The top US military commander in the Pacific has said that North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles represents a clear and direct threat to the United States and its allies in the region.
Adm Samuel Locklear told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Kim Jong Un had used the past year to consolidate his power. Mr Locklear agreed that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s.
The admiral insisted that the US military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.
Mr Locklear said North Korea was keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarised zone with South Korea, a position that allows North Korea to threaten US and South Korean civilian and military personnel.
Increasingly bellicose rhetoric has come from Pyongyang, with North Korea urging foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea.
The US has already moved two of the Navy's missile-defence ships closer to the Korean peninsula. It has also emerged that a land-based system is being deployed to the Pacific territory of Guam as the tension escalates.