Kim Jong-il inspects a unit of the Korean People's Army, North Korea, April 7, 2008.
Korean News Agency / Reuters

Fifteen years after taking over from his father, Kim Jong Il remains in full control of North Korea; he is still, at 66, the supreme ruler and "ever-victorious General." In the early 1990s, few outside observers expected him or his regime to survive this long. But he has persevered, thanks to his ruthless leadership, a gift for political manipulation, and his use of brinkmanship diplomacy—and also because no other member of the top leadership has been willing or able to challenge him. Kim is both the head of the Korean Workers' Party and, along with a three-person standing committee, the

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