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On Wednesday, November 29, North Korea launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that analysts believe is capable of reaching all of the United States, including big targets like New York City and Washington DC. This rocket reached the highest altitude of any of North Korea’s missile launches so far. It is called Hwasong-14. There is no way of knowing with certainty the reach of the new ICBM, but experts report that it shows major advances from other missiles tested by North Korea earlier this year. However, Virpin Narang, a professor at MIT, told the BBC that “They have extended the range now out to a point that it is hard to credibly argue that North Korea couldn’t have the U.S. eastern seaboard within its range.”
The new missile was also unusual in that it was tested at night. Experts suppose that this may have been for reasons of secrecy, but it may also have been due to missiles being harder to detect at night, and thus harder to intercept. According to the BBC, “It is certainly not impossible to intercept, but a launch under cover of darkness marginally improves a missile’s ability to evade missile defences.”
There are still main factors which cause experts to doubt that North Korea is ready to hit the continental United States with its technology despite the advancement in the reach of the new ICBM. Some are convinced that North Korea cannot yet miniaturize a nuclear warhead that the missile would be able to support during flight. North Korea has also not yet successfully brought a nuclear warhead back into Earth’s atmosphere, or proved that it has the technology necessary to do so.
North Korea has conducted more than 20 missile tests in 2017 alone, rapidly advancing the capabilities of its nuclear arsenal. The stated purpose of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is for the country’s defense, so that its weapons may act as a deterrent so that others do not attack the nation. The BBC notes two potential positive outcomes for North Korea and Kim Jong-Un, if North Korea proves that it has the nuclear capability to deter the United States and other nations with which it is hostile from attacking, thus securing its safety and position of power. If Pyongyang achieves this goal, it is speculated that it will be able to negotiate with the United States and possibly even greater organizations such as the United Nations to achieve a relaxation of sanctions against North Korea, which have been increased due to their continued missile tests in 2017 and heightened hostilities with the United States government. The BBC notes that this “would allow Mr Kim to realise his twin strategic priorities: military modernization and sustainable economic growth – in the process bolstering his leadership legitimacy in the eyes of his people.”