Alex Ward · Friday, July 28, 2017, 3:01 pm
North Korea has just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears capable of striking cities on the East Coast of the mainland US, which means it’s not just Alaska or Los Angeles that is potentially within of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. Instead, Chicago, New York City, and even Washington, DC, may now need to be added to that grim list.
The missile was fired late Friday night North Korea time, and was in the air for around 45 minutes, according to analysts. Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on North Korea’s missile program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, estimates that the missile is capable of traveling around 10,000 km, or around 6,200 miles.
“The models we’ve created based on the size of the missile and the power of the engine show that it can reach the continental US, probably New York and DC,” he told me in an interview.
That’s as scary as it sounds. On July 4, North Korea successfully tested an ICBM capable of hitting Alaska. Now many of America’s biggest cities are potentially in range as well.
This will only put more pressure on the Trump administration to figure out how to deal with North Korea. Back in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that his country was close to testing an ICBM. President Donald Trump promised that a test wouldn’t happen. But now that there have been two ICBM launches, the administration may feel it must do something beyond tweeting out words of disapproval.
Regardless of what Trump has said, or the pressure the US, China, and others try to place on North Korea, North Korea continues to produce and test missiles that could harm America and its allies. In fact, the Washington Post reports North Korea can start producing reliable ICBMs next year.
What’s still not clear is if North Korea has the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so it could be placed on the tip of the missile, and, even if it can, whether the missile could reach the US and still detonate. However, Lewis believes it’s more clear than officials think. “There is no reason to doubt that they have a reliable nuclear weapon that is small enough to fit on a missile,” he told me.
North Korea has continually made major advancements in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs earlier than outside experts had projected. When Pyongyang handles the final technological hurdles, the US will face the sort of nuclear threat it hasn’t seen since the Cold War.
North Korea is making stunning progress
It’s worth reiterating how quickly North Korea has improved its missiles program this year alone.
“You usually see new missile systems encounter failures early on,” Zachary Keck, a nuclear expert at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said in an interview. “North Korea tested many of its components on earlier missiles and worked out the kinks.”