Battle of the maps: North Korea’s actual missile capability vs. North Korea’s threatened missile capability
- By John Hudson
John Hudson is a staff writer for Foreign Policy where he chases down stories from Foggy Bottom to the White House, the Pentagon to Embassy Row. Between 2009 and 2012, John covered politics and global affairs for The Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August War between Russia and Georgia for Salon.com and other news outlets. Over the years, he's dug up resignation-causing FEC documents; unmasked world-famous Internet trolls; exposed bizarre Photoshopping by government media; and revealed a secret Iranian military facility. John's weakness is cold craft beer from his birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's appeared on MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, and other broadcast outlets.
Today, North Korea unveiled its “U.S. mainland strike plan” in a map showing Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California as primary targets. The map appeared in a photograph of an “emergency meeting” between Kim Jong Un and his top military advisors, and was broadcast by the country’s propaganda arm KCNA.
It’s a little difficult to make out because the lines of the continental United States are so light, but the above image shows lines pointing directly to the mainland targets of Los Angeles and Austin (Kim is clearly upset he never got to host a SXSW interactive panel on the future of Logitech hardware.) This expanded image below shows the area of the map more clearly (NK News has a smart overlay here).
Almost as soon as this latest threat surfaced, weapons experts laughed it out of the room given its ambitious assessment of North Korea’s weapons capability. “How clumsy of #NKorea to accidentally display their US Mainland Striking Plan — with ICBMs that don’t exist,” tweeted Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “If North Korea tried very hard and got lucky, they might be able to develop and ICBM version of the Unha-2 in five years,” he later told FP in an e-mail exchange. Speaking to the country’s missile range specifically, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly editor James Hardy wrote that “there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed.”
Obviously, it’s possible that U.S. intelligence and independent analyses underestimate North Korea’s capabilities, a concept fleshed out by our own Kevin Baron this week. But for comparison purposes, here’s the extent of North Korea’s missile range according to Western experts.
First, this map data is from the Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. As you can see, North Korea’s operational missile capacity, in green, can’t even make it to India.
On the more charitable end, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that the Taepodong-2 rocket could make it to Alaska, but no further.
Bottom line? SXSW appears to be safe … for now.