1. Does North Korea have nuclear weapons?
North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test in February in defiance of international efforts to halt its nuclear weapons program. Although details about the test remain elusive, it appeared to be North Korea’s largest nuclear weapons test to date. In March, North Korea publicly threatened a nuclear attack on targets in the U.S.
2. Can North Korean ballistic missiles reach the United States?
North Korea recently claimed that it can already hit the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. In December 2012, North Korea launched an Unha-3 rocket (the same vehicle as its Taepo Dong-2 intercontinental-range ballistic missile). North Korea can already hit Hawaii, parts of Alaska, and California. It can also hit U.S. forward-deployed troops in South Korea, Japan, and Guam. It would take only about 33 minutes for a North Korean long-range ballistic missile to reach the U.S. homeland if it obtains that capability.
3. Can North Korea launch a nuclear attack on the United States?
The missile that North Korea launched in December 2012 had a payload. The regime claimed it was a satellite for civilian purposes. A satellite payload and a nuclear payload share a great deal of technology and while the Obama Administration does not believe that North Korea is capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has a history of underestimating North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
4. Is Kim Jong-un bluffing?
North Korea is one of the most closed societies in the world. While many hoped for a change with the new leader, these hopes were misplaced. Very few know what is really going on in North Korea or in Kim Jong-un’s head. That is why it is essential to treat North Korean threats seriously.
5. What should the U.S. do?
The U.S. should be at the forefront of deploying a layered comprehensive ballistic missile defense system to protect its homeland, its forward-deployed troops, and its allies in Asia. The Obama Administration’s recent decision to deploy 14 additional Ground-Based Midcourse Defense interceptors is a step in the right direction, but it should also include a revival of programs that President Obama killed since he took office, such as the Airborne Laser, Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV), and Kinetic Energy interceptor. The Administration must reverse sequestration, particularly to naval and air force procurement plans, to send a credible signal it will defend its interests in Asia. In must also increase its diplomatic efforts to further isolate North Korea and strengthen the international sanctions regime.