Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, not a suicidal one, according to former CIA senior analyst and North Korea expert Jung Pak, and is aware that North Korea would not be able to sustain a prolonged conflict with either South Korea of the United States.
Pak makes her argument in a new and comprehensive essay, "The Education of Kim Jung-Un."
She sat down for lunch with CBS News Chief White House Correspondent and "The Takeout" podcast host Major Garrett to talk about Kim's complicated calculations and the lengths he will go to protect his status as leader of the rogue regime, despite international calls for North Korea to get rid of its nuclear arsenal.
"I don't think anybody is comfortable with North Korea having any nuclear weapons so I think it has to be a goal," Jung said, noting, as she does in her essay, that the regime often brings up Iraq and Libya as examples of why they would not want to give up their nuclear weapons.
She pointed to October 2011 when Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was "dragged from the street and sodomized, and pummeled and beaten." At the time, Kim was just two months from taking power after his father's death.
"I can't imagine that those images of Qaddafi being beaten by his own people hasn't been seared into his brain," she said. "And he was supposed to be the king of kings in Africa."
That experience, combined with "blustery threats" from a Trump administration determined to put the North Korean threat to an end, "reinforces for Kim and for his regime, and for the North Korean people, why they need nuclear weapons," Jung argues.
These tensions are magnified by the fact that the world has come together at the heart of the tension – Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics. In a remarkable and symbolic move, North Korean and South Korean athletes have been competing under one flag.
Pak said it was fine to see inter-Korean tensions warming, but signaled it likely won't last too long.
"The hard work is coming up head after the Olympics," she said.
For more of Major's conversation with Jung, including how much of North Korea's army has been physically stunted by a previous famine, download "The Takeout" podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning.
Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday and Saturday nights at 9pm ET/PT. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).
Producers: Arden Farhi, Katiana Krawchenko