The head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific on Thursday questioned whether North Korea's Kim Jong Un consistently makes lucid and logical decisions.
Kim's "behavior" -- or at least what has been reported out of the notoriously isolated country -- "would make me wonder whether … he is always in the rational decision-making mode, and this is a problem," U.S. Pacific Command head Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear said at a Pentagon press briefing.
Since coming to power in late 2011, Kim has presided over a number of startling events in North Korea, including last month's execution of Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and former adviser. Last spring, the hermit nation engaged in nuclear saber-rattling against South Korea and the United States. Kim also has overseen long-range missile and nuclear-device tests, as well as expansion of the country's fissile material-production capabilities.
These actions have puzzled and unnerved senior U.S. military officials, some of whom now worry that the Kim regime may not be as stable as was once thought. Were the government to collapse, North Korea could be faced with a power vacuum that might jeopardize the security of the country's weapons of mass destruction or sensitive materials.
"The way ahead with the new leader is not clear to me," said Locklear, adding that Kim's actions have contributed to making the region a "very dangerous place."
North Korea watchers similarly have said they are uncertain why Pyongyang risked such potentially regime-destabilizing activities as last spring's brinkmanship tactics with the United States and the more recent purge of Jang.
The latter event is particularly mystifying to some issue experts who wonder why Kim allowed state-run media to report Jang was executed for plotting to seize power from him. Such an admission would seem to tarnish the carefully crafted Kim dynasty brand of being beloved by all in North Korea.
More recently, Pyongyang has demanded that the U.S. and South Korean militaries cancel their annual joint exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, or risk what North Korea has termed "unimaginable holocaust."
However, Locklear said there is no chance of a cancelation.
"We don’t to plan to stop the exercises; the exercises are part of the alliance, the cornerstone of how we train and maintain the alliance," he said.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.