The power dynamic in North Korea has shifted once again after reports suggested Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un could purge his recently empowered sister, Kim Yo-jong, should she pose a threat to his authority. Yo-jong has been widely tipped to succeed Kim should anything happen to him. This speculation was cemented after she acquired ranging powers last month, taking control of diplomatic negotiations with the US and South Korea – ties that the North depends on should it wish to survive.
Rumours have surfaced over Yo-jong’s potential execution as she has not been spotted for over a month.
This runs in stark contrast to her increasingly visible presence in most diplomatic and domestic engagements in recent years.
North Korean experts have suggested Yo-jong may have stepped back of her own accord, with others highlighting the North’s capability of tactical moves ahead of significant global events, such as November’s US presidential election.
A lot is riding on the result of the election for the North, as the US has proved to be its main source of both anguish and hope, with the country the only force likely to ever take a military stand against the dictatorship but also to lift harsh trade sanctions.
Experts have warned that any move would need to be precisely calculated to ensure a swift victory with the least amount of bloodshed.
In a startlingly blunt letter published by Washington’s Joint Staff in 2017, Rear Adm. Michael Dumont told Rep. Ted Lieu that there was only one viable path to overcome the Kim family dynasty.
He explained: “The only way to ‘locate and destroy – with complete certainty – all components of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes’ is through a ground invasion.”
This would likely involve US military personnel stationed in South Korea, as well as troops flown in from the US mainland, storming the North and securing the country’s vast nuclear arsenal.
Studies suggested that the Hwasong-14 had the most lethal potential – estimating it could travel as far as 10,000km if fired on a maximum trajectory.
This would have given Pyongyang its first intercontinental missile (ICBM), capable of reaching New York.
Eventually, Hwasong-14 only reached a peak altitude of 3,000km, though its successor, Hwasong-15, managed an altitude of 4,500km.
Hwasong-12 missiles, tested in 2017, achieved the desired result and could travel as far as 4,500km (2,800miles) – putting US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam within striking distance.
Guam is home to more than 163,000 American citizens.
Also within distance is Japan, which has a sizable US military presence.