A recent New York Times article says: “a growing body of expert studies and classified intelligence reports that conclude the country is capable of producing a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks.” [NY Times, 24 April 2017] And we know that North Korea has conducted 5 nuclear weapons tests. They are said to be readying a sixth test.
North Korea has tested missiles, with a proven range of 3,500 km, capable of reaching all of China, much of Russia, and all of Japan. They have long-range missiles in development, ICBMs, with a possible range of 11,500 km. If and when those missiles are completed, the missile could reach most of the U.S. However, they are not believed to have nuclear bombs small enough to be fitted on a missile. [BBC, 20 April 2017]
Currently, they could attack U.S. airplane carriers and ships in the region, U.S. bases in the region, South Korea, or Japan. They could attack China or Russia, but that seems unlikely. On the other hand, brutal dictators with delusions of grandeur are unpredictable. North Korea is already dangerous.
The real problem is ICBMs. If North Korea ever combines a long-range missile with a nuke small enough to be delivered by that missile, the danger increases exponentially. And they don’t have to have a system capable of targeting a U.S. city accurately. Any nuclear missile strike on U.S. territory would do a great deal of damage, especially by the radioactive fallout. Worse still, they could simply explode the missile high in the atmosphere over the U.S. — no precise targeting needed — and cause a massive EMP burst that would wipe out electronics over most of the U.S.
Can we nuke them right back? Not really. The nuclear fallout would contaminate South Korea and China. We would risk starting a nuclear war with China, and they have far more nuclear missiles, with much greater accuracy than North Korea has. We would have to undertake a massive set of strikes with conventional weapons.
But waiting until NK has nuclear-tipped ICBMs is the definition of bad timing. A first strike, relatively soon, using conventional weapons to take out their missile and nuclear facilities (and maybe also command and control??) is an unfortunate necessity, and perhaps the only option we have left.
Is a U.S. strike on NK set to unfold soon? There are some indications:
* North Korea threatened to strike a U.S. aircraft carrier in the region [Foxnews]
* President Trump recently spoke to the leader of China and the leader of Japan, to discuss the North Korean threat. [Politico.com]
* President Trump met with the members of the U.N. Security Council on Monday (24 April 2017) [CNBC]
* Every U.S. senator was invited to the White House for a special briefing on the North Korean threat on Wednesday (26 April 2017). The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, and the National Intelligence Director will give the briefing. That is some serious shit. [CNN]
* “South Korea announced that key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defense system had been installed a day after rival North Korea showed off its military power.” [Foxnews]
But, hey, what do I know? It could be nothing.