In the court of Kim Jong-un: a ruthless, bellicose despot, but not mad

Every time North Korea prepares to test a nuclear bomb or launch a missile, Kim Jong-un sits down to pen a handwritten note, flourishing his signature to personally approve the action and propelling himself into the annals of history.

The notes have become central to the propaganda theatre that emerges after military tests, broadcasting to the world the message that it is not North Korea detonating a nuclear bomb, it is Kim himself.

“Let’s begin the year with the splendid sound of the explosion of our country’s first hydrogen bomb,” Kim wrote in a long memo approving the country’s fourth nuclear test in January 2016. “The entire world will look up to us.”

The notes are part of a carefully crafted image designed to highlight Kim’s central role in governing the secretive state and to secure his legacy. They are also evidence of the breathtaking speed at which he has consolidated his power at home and saddled the rest of the world with potentially the most dangerous challenge of recent times.