In earlier shows we compared the North Korean military with the giant of the United States military and the military of its neighbor, South Korea. The secretive state came out looking rather meager, in terms of defense capabilities anyway. But just how capable is North Korea if it were to make use of its growing stockpile of missiles? Or, what is the likelihood of that happening any time soon? Since the armistice was signed between North and South Korea, a certain amount of animus has existed between the two nations. Separated by what’s known as the demilitarized zone, or the DMZ, this close proximity has imposed years of insecurity on South Korea and to some extent stoked fears worldwide. Is this insecurity justified, or has it been, in part, a sensation fueled by media exaggeration? That’s what we intend to find out, in this episode of The infographics Show, How Far Can North Korean Missiles Go?
First of all, for those of you who might need to sharpen your geography skills, we’ll give you some pointers as to where some countries stand on the map with North Korea. The buffer zone of the DMZ stretches for about 160 miles along the North and South Korean border. The 2.5 mile wide zone, called the most dangerous border in the world, is only 35 miles from South Korea’s capital, Seoul. The DMZ consists of guard towers, a patch-work of landmines, and thousands of soldiers – including U.S. soldiers. The country also shares an 880 mile long border with China and a short 11 mile land border with Russia. The Chinese border has been called North Korea’s lifeline to the outside world, while the Russian border still doesn’t have roads for car or pedestrian travel. There is a train that goes between the two nations, though. Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, is situated roughly 500 miles from Beijing, 799 miles from Tokyo, 6,700 miles from Washington DC, 5,397 miles from London, 2,940 miles from New Delhi, 10,790 miles from Brasilia, 5,166 miles from Cairo, and 5,348 miles from Australia’s capital, Canberra.
By land or by sea, the state that is often referred to as a kind of boogeyman nation is quite a trek from those nations which seem to fear it the most – besides, of course, South Korea. Nonetheless, a missile doesn’t care about long arduous journeys. If North Korea has one country outside of South Korea that it paints as its most uncompromising villain, it is, without any doubt, the United States of America. Americans should have nothing to fear given the size of their military and defense capabilities, but also bearing in mind the huge distance that separates the nations. Well, news reports surfaced on the 4th of July this year that North Korea had boasted that it now has bargaining power with the USA. The ace in its hand is the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland. The North Korean announcement caused quite a fuss as most Americans were busy celebrating their Independence from their now best friend, the UK, with Donald Trump taking to Twitter and exclaiming, “Let’s end this nonsense once and for all.” North Korean news said the country was now a strong nuclear power state, adding that it had “a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world.”
Propaganda, or serious threat? The missile causing this media hullabaloo is called the Hwasong-14. What we know about it, or what we think we know about it, is derived from watching it being tested and what the North Korean media said. According to the state media, a recent test saw the missile flying for a period of 39 minutes, reaching 1,741 miles in altitude and travelling for a total of 580 miles. That’s not far enough to reach the USA, although analysts believe the missile is capable of travelling for around 5,100 miles, which is almost far enough to reach the west coast of America. Los Angeles lies about 5,800 miles from North Korea, although Hawaii and Alaska are much closer. At the moment, analysts are uncertain if the ICBM is capable of carrying a nuclear payload, but the recent July 4th celebration inside North Korea has without a doubt turned some heads. Almost immediately after the Korean threat was posed the U.S. said it was prepared for any kind of attack.
What kind of nuclear threat does North Korea actually pose? Don’t most of the nukes, the usable ones anyway, belong to the U.S. and Russia? North Korea carried out its first nuclear test in 2006 and its latest was in September 2016. This year, North Korea’s vice foreign minister said, “We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands.” Indeed, it’s estimated that North Korea has around 20 nuclear bombs, although how far they are capable of being launched has remained somewhat unclear. If the latest news about the ICBM is correct, North Korea could potentially launch a nuclear strike not only against the USA but throughout Asia, most of Europe, and the Middle East. Its bombs, most analysts agree, have about half the destructive power of those that hit Japan. However, in 2016, North Korea said it had conducted a hydrogen bomb, or H-Bomb, test. This was largely discredited, but scary enough, given that these bombs are about 50-100 times more powerful than those that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
North Korea is also said to be packing other long-distance missiles, one being the KN-08, or Hwasong-13. Its potential is not yet fully understood, and according to U.S. military sources, launching the missile has met with a series of failures. Let’s just say if it can do what it is supposed to do, and that is travel for more than 3,400 miles, then this gives North Korea the ability to hit most of Asia. But, and it’s a big but, analysts disagree about how far it can go, what propels it, and if it can even carry a nuclear payload.
With all this speculation, you might rightly be feeling confused, but don’t worry, even the experts are confused. It’s fairly certain that North Korea has about 50 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, or IRBMs, which are said to be capable of reaching distances of around 2,000 miles, enough to devastate Hong Kong, and pretty much destroy the U.S. territory of Guam and its military base there. One such missile is the Musudan (BM-25). The Korean Central News Agency described such a missile as being able to carry “a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.” Again, most of Asia could take the brunt of such a weapon if it were to carry a nuclear payload.
The same goes for the Taepodong-2, a missile used for launching satellites, but with the potential of carrying a nuclear warhead for a distance of anywhere between 2,500 miles and 4,000 miles. This brings Europe back into the danger zone.
North Korea has quite a cache of much smaller missiles, one of which is the funny sounding No Dong missile. The No Dong, which, according to some reports, was partly designed by Russian and Chinese scientists, is a Medium-Range Ballistic Missile. It’s capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, chemical weapons, and High Explosives. It only has around an 800-mile range, but of course that won’t make nearby countries feel any more comfortable, especially as North Korea has about 300 of them. This number is also said to be fewer than 50, it just depends on who’s doing the guessing.
Even smaller are North Korea’s road-mobile, liquid propellant ballistic missiles, or SRBMs, which are definitely operational. This includes the Hwasong 5, 6, and 7. All are capable of carrying high explosives or chemical weapons anywhere from 180-600 miles.
So far this year, North Korea has fired 17 missiles during 11 tests, each missile having a different range. Present leader Kim Jong Un has been quite trigger happy since he came to power in 2011, firing off more missiles than anyone in North Korean history. The most in one year was 24 in 2016. So, what do you think, serious threat, or overblown analysis from the West? Do you live within the range of North Korea’s new long-distance missile, and if so, how do feel about that? Let us know in the comments!