Experts break down the North Korean threat amid heightened tensions

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea reached their highest point in years over the course of this summer, and they don’t look as if they will diminish anytime soon.

Increased missile tests by the North Koreans and a change in approach by the Trump administration have taken the two countries’ leaders into uncharted territory.

The war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump further escalated Tuesday when Trump, in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, slammed Kim, saying, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Though much about the so-called Hermit Kingdom’s inner workings remain a mystery, more and more information about its military programs and arsenal is becoming clear. Ahead, what we know about the North Korean threat.

The North Korean mindset

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location, Sept. 16, 2017.

Steve Ganyard, an ABC News contributor and a former deputy assistant secretary of state, was quick to note that nobody really knows what motivates Kim but “the consensus in the intelligence community is that he’s trying to use nuclear weapons for regime stability and the ability to make the U.S. think twice about whether they would trade Seoul for Seattle.”

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that maintaining stability is a major goal, as is projecting a strong image globally and at home.

“I believe Kim Jong Un knows that he’s weak and vulnerable and he believes that having nuclear capabilities and an ability to strike the United States will help to remove the vulnerability he feels,” Snyder told ABC News.

Snyder also believes that the country’s nuclear arsenal helps bolster his legitimacy domestically.

“Having nuclear weapons has become a key to his survival in sustaining his rule because he looks around the neighborhood and the world and sees that he’s weak,” Snyder said.

He said that while North Koreans call the country’s nuclear weapons program “the treasured sword,” Kim sees it as “the great equalizer.”

In a statement after the country’s most recent missile test, Kim said that “he was seeking equilibrium with the U.S.,” Snyder said.

“In that statement, he’s showing his concern about North…

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