Nothing President Trump says, or tweets, escapes partisan scrutiny. His “fire and fury” remark about America’s response to North Korean aggression has many of his political opponents accusing him of escalating tensions with the rogue regime. Yet there’s one man in Korea who will likely make the call, if an actual war commences, and it isn’t Kim Jong-un.
Meet General Kim Rak-gyom. The smiling solider is often pictured laughing alongside of Kim Jong-un, yet he’s the most senior officer in the North Korean missile program, and the one who would give the orders for any attack.
As the Daily Mail reports, he’s a secretive man highly placed in an often-secretive regime. “In fact news outlets, including those in neighboring South Korea,” The Mail writes, “cannot even seem to agree on which one of Kim Jong-un’s entourage he actually is.”
He is often quoted, though. After Trump’s “fire and fury” speech, Rak-gyom called Trump’s rhetoric “a load of nonsense.” He echoed the words of Trump’s detractors and called him “senile.”
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason,” he told the Yonhap news agency.
Sound dialogue isn’t what Rak-gyom has in mind. He is the one making threats against Guam. In his latest, he is reportedly considering sending 4 missiles at U.S. military installations on the island.
Japan, on Wednesday, announced it was prepared to shoot the missiles down. Guam would have an estimated 17 minutes of warning as the missiles made the 2,000 mile flight.
Rak-gyom’s rise mirrors that of Kim Jong-un. He was promoted when Jong-un took power, and was placed in command of Strategic Rocket Force Command. Under his leadership, the missile program took on added significance and began rapid testing of new designs.
“When one is firmly equipped with the capability to make precision strikes with nuclear weapons… no aggressor can dare to attack recklessly,” Kim Jong-un bragged at the time.
The Daily Mail reports that the rise of Rak-gyom hasn’t been altogether smooth. Some of the rocket tests have failed, and he takes responsibility. Jong-un has a history of executing leadership that doesn’t perform. And when Rak-gyom disappeared from the public eye for six months after a series of failed launches, many believed he’d been killed.
This photo is of three men closely linked to the rocket program. On the left is rocket scientist Kim Jong Sik. beside him is air force general Ri Pyong Chol. On the right is head of weapons development Jang Chang Ha.
The publicity photos are especially intriguing to intelligence analysts, many of whom wonder why the three leaders of such a secretive program would be so conspicuously documented.
Regardless. While Trump and Jong-un bicker in abstract threats, Rak-gyom is the man to watch. If the missiles are launched, it will be on his command.