Kim Jong Un, the reclusive leader of North Korea, is reportedly “desperate.”
The rogue regime is now openly suggesting its “nuclear sight” is focused on both American-allied military bases in the region, and “also in the U.S. mainland.” And while the White House is writing off the idea of a North Korean nuclear strike on U.S. soil as fantasy, there are growing questions about what kind of damage Pyongyang is capable of inflicting, and how soon they could follow-through on the threat to target our shores.
In an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday, President Trump suggested Kim is “doing the wrong thing.” Trump added he wasn’t even sure whether the man behind the bluster is mentally fit.
Trump tweeted on Thursday his intention to deal with the North Korea issue one way or another.
“I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.” he wrote.
I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2017
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested Trump had put North Korea “clearly on notice,” before adding the threat itself — of a North Korean missile strike on the U.S. mainland — doesn’t seem to be based in reality.
“I think there is no evidence that North Korea has that capability at this time,” Spicer said. “Threatening something that you don’t have the capability of isn’t really a threat.”
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are no secret. They’ve tested nuclear weapons at least five times since 2003, with two of those tests occurring just last year.
According to South Korean officials, one of last year’s tests was estimated to yield the biggest explosion in the program’s history, and wound up producing a 5.0 magnitude earthquake.
South Korea’s weather agency said the blast, in September 2016, was equivalent to 70-80 percent of the force of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Estimates suggest nearly 66,000 people were killed by the blast in Hiroshima, though some experts believe the number may be even greater.
Seventy years after the Hiroshima blast, nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein created an interactive map to show what the effects of a Hiroshima-style bomb would be on cities like New York or D.C. According to Wellerstein’s map, the estimated fatalities in D.C. would number more than 120,000. For Tokyo, a city within North Korea’s reach, the estimate is the same. For New York, though, the number doubles to more than 263,000.
While North Korea appears to have successfully tested their nuclear weapons, there is still the question of whether or not they possess the missiles capable of delivering those weapons to American shores.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the Northeast Asia Nonproliferation Program, says there is no question Pyongyang is capable of delivering nuclear weapons throughout the entirety of South Korea and Japan, where U.S. forces have been stationed for decades. He adds it may not be long before U.S. shores are within reach.
“North Korea has said that it is ready this year to test an [intercontinental ballistic missile] capable of reaching the United States,” Lewis said. He added the estimate “is consistent with the information we have seen,” though he cautioned the first such test might be unsuccessful.
An infographic from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies breaks down the arsenal of missiles that North Korea is believed to possess. While just two of those missiles (though untested) are said to be capable of reaching the U.S., researchers note the notoriously secretive regime may possess additional missiles that have yet to be discovered.