A madman, a lunatic, North Korea’s psychopath… even Eddie Mair felt comfortable speculating if Kim Jong un was "just nuts" on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. But who, and more importantly what, is behind the actions of the 30-year-old North Korean dictator?

According to a leading psychologist, Kim is most likely none of the above, more a young man trying to prove himself while suffering “an inevitable deep sense of psychological threat that he will be perceived as weak and inadequate” by others within the regime.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Professor Ian Robertson said that regardless of the politics, individual egos will always come into play, and though Kim is known to be very proud and nationalistic (his friends at his Swiss school recall him playing the national anthem over and over), the young dictator is unlikely to be driven by a desire for war, but a wish to carry on the family dynasty as an act of self preservation.

Unfortunately for the fledgling despot, the "psychological threat" of being deposed could, and seemingly has, led to the current standoff with the peninsula one mishap away from conflict.

kim jong un

The fledgling leader ominously flanked by members of the military


On Wednesday, former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-Hee said of the country's ruler: "He's is too young and too inexperienced," adding that Kim is "struggling to control his military and using war talk to shore up support".

Worryingly for Robertson, people can be driven to "self-destruction or self destructive acts when their behaviour is motivated by threats to the self", and it is almost certain that the implementation of UN sanctions following February's missile test, has heaped more pressure on the leader.

Speaking to The Guardian, Jang Se-yul, a former mathematics professor who defected from North Korea to the South, argued that Kim "needs money to ensure his survival... and wants a large cheque from the United States, but is not willing to give anything up to get it". The less cash, the greater "threat" to his rule, the more anxiety he must feel.

But how instructive is his age and upbringing? Rarely do men (and it is always men) come to hold such overarching power over the lives of their fellow countrymen at such a tender age. Both Hitler and Stalin came to power in their mid-forties; Saddam was 42, Mao was 52. In comparison, Fidel Castro was a mere pup at 35-years-old, but still had five years on Kim, and had been embroiled in political activism since his university days in Havana.

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Likewise, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Saddam had all fought their way through swamp of revolutionary politics before resting ultimate power on the totalitarian bank. Kim's upbringing sits in stark contrast, the product of a Western education, a person who likely wanted for nothing. If his youth adds anxiety into the psychological mix, what about his formative years?

“He is unlikely to be as ruthless as a guerrilla fighter, like his grandfather,” said Robertson, “his upbringing as a privileged child [rather than a revolutionary] may make him less likely to do the terrible things other political leaders have done… but it depends on how far he feels he must go to consolidate his position.”

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The head of a 'crime family', desperate to carry on the business


Due to the nature of the North Korean system in which notions of democracy and civilisation haven’t trespassed to limit the brute force of "alpha male hierarchies", the Kim regime is best compared to that of a "warlord, a drug cartel or a crime family", said Robertson.

"The North Korean dictatorship is a group of people desperately holding on to power. What's different is that this small group of people is able to mobilise mass media and brainwash millions of people. Because of this, the crime family has been able to hold onto power for decades, creating a dynasty.”

"The principle motivation for Kim will be to carry on the family business," Robertson added. Like Assad in Syria, once a dictator exacts his authority in a despotic, authoritarian and brutal way, there are very few alternatives to absolute power other than a bloody end as people exact their revenge. Both Saddam and Colonel Gaddafi would agree, had they not been otherwise engaged proving that exact point.

Robertson admitted there will be other factors to Kim’s actions, "sentimental and ideological reasons, believing you're the saviour of the people and all the delusions that come with absolute power," but argued that his current posturing maybe entirely rational.

"If you want to keep enthralled a miserable population you want to keep them feeling as though there's a constant external threat and a state of war," he said, "that's what brings them together."

So perhaps Kim is not so "nuts" after all, yet the threat remains, balanced between the patience of the Pacific states and a young man's need to cement his rule.

Professor Ian Robertson (@ihRobertson) is the author of The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure

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  • North Korean military officers sit on a boat as they patrol along the Yalu River on the border of North Korea and China, 10 Apr 2013.

  • North Korean military officers sit on a boat as they patrol along the Yalu River on the border of North Korea and China.

  • A North Korean military officer looks through his binoculars on a boat on the Yalu River on the border of North Korea and China in Sinuiju, North Korea.

  • Scenes at Sinuiju city, capital of north Pyeongan Province.

  • CHINA-NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR

    A group of North Korea officers cruise theYalu River between the North Korean town of Sinuiju and the Chinese border town of Dandong on April 10,2013. The biggest border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said on April 10 as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was still allowed. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • CHINA-NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR

    A group of North Korea officers cruise theYalu River between the North Korean town of Sinuiju and the Chinese border town of Dandong on April 10,2013. The biggest border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said on April 10 as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was still allowed. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This photo taken from the Chinese border city of Dandong shows North Koreans parachuting down from their helicopter in Sinuiju, North Korea Thursday, April 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

  • This photo taken from the Chinese border city of Dandong shows North Koreans parachuting down from their helicopter in Sinuiju, North Korea Thursday, April 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

  • NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR-CHINA

    A banner is seen from the banks of the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju across from the Chinese city of Dandong, in northeastern Liaoning province on April 10,2013. The biggest border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was still allowed. AFP PHOTO/ WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • CHINA-NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR

    A group of North Korea officers chat as they cruise the Yalu River between the North Korean town of Sinuiju and the Chinese border town of Dandong on April 10,2013. The biggest border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said on April 10 as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was still allowed. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR-CHINA

    A North Korean patrol boat cruises the Yalu River between the North Korean town of Sinuiju and the Chinese border town of Dandong on April 10, 2013. A key border crossing between North Korea and China been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said on April 10 as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was allowed to continue. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • CHINA-NKOREA-SKOREA-US-NUCLEAR

    A North Korean soldier walks on the banks of the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju across from the Chinese city of Dandong, northeastern Liaoning province on April 10, 2013. The biggest border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said on April 10 as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was still allowed. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets military personnel at a long-range artillery sub-unit of KPA Unit 641 during his visit to front-line military units near the western sea boarder in North Korea near the South's western border island of Baengnyeong. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at military officers after inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, confers with military officers at a long-range artillery sub-unit of KPA Unit 641 during his visit to front-line military units near the western sea border in North Korea near the South's western border island of Baengnyeong. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second left, watches sturgeons in a pond at the Ryongjong Fish Farm in South Hwanghae, southwestern North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides on a boat, heading for the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third left, looks at South's western border island of Baengnyeong during his visit to the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, is welcomed by military personnel at a military unit on Jangjae islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, walks with military personnel as he arrives for a military unit on Mu Islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, uses binoculars to look at the South's territory from an observation post at the military unit on Jangjae islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with military officials, gets a ride on a boat on his way to a military unit on Jangjae Islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) meeting with family of a soldier as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting Jangjae Islet Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) waving to soldiers from a wooden boat as he inspects the Mu Islet Hero Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) meeting with family of a soldier as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting Jangjae Islet near from South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the Mu Islet Hero Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)

  • This picture, taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 7, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) posing with soldiers and their family members as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defence Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province, North Korea's southwestern sector of the front. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images via KNS)