North Korea can now fire missiles at targets across the United States, experts say

'Regime change in North Korea means kiss Trump Tower goodbye,' says non-proliferation expert

Will Worley
Monday 08 January 2018 12:50 GMT
North Korean missile 'can hit US mainland' says Kim Jong Un

North Korea has the capability to “hit everything from LA to DC,” a leading missile and non-proliferation expert has claimed, and the US now must now “accept its vulnerability”.

Jeffrey Lewis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said the US had to adapt to a “new reality” and focus on reducing tensions with North Korea, also known as the DPRK, rather than using coercion against it.

An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, was fired from Mupyong-ni, in the north of the DPRK on Friday evening, and landed within 200 nautical miles of the Japanese coast.

Weapons experts said that while the missile had a range of just around 1,000km, its apogee – the highest point it reached during flight – was up to 3,700km. It was in flight for 47 minutes.

The missile was fired more vertically than laterally, meaning its range was substantially reduced.

North Korea’s latest test “demonstrated it can hit targets throughout the United States,” Mr Lewis told The Independent. “If you straighten out the apogee, that can basically hit everything from LA almost to [Washington] DC.”

Kim Jong-un made the same claim early on Saturday morning, AFP reported.

David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, published estimates of the missile’s range soon after its launch.

He said that if the figures regarding the missile’s range and apogee were correct, it “would have a range of 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the rotation of the Earth.”

This would easily put it within range of Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago and just within range of Boston and New York, Dr Wright said. He also conceded Washington DC “may be just out of range”.

While previous US concerns over the range of North Korean missiles were mainly preoccupied with the prospect of places such as Alaska and Hawaii being targeted, the latest test means the US now has to “accept vulnerability,” Mr Lewis said.

“It’s about accepting that North Korea has nuclear weapons, that we can’t take them away from them, we have to deal with them like they have nuclear weapons,” he added.

“And honestly, what it means in some cases, is we will be deterred.”

North Korea celebrates rocket launch with massive concert

Mr Lewis said the prospect of a change in the DPRK government – as some hawkish politicians and defence officials have advocated for – was no longer an option.

He said: “Regime change in North Korea means kiss Trump Tower goodbye.”

Dr John Nilsson-Wright, Senior Research Fellow on Chatham House’s Asia Programme, said the launch was “further evidence that Donald Trump’s efforts to deter North Korea … aren’t working” and that the US president was “on the back foot”.

This is not the first ICBM test North Korea has carried out. That came last month, when Hwasong-14 was fired 2,802km into the air, travelling across 933km for 43 minutes. North Korea watchers and non-proliferation experts have been expecting another test, particularly around the time of Victory Day – the DPRK name for anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

The early July test meant many experts had already accepted North Korea had a weapon capable of hitting the US.

“When we say it’s a provocation, it really means we’ve refused to accept the evidence that’s been in front of our face for a long time,” said Mr Lewis.

He stressed today’s test was not an escalation of North Korea’s weapons programme, but simply a continuation of the test earlier in the month.

“They were clearly demonstrating this capability and we didn’t believe it,” Mr Lewis said.

Dr Nilsson-Wright concurred. “It confirms North Korea will continue along the path it set itself on”, he said. The country has wanted to develop nuclear weapons since the 1960s, he added, just a decade after it broke away from the South after a brutal civil war.

Mr Trump has vowed to “take care” of the issue of the North Korean weapons programme and his officials have said no options are “off the table”. But so far, no strategy has been forthcoming.

Dr John Nilsson-Wright said the test showed the failures of both the international community and successive US administrations, who failed to apply measures which successfully deterred, punished North Korea, or incentivised it to halt its programme.

The country has always shown its willingness to fly in the face of the international community, Dr Nilsson-Wright added.

Most analysts believe North Korea’s current objective is not to hit the US, but acquire the capability to.

According to Dr Nilsson-Wright, this is for a number of reasons, including strengthening its deterrent, securing the regime, and showing the DPRK remains strong.

So how does the international community move forward from Friday’s events? According to Mr Lewis, the chance of North Korea ending its weapons programme through diplomacy has passed.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “You don’t fix this. You accept it, you deal with it. You move forward with the new reality.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in