7 Big Questions About North Korea’s Latest — and Longest — Missile Test

Article/Op-Ed in New York Magazine
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Nov. 28, 2017

Heather Hurlburt wrote for New York Magazine about what North Korea's latest missile test means about the nuclear threat.  

Another North Korean missile test, which the secretary of Defense asserted means Pyongyang could “hit anywhere in the world, basically.” A somber statement from the White House, with Secretary Mattis joining Trump and the GOP congressional leadership as the president asserted that he would “take care of it.” Meanwhile, on Twitter, a deluge of nuclear jargon and terrifying scenarios, with talk about miniaturized warheads, high trajectories, and a future of explosions in the Pacific — or on the East Coast. You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.
Is this game-changing? No. Experts watching the march of North Korea’s nuclear program have said it was only a matter of time until Pyongyang demonstrated it could fire a rocket at a trajectory that would allow it to reach any part of the U.S. Recently, American officials have predicted North Korea would reach this milestone in 2018. This rocket flew farther and longer than any previous North Korean test — potentially around 8,000 miles, according to the calculations of physicist David Wright. That’s long enough to reach anywhere in the United States, including New York City, from North Korea. But Wright also points out the critical caveat: Its payload was a fake warhead, likely very light. An actual nuclear warhead would be much heavier, thus dramatically limiting how far it can go. Other scientists pointed out that the nighttime launch presented additional technical challenges — further demonstrating Pyongyang’s technical advances and potential to surprise us. That rocket might be able to deliver a payload of soap bubbles or fluffy bunnies to the streets of New York, but not a nuclear explosion. Yet.
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