- North Korea could be capable of launching a nuclear strike by the middle of this winter, according to an assessment by the British Ministry of Defence.
- The defence minister Lord Howe told MPs in January that a missile could be ready in as little as six months, a deadline of late July.
- The British Defence Ministry tells Business Insider it stands by the assessment.
- Pyongyang tested successful intercontinental ballistic missiles last year; the next step is attaching them with a nuclear warhead.
North Korea could launch a full-blown nuclear strike on the US as early as July 23, according to a prediction from Britain’s Ministry of Defence.
A government minister gave the assessment to a parliamentary committee earlier this year as part of its efforts to assess Kim Jong Un’s ability to precipitate a nuclear war.
Lord Howe, a British defence minister, told parliament’s Defence Committee that the Defence Ministry thought North Korea would be fully nuclear-capable within “six to 18 months.”
The statements, made at a January 23 hearing, were published Thursday in a committee report on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The earliest possible date for a strike in Howe’s time frame is July 23; the far estimate is the same date in 2019.
The Defence Ministry on Thursday told Business Insider it stood by the dates.
“We judge that they are now certainly capable of reaching targets in the short range, by which I mean Japan, South Korea – obviously – and adjoining territories,” Howe told MPs. “Our judgment is that it will probably be six to 18 months before they have an ICBM capability that is capable of reaching the coast of the United States or indeed ourselves.”
North Korea tested multiple nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles last year. Based on the tests, experts said North Korea could probably get a missile to hit the US mainland – but still lacked the technology to carry a heavy nuclear warhead that far.
The Defence Ministry believes the country is now working on that technology; attaching a nuclear weapon to an ICBM would allow North Korea to carry out a nuclear strike in most of the world.
“A nuclear strike capability depends on marrying up the ballistic missile with the warhead, and that is, we judge, work in progress,” Howe said.
The Defence Ministry confirmed Howe’s assessment on Thursday.
“We stand by our defence minister’s comments,” a spokesman told Business Insider.
Though there appears to be a growing rapprochement between North Korea and the US, Pyongyang appears to be preparing a satellite launch that could ruin the coming discussions with US President Donald Trump.
North Korea has scuppered multiple talks about disarmament by launching satellites in the past.
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