Kim Jong-nam's assassination: What does this mean for the West?

Many news agencies are abuzz today with news of the alleged assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of Kim Jong-un, the dictator in charge of North Korea - arguably the most unpleasant place on Earth if any accounts of the interior of the nation are to be believed.

The New York Times writes that it was reported in South Korea earlier today, that the assassination took place from two unknown women who stabbed Kim Jong-nam with poisoned needles - though what exactly killed him is unknown at this point. The women then fled by taxi, from the Kuala Lumpur airport, where the alleged assassination took place; the victim was waiting for a flight to Macau, under a pseudonym, at the time of his murder.

North Korea News writes that the Malaysian authorities have denied that a murder or assassination has taken place - they have classified it as a case of "sudden death" which they likely will clarify in coming weeks. However, The Star Online has just confirmed that he was killed, not just a victim of "sudden death".

So who was Kim Jong-nam, exactly, and what does his likely-assassination mean for the United States?

Kim Jong-nam was the heir apparent to the dynasty of leaders in North Korea, set to succeed his father Kim Jong-il as supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. He gradually lost this position over issues including using a forged passport to enter Japan illegally, and remained in Macau for many years - at least since 2003. Allegedly his favor dropped stupendously when he studied in Switzerland and became interested in economic reform and free markets in North Korea, something which estranged him from his father, Kim Jong-il, and he was accused of becoming a "capitalist". His father then had several other children, and Kim Jong-nam was essentially relegated to being the child nobody talks about, instead of leader of his nation. Perhaps if he had not said anything to his father, he may have been able to become leader, and then lead a gradual reform. Sadly, we will never get to find out.

With news of a ballistic missile launch towards Japan from North Korea just a couple days ago, and now the death of a family member who represented western ideals more than family tradition, it would seem that North Korea is taking a very aggressive, hostile stance with the new Trump administration and with regional affairs. All opposition must be silenced, all new opponents must be tested, and the status quo must be maintained internally to preserve the idea of near-perfection of the leader and former leaders of the nation, where the two former leaders are still referred to as "Great Leader" and "Dear Leader". Last but not least, shortly after taking power, Kim Jong-un had his uncle assassinated - his has not been a leadership willing to tolerate even the slightest idea of opposition.

This means that during the Trump administration, tensions could rise significantly, though armed conflict still seems unlikely given the relationship North Korea has with China. Unfortunately, it also means that reform and modernization, or even a true democracy as represented in their name, could elude the people of North Korea for some time to come.

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