Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

North Korea May Already Be Able to Launch A Nuclear Attack On the U.S.

| Sep. 06, 2017

It is conventional wisdom that North Korea is not yet able to put a U.S. city at risk of nuclear attack. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the country’s No. 2 military officer, captured this view in a statement last week to Bloomberg News. Selva said: “It is clear North Korea has the capability to build a missile that can range the distance to the United States, but North Korea has yet to demonstrate it has the requisite technology and capability to actually target and strike the United States with a nuclear weapon.” Many other U.S. officials, as well as outside experts, have made similar comments.

I think the conventional wisdom may be wrong. I believe that North Korea may have the capability today to successfully conduct a nuclear attack on the United States. I believe that the conventional wisdom may be based on a fundamental mistake of logic: Just because North Korea has not yet demonstrated a capability does not mean it does not have it.

What is the case for concluding that North Korea may already have the capability? There are three key pieces. First, North Korea’s first unambiguously successful nuclear test was in 2009. (North Korea’s first test, in 2006, most likely failed.) The 2009 test showed that North Korea could generate a nuclear yield from a device. And that test has been followed by four other successful nuclear tests — the latest being this past weekend. The explosive yields of the tests have grown over time.

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For Academic Citation: Morell, Michael.“North Korea May Already Be Able to Launch A Nuclear Attack On the U.S..” The Washington Post, September 6, 2017.

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