After more than a two-month hiatus, North Korea launched a distressingly powerful missile early Wednesday morning. The isolated regime claims the rocket launched was a new kind of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that some experts believe could put easily put Washington, D.C., along with the rest of North America, in their crosshairs.
Just hours after the launch, North Korean state media reported they had successfully fired a Hwasong-15, a new nuclear-capable ICBM that supposedly is far more powerful than anything the Hermit Kingdom has previously tested.
This is a disturbing development to an already tense situation in the region.
Speaking to reporters at the White House Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted that the missile “went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken.” Indeed, according to the South Korean military, it reached an altitude of about 2,800 miles above the Earth’s surface flying 10 times higher than the International Space Station, and twice as high as any satellite in low-earth orbit.
It was shot on a “lofted” trajectory, meaning that it was purposefully aimed at a very steep angle and landed rather close to where it was launched.
Some analysts believe that if North Korea chose to aim the rocket at a lower angle it could reach all of North America.
But, how worried should we really be?
North Korea being able to manufacture a weapon of hitting the U.S. is just one piece of an extremely complex puzzle.
First, there’s the other hardware. In addition to a missile that could make the journey, North Korea would need to build a reentry vehicle strong enough to protect a nuclear warhead from the intense heat that’s naturally produced when traveling through the Earth’s atmosphere.
They also have to successfully miniaturize a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on the missile. While the regime claims to have this capability, they have yet to demonstrate it publically beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Michael Elleman, a ballistic missile analyst at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, writes “Though North Korea continues to progress, our assessments have not changed in that a viable ICBM capable of reaching the west coast of the US mainland still remains about a year away.”
While the latest missile launch is alarming, to say the least, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the North has repeatedly stated their goal is to deploy a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the U.S.
But, stated goal and actual aspirations can be a mile apart, and in this case, it is.
That’s because the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons is for regime survival. There is no doubt that Kim Jong-Un has an authoritative grip on the nation, and has used violence to solidify his power.
But he isn’t suicidal, and he understands the basic calculation that if he ever targets the U.S. with a nuke, his magic kingdom would come crashing down in a fiery blaze.