Indiana - Despite entirely different views on The West and economic issues, these two young leaders may have more in common than not.
Indiana – Despite entirely different views on The West and economic issues, these two young leaders may have more in common than not.
Last month, King Salman of Saudi Arabia shocked the world when he changed the line of succession in favor of his 31-year-old son, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
This particularly controversial political move has effectively removed the former crown prince, Mohammad Bin Nayef, from any power and influence in the Saudi government, and has also stripped him of his powers as interior minister.
Saudi state-media has insisted that this change in succession has been smooth. However, reports coming from inside the Kingdom have told an entirely different story. According to the New York Times, Prince Bin Nayef has been barred from leaving the country, and it is suspected that he has been confined to his palace in Jedda.
While Bin Nayef has been lauded by the American intelligence community and the foreign service for his swift and efficient actions against Al-Qaeda cells within Saudi Arabia, the United States has been notably quiet on this issue. This is likely due to a conflict between President Trump’s relationship with Prince bin Salman and the traditionally close relationship Bin Nayef has had with the American Government.
With Prince bin Salman’s shocking leap from obscurity in the royal family to one of its most prominent members in just the two years since his father took power, it certainly leads to the possibility to compare him to another millennial world leader in Asia.
That individual, of course, is Kim Jong Un.
After his father’s death in 2011, the now 33-year-old North Korean supreme leader has essentially run the country unopposed. After a series of purges of close family members, which held high positions of power in the country, there are very few remaining in the country who are powerful enough to challenge his authority.
Some intelligence reports suggest that up to hundreds of military officers and government bureaucrats have been subject to the supreme leader’s brutal purges, including his older brother earlier this year.
Incidentally, like Prince bin Salman, Kim Jong Un began his rise to power from obscurity very quickly. Kim Jong Un soared ahead of his late older brother in 2010 when he was granted the rank of four-star general, even with having next to no experience in the military or the country’s leadership. His standing in the military was elevated to even greater heights in 2012 when he usurped the rank of marshal of the armed forces.
Prince bin Salman is not running Saudi Arabia (yet), but it is worth mentioning that he has had similar appointments to high positions which have been given to him with the intent of grooming him for leadership. In addition to being put in charge of the Defense Ministry, he has been trusted to oversee the development of the famous “Saudi Vision 2030” plan, which seeks to steer Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil dependency and implement social reforms.
Obviously, there is little on the surface which connects these phenomena. After all, it is common and appropriate in systems of dynastic succession for rulers to give heirs responsibilities and important positions to prepare them for when they will eventually run the country. What is more important, however, is understanding how Kim Jong Un’s rise to power and how he has governed the country at such a young age may be indicative of how a future King Mohammad Bon Salman will be.
During the very beginning of Kim Jon Un’s reign, the future of North Korea was completely shrouded in speculation. Due to his young age and his education in Switzerland, many believed that he would bring a much-needed wave of liberalization to the reclusive Stalinist nation, and he would implement similar market reforms that helped China’s economy boom. Others hoped that his youth would cause him to be naïve and manipulatable, making it easy to steer him away from his father’s strict domestic policy and his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
This could not be further from the truth.
Despite very minor economic and agricultural reforms which have taken place in North Korea, Kim Jong Un shows no signs of being the great reformer so many people hoped he would be. The supreme leader has held just as tight of a grip on his country as his father ever did and has not hesitated to show it, frequently killing those who were very close to his father, and even his relatives.
The militant side of the North Korean regime has not lightened up either under the young ruler. The anti-American rhetoric, strong protection of ‘the Communist Revolution,’ and the pursuit of nuclear weapons are still what drives the isolated country’s foreign policy.
So, what does this have to do with Saudi Arabia?
Well, to start, despite Prince bin Salman’s young age and hopes to reform the economy, it should not be assumed that the future king is a man who will strive to implement more significant freedoms in Saudi Arabia, or that he plans on getting along well with his neighbors.
One of the prince’s largest responsibilities has been handling Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni Civil War and trying to displace the Houthi insurgency in the country. Despite the thousands of deaths and the millions who have been displaced since Saudi Arabia began their bombing campaign, there has been very little success in actually displacing the rebels, and there have even been small skirmishes between Houthi rebels and Saudi soldiers along the border.
Several countries around the world have condemned Saudi Arabia for Prince bin Salman’s war, and the previous American president, Barack Obama, even blocked future arms sales to The Kingdom.
Additionally, The Crown Prince has vowed to take an even firmer stance against Iran, Saudi Arabia’s traditional rival in the region. Relations have long been sour between the two countries, and being on opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen has not made reconciliation any easier. With many members of the royal family worried that Saudi Arabia is becoming encircled by Iran, and that Iran is ultimately attempting to take Mecca and Medina, Prince Bin Salman has sworn to “take the battle to Iran.”
The new Crown Prince is of course very young and ambitious, and President Trump is very trusting that he will be long sought-after answer to the wars and instability which are tearing the Middle East apart. However, the American government should not make the mistake of assuming that he will be a leader who is willing to be controlled.
Like Kim Jong Un, Mohammad Bin Salman will likely do whatever it takes to secure his power amongst rivals in his families who may wish to take it from him. Prince Bin Nayef’s drop from favor should serve as an example to political opponents who may want to factionalize against him.
In many ways, the two people are very similar. They are both powerful individuals who have been defined as having an enormous amount of power for someone of their age and are both very militant in protecting their ideologies. Kim Jong Un crushed expectations of being a more liberal leader, and if the Americans put too much faith in King Mohammad, then he may end up doing the same.
The Crown Prince has claimed that if it were not for his reforms, then Saudi Arabia would have ended up like North Korea, but if he continues to pursue his aggressive foreign policy and monopolization of power, then the two countries may have more in common than ever.
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