Kim Jong Un’s Big Nuclear Push Is Closing In on America

By David TweedDavid Tweed and Adrian LeungAdrian Leung
|

Kim Jong Un has sped up North Korea’s nuclear program since he took power in late 2011, testing more powerful weapons and developing longer-range missiles to carry them.

On July 4, North Korea said it had successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile called the Hwasong-14, a claim that brings the isolated state closer to its aim of building a device capable of hitting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead. The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday after the U.S. confirmed North Korea’s rocket launch was its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

Still, the launch risks a serious escalation with North Korea’s neighbors and the U.S. over its weapons program. The regime is thought to possess rockets that can hit South Korea and Japan with as many as 20 atomic bombs.

Where North Korea’s Missiles Could Hit

Estimated maximum missile ranges from North Korea

 

Distances from

North Korea

0 km

Medium-range

Tokyo

1,500

No-Dong

Intermediate-range

Guam

4,000

BM-25 Musudan

Anchorage,

Alaska

6,000

Hwasong-14

In development

10,000

KN-14

Washington,

D.C.

11,500

KN-08

Intercontinental-range

15,000

Taepodong-2

Where North Korea’s Missiles Could Hit

Estimated maximum missile ranges from North Korea

 

Intercontinental-range

In development

Intermediate-range

Medium-range

0 km

1,500

10,000

11,500

15,000

4,000

6,000

No-Dong

BM-25 Musudan

Hwasong-14

KN-14

KN-08

Taepodong-2

Tokyo

Guam

Anchorage, Alaska

Washington, D.C.

Where North Korea’s Missiles Could Hit

Estimated maximum missile ranges from North Korea

 

Intercontinental-range

In development

Intermediate-range

Medium-range

0 km

1,500

10,000

11,500

15,000

4,000

6,000

No-Dong

BM-25 Musudan

Hwasong-14

KN-14

KN-08

Taepodong-2

Tokyo

Guam

Anchorage, Alaska

Washington, D.C.

Where North Korea’s Missiles Could Hit

Estimated maximum missile ranges from North Korea

 

Intercontinental-range

In development

Intermediate-range

Medium-range

0 km

1,500

10,000

11,500

15,000

4,000

6,000

No-Dong

BM-25 Musudan

Hwasong-14

KN-14

KN-08

Taepodong-2

Tokyo

Guam

Anchorage, Alaska

Washington, D.C.

David Wright, a co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the group’s website that the projectile had the potential to reach all of Alaska and could be a modified version of the Hwasong-12 missile that was launched in May.

Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said: “It’s an ICBM for sure. It appears to be a new design that we had not previously seen. The North Koreans seem to have made quite a lot of progress in the past year.”

“It demonstrated that it could go 6,700 kilometers. There is no reason to think that’s the max,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate until we can measure everything carefully, but it’s possible that it could strike targets in the continental U.S.”

While the regime already possesses the Taepodong-2, which can reach all parts of the U.S., analysts say it has been used only for launching satellites into orbit and probably wouldn’t be suitable for the delivery of nuclear warheads.

Ballistic Missile Launches

10

15

20

0

5

Kim Il Sung

1984-1994

’90

’91

’92

’93

Kim Jong Il

1994-2011

’98

’03

’04

’05

’06

’07

’09

Kim Jong Un

2011-

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

10

15

20

0

5

Ballistic Missile Launches

Kim Il Sung

1984-1994

Kim Jong Il

1994-2011

Kim Jong Un

2011-

20

15

10

5

0

’84

’90

’91

’92

’93

’98

’03

’04

’05

’06

’07

’09

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

Ballistic Missile Launches

Kim Il Sung

1984-1994

Kim Jong Il

1994-2011

Kim Jong Un

2011-

20

15

10

5

0

’84

’90

’91

’92

’93

’94

’98

’03

’04

’05

’06

’07

’09

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

More worrisome is the yet-to-be tested KN-08, a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. Its range of about 11,500 kilometers (7,100 miles) would threaten a host of major U.S. cities. At the beginning of the year, Kim said that North Korea was in the “last stage” of preparing to test-fire an ICBM—prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to tweet: “It won’t happen!”

Nuclear Test Power

Estimated yield, kilotons

< 1

Oct. 9, 2006

2-6

May 25,

2009

Kim Jong Un

takes power

6-9

Feb. 12,

2013

13

Hiroshima,

1945

6-9

Jan. 6, 2016

10

Sept. 9, 2016

Nuclear Test Power

Estimated yield, kilotons

13

Kim Jong

Un

takes

power

Hiroshima,

1945

Ranges from

< 1

2-6

6-9

6-9

10

Oct. 9,

2006

May 25,

2009

Feb. 12,

2013

Jan. 6,

2016

Sept. 9,

2016

Nuclear Test Power

Estimated yield, kilotons

13

Hiroshima,

1945

Kim Jong Un

takes power

Ranges from

< 1

2-6

6-9

6-9

10

Oct. 9,

2006

May 25,

2009

Feb. 12,

2013

Jan. 6,

2016

Sept. 9,

2016

Kim has successfully fired short and intermediate-range rockets dozens of times in the past few years. A military parade he oversaw on April 15 also suggested that the regime has two different ICBMs under development in addition to the KN-08.