Now North Korea can nuke any city in the USA

Blast off: Kim Jong-un stated that the launch expressed “courage for party and country!” ©Getty

So does this mean — surprisingly — that the world is safer? The rogue nation’s most advanced missile means that the prospect of war really is unthinkable, or so some experts are saying.

This year North Korea has tested 23 ballistic missiles. But yesterday it made a big breakthrough: its latest and “most powerful” rocket flew higher and further than any other before it.

The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was blasted to an altitude of 4,475km — ten times higher than the orbit of the international space station. After flying for 53 minutes it crashed into the sea.

This was the highest a North Korean missile has ever flown. American scientists claim that if it were launched on a flatter trajectory it could travel 13,000km, and hit any city in the USA.

The North Koreans claimed the missile was carrying a “heavy warhead”; however, it is unclear if the rocket is truly capable of making a live nuclear strike on American soil.

Regardless, North Korean news declared their nation “a nuclear power” with the “noble purpose of defending peace and stability in the world”.

The phrase “peace and stability”, uttered in same breath as “a nuclear power”, may seem laughable — but there is some logic to the idea.

Political Scientist Kenneth Waltz argues that nuclear weapons help to maintain peace — due to the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). This is a situation in which two nations have nuclear weapons, but neither would use them for fear of being annihilated by a retaliatory strike.

This theory partly explains why the USA and USSR did not launch nuclear weapons during the cold war.

But it only works when both sides have the bomb. A 2009 study argues that if one country has nuclear weapons and another does not, there is a “greater chance of war”.

This is an imbalance Kim Jong-un is desperate to fix. As CNN summarises: “[Kim] believes that only by being able to threaten the USA with a nuclear strike can [he] stop US military intervention.”

But will North Korean nuclear weapons actually encourage peace?

War and Peace

It is possible, say some. North Korea expert Laura Rosenberger claims that owning a strong nuclear deterrent is vital for Kim to enter negotiations. This would allow him to hold talks "as a nuclear power, and a peer to the USA". In this scenario both sides would have the strongest incentive to avoid mutually destructive conflict and sort things out through peaceful diplomacy — not war.

North Korea plays by different rules, reply others. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction only works if both sides are stable and rational. For US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster the "unspeakable brutality" of Kim's regime proves he is neither. Moreover, it is thought that North Korea's nukes are not totally operational. As North Korea nears full nuclear capability America may launch a preemptive attack. Kim must quit now.

You Decide

  1. Would the world be better off without nuclear weapons?
  2. Does the North Korea nuclear threat worry you?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a journalist sent to interview Kim Jong-un. You can only ask him three questions. What will you ask?
  2. Read the last two articles in Become An Expert from Big Think and Vox. After you have read both arguments write a paragraph in response to this statement: “Nuclear weapons are the greatest force for peace in the world. Discuss.”

Some People Say...

“A world free of nuclear weapons will be safer and more prosperous.”

Ban Ki-moon

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile was launched by North Korean authorities and reached an altitude of 4,475 km. It is predicted that a rocket capable of ascending this far would be capable of reaching the USA. In 2015 the USA estimated that North Korea possessed 10-16 nuclear weapons.
What do we not know?
We do not know if North Korea has the capability to attach one of these nuclear warheads to the missile and successfully fire it at the USA. The range of the missile may be reduced when carrying a warhead and it may disintegrate on re-entry into the atmosphere.

Word Watch

Most powerful
The missile was a Hwasong-15. Experts are unsure how large a warhead the missile would be able to carry.
American scientists
From the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Truly capable
In order for a missile to make a nuclear strike it must survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after briefly flying through space. North Korea has stated that the missile is capable of surviving re-entry; however, not all experts are convinced.
Cold war
Although they nearly did. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans and Russians endured a 13 day standoff sparked by Russian missile deployments in Cuba. The crisis is regarded as the closest both sides came to launching into full nuclear war.
Study
“Evaluating the Nuclear Peace Hypothesis,” by Robert Rauchhaus — published in Journal of Conflict Resolution.
Greater chance
The downfalls of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi (former leaders of Iraq and Libya) have been partly attributed to their giving up of nuclear weapons.

Subjects

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