North Korea sent the US a message in the early morning hours of July 4: We can hit you in your own homes with a nuclear missile if we want to.
But if you were born in America after 1960, then you’ve been living under threat of nuclear annihilation from ballistic missiles your whole life.
When the Soviet Union deployed the R-7A Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead in 1960, they did it so they could hit US cities and targets without deploying forces outside their borders.
At that time, the US had nothing even remotely capable of stopping such an attack. But the US had its own forces, and its own nukes, and it was clear then, as it is now, that any attack on the US mainland would be repaid in kind.
Since then, China has built a formidable fleet of ICBMs as well. Now North Korea has ventured into that club, though in a limited capacity.
The wide majority of Americans have lived their entire lives under constant threat of nuclear annihilation. North Korea’s ICBM, though destabilizing and deeply troubling, exists as a mechanism to guarantee the stability of Kim Jong Un’s regime.
If Kim ever decides to fire a missile at the US, the US will track it, fire interceptors, and a barrage of its own, more reliable and powerful nuclear weapons in response likely before North Korea’s missile even reenters the atmosphere.
North Korea’s new weapons capability will likely lead to increased diplomatic pressure and sanctions on the country, but don’t expect a nuclear exchange. If North Korea had been intent on nuking the US, they could have hid a mobile missile launcher on a container ship or smuggled a nuclear weapon inside the US without having to spend years and millions of dollars perfecting a missile.
North Korea, or any other country, doesn’t attack the US because they have been deterred by the US’s superior firepower. That reality isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.