Leader of North
Korea: All You
Need to Know

An insight into the leaders of North Korea over the years since founding

The leaders of North Korea have been kept in the Kim family since the establishment of North Korea on September 9th 1948. 

The leader of North Korea holds a political title of Supreme Leader of North Korea. They are the head of state and also head of the North Korean government, the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Supreme Leader of North Korea is the holder of the highest office of North Korea, serves as the chief executive of the state and also Supreme Commander of the KPA (Korean People’s Army).

Confused as to who is the current leader of North Korea and in which order they ruled? 

Let’s take a look… 

Current Leader of North Korea 

The current leader of North Korea is Kim Jong Un.

Previous Leader of North Korea

The leader of North Korea prior to Kim Jong Un is his father, Kim Jong Il. 

First Leader of North Korea 

The first leader of North Korea and founding father of the country is Kim Il Sung, father of Kim Jong Il and grandfather to Kim Jong Un. 

Find out more on each of these Leaders of North Korea. 


Kim Jong Un

Official Title: Marshall Kim Jong Un (김정은)

Kim Jong Un was born on January 8th in the 1980s. Sources say anywhere between 1982-1984. He has been serving as Supreme leader of North Korea since 2011 and serving as the Chairman of the WPK since 2021. 

Kim Jong Un is the third child of Kim Jong Il who ruled before him, from 1994 - 2011. 

From the beginning of his rule, Kim Jong Un has offered a slightly different style of leadership in North Korea. An example of this being the introduction of his wife in July 2012 at the Moranbong Band concert he attended. A concert also featuring many elements of western/American pop culture - something a leader of North Korea has never done before. 

Under Kim Jong Un’s rule, there has also been the first time that the government publicly admitted a failure, as the April 2012 satellite launch was unsuccessful and was admitted as such.

Kim Jong Un is also known for his diplomatic relationship attempts with both South Korea and the US. In 2018 he made his New Year Speech stating that he wished for dialogue between North and South Korea hoping to take part in the Winter Olympics that would take place in South Korea, and North and South Korea marched together in the Olympics opening ceremony under the Reunification Flag. 

This speech set the precedent for many events that would happen in 2018 making North Korea relations looking ever more promising between China, the USA, and South Korea. 

In 2018 he visited Beijing and met with Xi Jinping. This was his first trip abroad since taking power. He then made a second visit to China later in the year. 

In April 2018 Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In met and signed the Panmunjom Declaration. In May they had a second meeting, at the North Korean side of the DMZ. During these talks, Kim Jong Un discussed with President Moon what he planned to discuss with President Donald Trump in the planned meeting in Singapore. 

In June the same year, Kim Jong Un met with Donald Trump for their first summit, the first time a meeting has ever been held between leaders of the USA and North Korea. 

In September, another summit was held with Moon Jae In in Pyongyang. 

By 2019, however, progress had slowed and at the second summit in Hanoi, President Trump cut the second day short and an agreement was never reached. Things looked hopeful as June 2019 saw a bizarre meeting of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump at the DMZ. Trump was originally meeting Moon Jae In in South Korea and was going for a trip to the DMZ. He had tweeted that he wished Kim Jong Un could go to the border to meet with him - and this actually happened. Trump and Kim shook hands over the border, before Kim Jong Un stepped into South Korea and the three of them had a brief meeting. 

The diplomatic process deteriorated from this time, although some efforts and opportunities still continued, such as in October 2019 when talks began in Stockholm between North Korean and US representatives - however, they broke down after just one day. 

Since then, Kim Jong Un has been battling with the struggles of managing the DPRK's self-imposed shutdown of the borders during the COVID-19 pandemics, typhoons, and some of the worst weather the country has seen in years. 


Kim Jong Il 

Official Title: General Kim Jong Il 김정일

Kim Jong Il was born in February 1942 and passed away in December 2011. He is the son of Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il’s birthday is celebrated in North Korea and is known as the Day of the Shining Star. 

He served as the leader of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011. Before 1994, it was assumed early on that he would be the heir apparent of the leadership of North Korea and in the 1980s he had already started taking on important roles in the party and army. 

He assumed the leadership of North Korea during one of the country’s toughest times. The country was undergoing an economic crisis which then led to famine and food scarcity. This period is known in the DPRK as 'The Arduous March', a euphemism for a famine that devastated the country for a number of years

He is known for his strict Songun (military-first) policies which strengthened the power of the army. During his rule, he also oversaw a few economic reforms and inter-Korean initiatives such as the Kaesong Industrial Park. 

He passed away in December 2011 when his son Kim Jong Un took power. 


Kim Il Sung

Official Title: President Kim Il Sung 김일성

Kim Il Sung was born on 15th April 1912, and passed away in July 1994. His birthday is still celebrated in North Korea and is known as the Day of the Sun. This is a national holiday in North Korea and sees some of the country’s biggest celebrations. 

Kim Il Sung is known as the Eternal President of North Korea. He is considered the founder of the country itself and therefore holds this title despite having passed away. He was elected President of North Korea by the Supreme People’s Assembly in December 1948 and ruled until his death in 1994. 

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