by Chris Becker
Death. Destruction. Nuclear holocaust! These headlines sell papers and bait clicks. Add to the mix a man-child US president, plus any chance to talk up defence contracts and the military-media-industrial complex goes into a frenzy. Doom sells!
Luckily, science comes to the rescue. Let’s dispel the “threat” from North Korea using some reason.
They can’t attack anyone with nuclear missiles. That’s a known known. Let’s step through the reasons why:
Yes: The North Koreans have nuclear warheads that can be detonated. So far, there has been five underground tests, all successful. But all of them are weak as piss (that’s the technical term), generating only 10kT. That’s enough to take out a very small city, but pales into insignificance compared to the conventional artillery/missile capability of the North Korean army which could devastate most of South Korea’s populated centers in the first strike.
Yes: The North Koreans have launched ballistic missiles. Here’s some more detail at IFLScience:
North Korea has inarguably made huge progress on missile technology since it first started giving it a go a few decades back, but it fails as often as it succeeds. When it test fires a new rocket, it either explodes on the launch pad or, as planned, lands in the Sea of Japan – a provocative act to one of its oldest foes.
At present, it has fired at least two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the second of which traveled 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), reached a height of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), and then splashed again into the Sea of Japan.
Experts have suggested that, if aimed at a certain angle, the missile could have a maximum range of 10,400 kilometers (6,462 miles). When the rotation of the Earth is taken into account, this range is only extended.
Technically then, these missiles could reach both the western and eastern seaboard of the United States. Hawaii is easily in range, as is Guam, an American territory in Micronesia with 163,000 people living on it – and one that’s been threatened by a North Korean missile strike.
Maybe – recent leaks suggest that the North Koreans may be able to miniaturise their crude plutonium based 10KT bombs to fit into a missile warhead. Will it have the same yield? Have they tested it to deploy after launch and crucially…
No – they haven’t mastered re-entry. Launch, yes, land – no. All tests have shown so far that the North Koreans are nowhere near capable of actually mastering re-entry back through the thick atmospheric layers at supersonic speed. All analysis shows each ballistic missile breaking up.
So they have the bomb, they have the missiles, but they can’t shoot the missile long or even medium range successfully, and they definitely can’t survive re-entry.
There’s almost zero risk here.
The only extant risk is using their crude conventional artillery systems to attack South Korea and possibly Japan with medium range missiles. The risk management in place is the vast anti-missile defence shields both nations have in place.
An uneasy “peace” on the Korean peninsula has stood for over sixty years. The real risks are not nuclear, but rather the collapse of the regime into chaos that could spark a conventional war, or lesser but still real, an equally brash “Dear Leader” who wants to use extreme force, with “fire and fury” against an oppressed and starving population.
Diplomacy must win out here, not pissing contests.