President Donald Trump has depicted the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “madman”—but U.S. intelligence officials do not agree.
According to Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA's Korea Mission Center, the young North Korean ruler is actually a lot less erratic than he is often portrayed.
"Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong Un is a rational actor," he said at a conference on the CIA at George Washington University on Wednesday, quoted by AFP.
Trump and Kim have regularly traded insults but despite the latter's threat to the American president last month, the North Korean ruler does not seek a military confrontation because he is more interested in ensuring his regime’s survival and stability.
"We have a tendency in this country and elsewhere to underestimate his conservatism” Lee said, adding "He wants to rule for a long time and die in his own bed.”
Trump isn’t the only world leader to have addressed Kim in derogatory terms. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called Kim a “fool” in a public speech in August and a “madman” in a phone conversation to Trump in May. “Every generation has a madman,” Duterte told Trump. “In our generation, it is Kim Jong Un. You are dealing with a very delicate problem.”
Even those who accept Kim’s temper believe that he is not lacking in intelligence. Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University’s department of unification and diplomacy, and former head of the Institute for National Security Strategy, told Newsweek in September that Kim is “strong and cocky” but that his intelligence is “not so bad.”
According to Lee, North Korea’s repeated threats and development of nuclear weapons are part of the regime’s strategy to hold on to power. “North Korea is a political organism that thrives on confrontation,” he said. Initiating a deadly nuclear strike would instead seal Kim’s fate. “Waking up and deciding to nuke Los Angeles is not in his interest to survive,” Lee added.