American and South Korean officials have said for over a year that North Korea would be able, within a very short time, to miniaturize a nuclear device, mount it on an intercontinental ballistic missile and hit the continental United States. The country’s test launch Tuesday didn’t conclusively demonstrate that Pyongyang has reached this point, but Alaska and Hawaii might already be within range — and US forces in South Korea and Japan certainly are.
This isn’t the first time the North has marked the Fourth with fireworks. On July 4, 2006, a North Korean short-range missile barrage broke a seven-year moratorium, stemming from a 1998 Taepo-Dong missile launch that landed in the Pacific east of Japan. Tokyo responded angrily, leading Pyongyang to declare the moratorium (though it continued static-rocket testing), ironically gaining a propaganda victory.
In addition, the North substantially increased ballistic-missile cooperation with Iran, begun earlier in the decade, a logical choice since both countries were relying upon the same Soviet-era Scud missile technology, and because their missile objectives were the same: acquiring delivery capabilities for nuclear warheads.
This longstanding cooperation on delivery systems, almost certainly mirrored in comparable cooperation on nuclear weapons, is one reason North Korea threatens not only the United States and East Asia, but the entire world. In strategic terms, this threat is already here. Unfortunately, we should have realized its seriousness decades ago to prevent it from maturing.
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