- Experts believe Pyongyang’s missiles are capable of striking LA, Chicago or even New York – but Trump’s scattergun approach to diplomacy does not bode well
When North Korea claimed to have conducted its first test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM )
earlier this month, defence analysts warned that the missile could have reached Alaska.
It was the first time that Pyongyang had showed its weapons could in theory reach American soil.
But that alarming milestone appears already to have been overtaken with the launch on Friday of a new missile which experts believe is capable of striking Los Angeles, Chicago and potentially even New York.
The development raises the stakes even higher in an already tense standoff between the rogue state and the US and its regional allies.
“It now appears that a significant portion of the continental United States is within range” of North Korean missiles, Bruce Klingner, a former Korea analyst for the CIA who is currently at the Heritage Foundation, told the Associated Press.
The ICBM tested on Friday remained airborne for 47 minutes – over five minutes longer than the 4 July test – and, according to South Korean military reached an estimated height of 3,700km (2,300 miles), compared with around 2,500km (1,550 miles) at the last test.
David Wright, a physicist and co-director at the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program told the AP Friday’s test indicated a range of around 10,400 km (6,500 miles) – well within reach of major cities throughout the US and only around 600km short of Washington DC.
The timing and location of Friday’s launch – late into the evening in the remote province of Chagang – was also a cause for concern said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
“Usually they [North Korea] have done these nice, easily visible tasks where we could see them coming,” Lewis said. “There was a report about the last one in July about 70 minutes before the missile went up, which would obviously allow you to attack it. It seems like they did this one, in a more covert manner to demonstrate that we can’t find them in advance.”
Lewis said he believed the missile tested on Friday was the same model as the one tested earlier in the month, but had been primed to travel a greater distance. At the moment, however, there is no photographic record of the launch.
While the apparently rapid advance in North Korea’s missile programme will add to concerns that the regime is moving closer to developing the capacity to strike major cities in the US mainland, many analysts still doubt whether it can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it on to a missile.
They also believe the regime is unlikely to have mastered the technology needed for an ICBM to survive re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.
Earlier this week, however, American intelligence analysts revised their prediction over when Kim Jong Un would develop a reliable ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, stating the North Korean dictator could now have such a weapon ready by 2018.
“Kim Jong Un does seem hellbent on acquiring the capability to reach the United States with nuclear weapons,” said Sharon Squassoni , director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told the Washington Post.
Donald Trump , who has vowed not to allow North Korea build a viable nuclear ready ICBM, has employed a scattergun approach to diplomacy with Kim.
In May he said he would be “honoured” to meet the dictator and share hamburgers over a conference table. In July, following the first ICBM launch, Trump mocked him on Twitter asking: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”
As the stakes continue to increase, such incoherence is becoming increasingly unviable.