Youngsters beside North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he arrives to attend "We Are the Happiest in the World", a performance to celebrate the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean Children's Union (KCU), in this undated image. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

Warnings that North Korea could threaten the US mainland with a nuclear missile attack are exaggerated and dangerous, said Beijing-based Miha Hribernik, senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

This has generated fear of an attack among US citizens — not helped by President Donald Trump’s comments — and drummed up dangerous calls for the US to strike first, Hribernik said.

While North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un has frequently employed confrontational rhetoric towards perceived enemies, “If Kim Jong-un decides to use the weapons pre-emptively, he is essentially guaranteeing a rapid military defeat and the end of his regime,” Hribernik said.

The North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles serve as a deterrent against possible attack, and are part of its game of brinkmanship. The arsenal has little value in an offensive role, he said.

“The only plausible first-use scenario is Pyongyang believing that it is under imminent threat of military attack from the US. However, given the very low likelihood of a US strike – considering the catastrophic consequences to South Korea – this is an outlier scenario,” he said.

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The risk consultancy said in a report published on Friday that South Korea’s newly elected president Moon Jae-in is unlikely to achieve a major breakthrough on nuclear disarmament with the North and find a lasting resolution.

“North Korea views its arsenal as the only deterrent against regime change by external force, and there are no real incentives that South Korea – or the wider international community – can offer that would persuade Kim Jong-un to disarm,” Hribernik said.

North Korea is estimated to have an army of about 1.1 million troops, but its equipment is thought to be Soviet-era and in poor condition. Its missile program is, however, progressing faster than expected, South Korea’s defense minister said earlier this week.

In an opinion piece for Asia Times, Bradley Martin, a veteran North Korea watcher, urged readers not to panic about Pyongyang.

Panic among ordinary Americans is more dangerous than the underlying geopolitical forces, he said.

“That’s because there’s an impetuous president in the White House who lives for audience ratings. Put enough pressure on him to ‘do something about North Korea’ and he might succumb to that pressure, with disastrous results,” Martin said.

In short, he argues that North Korea doesn’t yet have the wherewithal to attack the United States. Besides, the primary mission for which North Korea is building those weapons is not an attack on the United States.

North Korea only has one goal; unite the Korean peninsula. That’s the same goal that South Korea has.

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