Pyongyang launched its longest-range missile to date earlier this month and has conducted six nuclear tests this year, one of them rumoured to be a hydrogen bomb.
Speaking in September in the wake of the rumoured hydrogen bomb test, Tom Plant, director of nuclear policy at think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Channel 4 news: “On the one hand it is a big deal. It is by far the biggest nuclear test that North Koren has ever conducted, substantially bigger. If it is a hydrogen bomb it is a serious technological step forward.
However, given that the rogue state is shrouded in mystery, it is difficult to tell precisely what the current situation is, with United States defence secretary Jim Mattis believing North Korea is “not yet” a threat to his country.
There seems little doubt North Korea has made major progress in terms of developing nuclear weapons in recent years.
Pyongyang has threatened to conduct a live test over the Pacific Ocean, although Professor Hecker believes this is an “empty threat” because of the risk of provoking a US retaliation.
There is certainly no doubt North Korea has developed an intercontinental missile. It is most recent test unveiled the Hwasong-15 for the first time, and with this reaching a higher altitude than any of its previous weapons, it now has an estimated range of 13,000 km (8,000 miles), according the missile expert Michael Elleman.
However, North Korea still faces significant hurdles. Analysts believe the Hwasong-15 to be unwieldy and impossible to prepare for launch without detection.
And it will need to conduct more tests before any weapons system is fully operational, Mr Elleman said.