The United States and North Korea have been in a state of tension for decades. North Korea’s authoritarian regime has caused concern in Washington that Pyongyang might eventually use nuclear weapons as a first strike against its enemies.Much of the reason why North Korea could use nuclear weapons first lies in its desperation for survival. Pyongyang is fearful of a potential US-led invasion of North Korea and could use nuclear weapons to deter an invasion of their soil. Facing an increasingly hostile international environment, North Korea has refused to denuclearize and has instead increased its weapons program and rhetoric. The US and its allies have responded in kind, and as a result the two countries are now locked in an escalating arms race that could lead to a deadly confrontation.The current US policy toward North Korea of ‘maximum pressure’ has also been criticized for being unsustainable. This policy has failed to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table and has instead further exacerbated tensions between the two countries. Furthermore, North Korea has interpreted the policy as an effort to weaken and isolate the country, leading to increased military posturing in the region.Ultimately, the continued failure of the US policy and Pyongyang’s fear that it is at risk of an attack, could result in North Korea using nuclear weapons as a first strike. Unless Washington shifts to a more diplomatic approach and engages Pyongyang in genuine dialogue, the possibility of nuclear war increases dramatically.