North Korea will continue to regularly test missiles and any military action against it by the United States would prompt “all out war”, a senior North Korean official told the BBC on Monday.
North Korea has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions and has said it has developed a missile that can strike the U.S. mainland. Its latest missile test on Sunday failed a few seconds after launch.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea on Monday that recent U.S. strikes in Syria, one of Pyongyang’s few close allies, and Afghanistan showed that the resolve of President Donald Trump should not be tested.
“We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” the BBC quoted Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol as saying in an interview.
“If the U.S. is reckless enough to use military means it would mean from that very day, an all out war.”
North Korean state media last week warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression, but the White House said there was no evidence it possessed that capability.
The BBC reported Han also said North Korea believed its nuclear weapons protect it from the threat of military action by the United States.
North Korea vows further missile tests: Report
North Korea’s failed missile test this weekend is just the latest in a string of tests by the country that has stoked fears around the world.
There had been growing concern all week that Kim Jong Un’s government would attempt some form of missile or nuclear test this weekend as it celebrated the 105th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung. So while the missile test did not come as a grand surprise, it serves a reminder of the growing threat that North Korea poses to U.S. interests in East Asia and the possible threat that it could pose to the U.S. homeland in the not-too-distant future.
Here’s what you need to know:
At the moment, North Korea doesn’t have the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with its missiles. However, according to data provided by Michael Elleman, a senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute, North Korea is developing a missile known as the Musudan (or Hwasong-10), with a range of up to 3,200 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles).
That puts the Musudan within striking range of Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific that is home to more than 150,000 U.S. citizens, as well as a number of U.S. military bases.
In addition, North Korea is developing other missiles with even greater ranges. Among those are the KN-08 (or Hwasong-13) and KN-14 (or Hwasong-14), both of which are believed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank based in Washington, D.C., the missiles have maximum ranges of 11,500 kilometers (approximately 7,145 miles) and 10,000 kilometers (approximately 6,215 miles) respectively — within striking distance of the U.S. mainland.
For a missile to be considered an ICBM, it must be able to travel a minimum of 3,400 miles (about 5,500 kilometers).
But experts have cast doubt on how ready the country is to launch such missiles.
“ICBMs that are reliable are at least four years away and more likely five to seven,” Elleman told ABC News.
Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan University in South Korea, pointed out that while Hawaii and Guam are closer targets that might not require an ICBM for targeting, he is “very doubtful North Korea missile guidance systems are good enough to get a … missile to such a precise location,” he wrote in an email to ABC News.
Missiles are just one piece of the puzzle. North Korea’s nuclear program is also a concern for the international community.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, two of them last year.
While the nuclear program is separate from the missile tests, “the real issue is whether they could put a nuke on top of that missile. That is just unknown,” said Kelly. “If I had to speculate, I would say yes, that they could nuke Japan but, no, they could not reach Hawaii or [the U.S. mainland] yet.”
“Nuclear experts believe the North to have 12 to 20 bombs and [will] expand its nuclear arsenal to 40 or 50 in the next four to five years,” Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, told ABC News in an email. “That would rival the size of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal.”
Firepower at this scale would “give North Korea credible second strike capability. That is, the North attacks first, the U.S. shoots back, and the North shoots back — a series of nuclear exchanges, in a mutual destruction,” Lee added.
What is the worst-case scenario?
“The worst-case scenario is open warfare between the two Koreas into which China and the U.S. would get dragged on opposite sides and in which nuclear weapons were used,” said Kelly, adding that he thinks this is unlikely.
But if it does happen, “China has never confirmed what its status would be if war [broke] out again, and we’d like to think China would be on our side, but they’ve so far refused to agree to that position,” said Van Jackson, an associate professor at the College of Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
But how could the U.S. get dragged into a conflict so far away? “The American alliance arrangement with South Korea and Japan would require American involvement in the case of war, much like America’s Cold War commitment to NATO,” Kelly said.