- North Korea just tested a nuclear-capable missile that experts say could hit Alaska or northern Australia
- The US has no practical way to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
- The west will just have to live with the fact that North Korean nukes can range its major cities, just like South Korea and Japan already do.
Kim Jong Un has personally observed the culmination of a years-long goal — the testing of a missile that he can use to nuke the US mainland.
Flying nearly 3,000km high above earth, the missile flew for over 35 minutes before crashing down into the sea, according to David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. North Korean media stated that it shot the missile at a high arc so as not to hit any other countries.
Wright calculated that at a normal trajectory, the missile could fly 4,160 miles, or 6,700km. That’s as far as Alaska from North Korea (and less than 5,800km from Pyongyang to Darwin).
Kim Jong Un has long threatened the US with nuclear attacks, and done everything in his power to demonstrate the capability to launch such an attack. While a single successful ICBM test doesn’t mean North Korea has full combat capability, it could indicate that it’s just a few months away.
Meanwhile, the US has taken every step short of military strikes to stop North Korea, saying that the era of “strategic patience” had ended and that “all options,” including military strikes, were on the table for reeling back the rogue state.
In the aftermath of the test, Trump tweeted that China may try a “heavy move” against the Kim regime while hinting that South Korea and Japan could retaliate.
But North Korea’s independence day missile launch wasn’t a message to China, South Korea, Japan, or anyone besides the US. Kim Jong Un has told the US it’s at risk of nuclear attack, so what changes now?
The short answer is nothing. Nothing will happen. The US has lived under threat of nuclear attack for over 50 years.
The US already lives with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can level Seoul, South Korea’s capital and home to metro-area population of 25 million civilians. North Korea can already lay waste to the 28,000 US troops permanently stationed near the demilitarized zone.
Japan already lives with the knowledge that North Korea could most likely range Tokyo, home to a metro-area of almost 38 million, with a nuclear weapon.
Why should anything change when North Korea can reach Guam, Alaska, Los Angeles, or New York? North Korea doesn’t attack Seoul, Tokyo, Guam, or any other place — because if they did, the US would completely destroy them.
That’s the same reason that Russia, despite deep differences on foreign policy and conflicts of interest with the US, never fired on the US, or any other country, even during the height of the Cold War.
“We can deter them,” retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former head of US Pacific Command, said of North Korea at a National Committee for US-China Relations event. “They may be developing 10 to 15 nuclear weapons. We have 2,000. They can do a lot of damage to the US, but there won’t be any North Korea left in the event of a nuclear exchange. That’s not a good regime survival strategy, and even Kim Jong Un would understand that.”
Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea wrote the possession of nuclear weapons into their constitution as a guarantor of their security. Expect the US to push for sanctions, diplomatic talks, investments in missile defences — the types of measures taken against other nuclear powers — but don’t expect a nuclear exchange.
Because for North Korea to use one of its nuclear weapons in anger would absolutely undermine its desire for security, and likely turn much of the Korean peninsula into a glowing nuclear wasteland.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.