Two years ago, North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs were at the forefront of many Americans’ minds, as each subsequent test seemed to demonstrate increasing strategic capability. Atomic tests gave way to apparent hydrogen (or thermonuclear) tests. Ballistic missile tests gave way to intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Soon, it seemed all but clear that North Korea possessed the capability to strike the American mainland with a nuclear weapon.
President Trump’s administration adopted an aggressive posture in dealing with North Korea’s provocations, and in many ways, that aggressive posture seemed to pay dividends. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met with both South Korean and American leaders, including President Trump himself, and the nuclear tests came to an end. It seemed, at least for the moment, that America had postponed a North Korean nuclear standoff. But there was little doubt that Kim’s days of saber-rattling would continue.
Of course, North Korea has a long and illustrious history of faking significant defense developments for the sake of the global press. Even its claims about its existing nuclear arsenal are often seen as, at the very least, littered with exaggeration. So, while this new missile looks a whole lot bigger than the missile North Korea has already demonstrated could reach American shores, we should take analytical extrapolations about its potential capability with a grain of salt.
However, based on what we know about North Korea’s previous ballistic missile programs, the state of its nuclear weapons programs, and the basics of missile technology, we can make some assumptions about this new weapon and what it means for America’s relations with the hermit nation.