign.

While analysts speculated the duo's power would gradually decline as young Kim gained ruling experience, thus far, the duo's influence has not waned -- as evidenced by their frequent appearances flanking their nephew on official events. ABC points out that the leader's aunt and uncle were present on stage when Kim reaffirmed his country's commitment to nuclear weapons during a speech on March 31.

This power couple appears to occasionally live through its version of drama, too. According to ABC, Jang did not support North Korea's long-range missile launch last December, "but was overruled by his wife."

kim kyong hui kim jong un jang song thaek
Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Un and Jang Song Thaek in December 2011. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

Pak Pong Ju
On Monday, North Korea appointed Pak Pong Ju as its new prime minister. The 70-year-old Pak has been a confidant to the Kim family and earlier served as prime minister from 2003 until 2007. He was tasked with implementing economic reforms to lift the country out of poverty, but was dismissed when the measures appeared to fail.

Pak is closely associated with Jang Song Thaek and Kim Kyong Hui, Reuters notes, and while his reappointment is meant to strengthen Kim's grip on power, it makes the young leader "dangerously dependent" on the power duo.

pak pong ju
Pak Pong Ju on a visit to China in March 2005. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

Ri Yong Ho
Ri Yong Ho appeared to be one of the main beneficiaries of the political appointments in the wake of his Kim Jong Il's death. Ri became the head of the North Korean army, was a member of the Politburo and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC).

Although Ri was initially considered close to the new leader, the army chief was dismissed from all official posts in July 2012. The BBC's Seoul correspondent Lucy Williamson noted at the time that while Ri's resignation was officially attributed to "illness," a health crisis was unlikely the real reason for the purge. As the Crisis Group explains: "Senior officials normally remain in office despite poor health, even terminal illness." Kim Jong Un solidified his control of the army following Ri's removal.

ri yong ho
Ri Yong Ho and Kim Jong Un in Feb. 2012. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Kim Kyok Sik
Current Defense Minister Kim Kyok Sik, who succeeded Kim Jong Gak in 2012, has been described as a hardliner. The Chosun Ilbo writes that Kim previously had served as North Korea's army chief but was demoted in February 2009. He became corps commander at the Northern Limit Line and was reportedly involved in the attack on a South Korean submarine in 2010.

kim kyonk sik
Kim Kyok Sik and former leader Kim Jong Il in 2007. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

Kim Ki Nam
Kim Ki Nam is a member of the KWP's Politburo and vice chairman of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. The AP reports that the 83-year-old also serves as North Korea's main ideologue. As the Wall Street Journal explains, Kim heads the Propaganda and Agitation department, responsible for myth building and glorifying the "Dear Leader."

kim ki nam
Kim Ki Nam in August 2009. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Mass Rally In Pyongyang
CONVERSATIONS