Images of North Korea's latest missile launch reveal a big problem for the US

KCNAKim Jong Un inspects the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • Analysis of North Korea’s latest missile launch reveals a bigger, better rocket that has been domestically built.
  • The US remains determined to stop North Korea from building a credible nuclear force, but it’s looking less likely it will be able to do so diplomatically.
  • The US ambassador to the UN said the launch took the US “closer to war,” but experts say the US may just have to accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

The results are in from North Korea’s latest missile test, and it looks as if the country’s weapons program is advancing despite the US’s best efforts.

Photos released by North Korean media show the launch process as supervised by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and reveal a new missile, the Hwasong-15, that is unlike anything previously seen from the nation.

“This is a very big missile,” Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, tweeted. “And I don’t mean ‘Big for North Korea.’ Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club.”

North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles before, but researchers found them prohibitively small for delivering a heavy nuclear device halfway around the world to the continental US.

Tal Inbar, the head of the space research center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, observed on Twitter that the reentry vehicle, or the tip of the missile that must return down to earth, was “HUGE.”

But Mike Elleman, a leading missile expert, wrote on 38 North, a website for North Korea analysis, that despite the missile’s size it still probably couldn’t send a heavy nuclear warhead as far as the US’s east coast.

According to Elleman, when North Korea demonstrated the 8,000-mile range of the Hwasong-15 and its other long-range missiles, they “likely carried very small payloads.” Elleman estimates that the missiles would struggle even to reach the US’s west coast with a reasonably size nuclear warhead aboard.

What this means for the US

In comparison with the other ICBM launches from North Korea, the response from President Donald Trump to the most recent one has been muted, and perhaps for good reason.

As Paul Bracken, a professor of political science at Yale, told Business Insider, Trump has “been reasonably effective” in isolating North Korea and rallying support for sanctions internationally.

But North Korea just showed a domestically made missile and missile launcher. It showed a capacity to improve upon its existing designs and to design new missiles independently.

In short, it showed that even with the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy, aircraft carriers nearby, and US jets buzzing around, it seems on track to build a credible nuclear weapon.

“We know they were building to this. They got it no matter how badly we wanted to stop them. Our options to stop them are still awful,” Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea, told the Los Angeles Times. “We are stuck. We have to adapt to North Korea as a nuclear power, and we will actually.”

The US has repeatedly said that it will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power and that it will consider military intervention to stop it.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, on Wednesday said that the US was not seeking war with North Korea but that the latest launch “brings us closer to war.” While Haley remarked that the “North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed” in such a war, she neglected to mention the damage that South Korea, and possibly the US, could also face from a North Korean nuclear attack.

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