North Korea scares me for one reason and one reason only: one guy with his finger on a big red button. They're not a threat to us economically or in terms of traditional warfare. It's only nuclear missiles that scare me, and the ability of one man to accidentally or intentionally fire off a nuke. This situation isn't unique: the U.S. holds this power over the whole world.
Read this Wikipedia article on The Nuclear Football,or this one on Stanislav Petrov. The president carries the nuclear codes around with him in case he needs to launch nukes in an emergency that finds him away from a command center. Stanislav Petrov was one judgment call away from instigating nuclear war because of faulty radar equipment. The point is clear: the world is always one or two phone calls away from nuclear war, and the men who could start this are not all named Kim Jong-Un.
I'm not trying to hype up conspiracy theories or be sensationalist. The Cold War is over, so brinksmanship is not the status quo of foreign affairs. But our collective paranoia over a nuclear-enabled Kim Jong-Un does raise the serious question: how are we and our allies different?
The quick answer is that Kim's a tyrant and a despot, while the United States and other nuclear states are generally democratic and much "saner." But that's too quick, because neither the American public nor Congress launch nukes. The president does.
Yes, there are safeguards in place. But not that many. If Obama suffered a psychotic break and we had one false report of an inbound missile strike to convince the secretary of defense to confirm the order, it's not inconceivable that we would launch a nuke. And our missiles and nukes would cause much more damage than Kim Jong-Un's.
That's just the United States. Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel also have nukes. Are their leaders generally more level-headed than Kim Jong-un? I certainly think so. But do a little digging on the state of nuclear security in Russia and you'll forget about North Korea almost instantly.
Am I scared that Kim Jong-un now has his own Big Red Button? Definitely. But what scares me the most is the overall number of Big Red Buttons out there: nine. There are values to deterrent policy, but accidents happen.