Despite President Donald Trump telling the UN General Assembly that the US would “totally destroy” North Korea if it is attacked, the US arsenal may not be able to stop a nuclear strike if one is carried out, according to some analysts.
Some experts in the military and missile defense fields believe that even if the US had information that North Korea posed a real threat to America, or one of its allies, they may not be able to shoot down a missile headed for a target.
North Korea’s intermediate range missile launch over Japan’s Hokkaido Island on September 15 reached a maximum altitude of 480 miles (770 km), according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. But Joseph Cirincione, who is the founder of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, says the US and Japan do not even have the capability to intercept a missile launched at that altitude.
Cirincione elaborated by saying that no ballistic missile defense system in existence can even reach the height which the North Korean missile test achieved, according to Defense One.
Bruce Bennett, an analyst from the nonprofit public policy group RAND Corporation, shares some of Cirincione’s skepticism.
“We could potentially miss or hit, we don’t know for sure,” he said, according to the Express.
Another expert has called into question the value of a Washington Post report last month stating that North Korea may be able to fit a miniaturized warhead on an intercontinental missile.
Tom Plant, Director of the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Program at London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that the country may still not possess the technology to support the critical reentry phase of a successful long-range missile strike.
Plant says the warhead mentioned in the report may only be designed to initially take off from inside the ICBM, but does not account for reentry into the atmosphere after it is launched. The missile’s reentry vehicle must endure scathing heat and cold temperatures when coming back into the atmosphere en route for its target.
Plant believes that “North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead but question remains if its missile technology could survive a launch into space, and subsequent re-entry to hit an intended target,” Plant told Newsweek.
“In relation to that particular U.S. intelligence assessment, the language is always worth paying very close attention to. The assessment states that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM,” he said, according to Newsweek.
“That’s subtly different from saying that those weapons fit in a survivable reentry vehicle.”
Nukes over Guam or Asia-Pacific
Following the September 15 test, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday that the US has not seen a reason to shoot down any North Korean missiles as of yet.
Mattis explained the recent threats by North Korea and how the US will deal with the alleged threats to them and their allies.
“The bottom line is: The missiles, were they to be a threat – whether it be to U.S. territory, Guam, [or] obviously Japan’s territory — that would elicit a different response from us,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mattis elaborated and said the US would take “immediate actions” to intercept and shoot down any missile headed for Japan, South Korea or Guam.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also explained Japan’s response to the provocative missile launch by Kim Jong-un’s government on September 15.
“We didn’t intercept it because no damage to Japanese territory was expected,” he said, according to the Japan Times.
President Trump, meanwhile, has gone further in his statements on addressing a hypothetical North Korean missile attack. Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, the president said he “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” if forced to defend the US and its allies, during his first speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
During the speech, he also referred to Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea as “depraved,” and called the leader “rocket man.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reacted to Trump’s speech by saying threats will not help solve the North Korean missile problem.
“If we just condemn and threaten, then we are likely to antagonize the countries that we want to influence. That’s why we prefer to work with all interested parties, to give them incentives to enter a dialogue,” Lavrov said.