2 Hours A Week


North Korean Missile Crisis: A Primer

Over the past several weeks, you may have found yourself wondering how likely a nuclear war with North Korea is, a thought that was unfathomable just a year ago. But just what does this all mean and how the hell did we get here anyway?

Here are some key points.

What you can do

What's happening?
North Korea has successfully launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)—a long-range missile—despite US objections. They've ramped up testing and are thought to possess anywhere from 10-16 nuclear weapons that can be attached to these ICBMs.

So, what?
These nuclear missiles can reach Alaska! There's debate about whether the missiles can currently reenter the earth's atmosphere (a ballistic missile shoots up past the Earth's atmosphere and reenter before hitting its target). But experts say it is only a matter of time before North Korea establishes successful reentry and has the ability to launch a nuclear long-range missile.

Okay, let's take em' out!
Not so fast. A US preemptive nuclear strike or strike to destroy their missiles would result in retaliation against our allies in the region, Japan and North Korea - particularly Seoul. The US also has military outposts in both Japan and South Korea which could be targets.

Will they strike first?
For now it seems that the principles of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), our standard strategy around nuclear weapons, is functioning as a deterrent; they know if they strike first they'll be destroyed in a counter strike (though experts aren't sure how long that will last).

Can we stop a missile?
The US successfully executed the Terminal High Altitude Area Missile Defense System (THAAD) in Kodiak, Alaska, shooting down an Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The problem is this system doesn't work on long-range missiles like the one North Korea is using. The system's primary benefit is surveillance capability which would allow it to detect a missile launch.

What has Trump said about this?
Despite Trump's assertion that the development of a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the US "won't happen" it seems that it has—or is imminent. For now, we'll have to learn to live with it as the risk of unprovoked action is just too great.

Want to know more about how we got here? Read this and this.