Despite his reputation as being very odd, some experts maintain Kim is quite rational. "He's not crazy. He might be somewhat emotional. He might be somewhat eccentric. But crazy? Absolutely not," said Peter Maass from The New York Times Magazine. Indeed, Kim's persona seems to have been carefully cultivated to become a leader who has played a poor hand of cards skillfully.
As supreme leader of an impoverished, backward country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage and his reputation may work to his advantage.
Indeed, behind it all he seems to be a shrewd dictator. "Really, everybody who's met with Kim Jong-il, and there've been quite a few -- South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who've since defected -- they all come out saying this man knows what he's doing," said Maass.
Kim's deceased father was deemed "eternal leader" and the presidential post left unclaimed. Kim Il Sung's unique style of Stalinism, suffused with the Korean "juche" philosophy (roughly translated as "self reliance") was subordinated to the more militant theme of Kim Jong-il's "Red Banner" policy, introduced in 1996.
Since its inception, North Korea has demonized America as the ultimate threat to its social system and has molded its policies toward the eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control, according to the CIA.
While it boasts a million-strong army, North Korea faces desperate economic conditions and massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the people to escape mass starvation since famine threatened in 1995.