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Despite Media’s Claims, North Korea Can’t Strike Continental US

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Photo by Stefan Krasowski | CC BY 2.0

Last month, North Korea conducted two missile tests that were designed to demonstrate that the isolated country had achieved a major advancement in its missile technology. North Korea’s missile tests on July 3 and July 28 were immediately declared by the mainstream press to be successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which puts part or all of the US in range of a strike. Hawkish “experts” immediately sprung into action and stated the missile tests undeniably proved the North can now strike the United States.

The corporate media’s hyping of North Korea’s “threat” instantly began pushing the country towards a catastrophic war. The Trump administration, which has already been immersed in chaos, sent mixed messages in response and Americans became alarmed. Polling from the beginning of August found that 62% of Americans now believe North Korea posed a “very serious threat” to the United States, a jump of 14 points since March. Fourteen years after the disaster in Iraq was sold to Americans on the pretense of WMDs, which never existed, the mainstream media continue to push war hungry narratives.

It was against this war-frenzied backdrop that Trump unloaded a series of outrageous and off the cuff threats, signifying the US may consider a nuclear first strike on North Korea. An attack along the lines the president was threatening would likely kill at least a million people and possibly trigger China to come to North Korea’s defense.

Then on August 9, a report surfaced that the Pentagon had not only already drawn up plans for the attack, but it has been actively rehearsing a preemptive strike on North Korea since May. The Pentagon has identified “two dozen” North Korean targets, including launch sites, testing grounds, and support facilities. On August 10, a top war planner said the only effective first strike against North Korea would involve multiple nuclear strikes by the US.

“From what we have heard from the way he [the President] stated the ‘fire and fury,’ and from what we got from Secretary Mattis, I have to believe that the plan is to use nuclear weapons against North Korea,” Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner.

We now find ourselves on the brink of a nuclear war. Just six months into office, Trump’s inexperienced and inept foreign policy has already led to a major nuclear crisis. Some experts have compared this week to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Yet despite the recent events surrounding North Korea, a new report by independent experts contradicts the mainstream media’s narrative. The report, published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, finds that North Korea’s recently launched missiles weren’t actually ICBMs and aren’t able to reach the continental US.

The lead author of the report is Ted Postol, a professor at MIT and a former scientific advisor for the Pentagon.

In an interview with me, Dr. Postol said the media reports on North Korea’s ability to strike the continental US were “news generated from nothing”.

“Nobody knows anything for certain about North Korea’s nuclear program, we only some basic things. For example, we know they probably got the plans to guide them from A.Q. Khan (Pakistani nuclear scientist), so we can make some guesses from that.”

“We know nothing about the utility of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. These could be weapons that are only usable in lab-like setting or they may be deployable. We don’t know.”

Dr. Postol says North Korea’s missiles likely don’t have the capability to carry a missile the weight of a first-generation nuclear weapon to the West Coast of the US. He also finds it very unlikely that North Korea has mastered the ability to create a warhead that can handle the immense forces created when a missile reenters the atmosphere.

On August 8, the Washington Post reported a leaked Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, which stated North Korea had successfully created “a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles”.

The report is “essentially empty”, Postol stated.

“Who knows what is meant by a miniaturized warhead, and we also don’t know the degree of confidence the DIA had in the assessment.”

Skepticism about the widely reported claims on North Korea’s missiles ability is not limited to Postol and his coauthors, Dan Albright, a former UN weapons inspector said the DIA report ignored “uncertainties and caveats”.

Albright said North Korea’s recently used missile system is unlikely to be reliable after just two launches.

“Countries spend a lot of time working this problem to try to build up what they call the reliability of the warhead in a delivery system, and it just takes time,” Albright said. “I think I would be skeptical that North Korea can do it right now.”

Dr. Postol was adamant that his report didn’t intended to portray North Korea as being unable to ever strike the US, but rather, to indicate that we have time to solve the situation diplomatically.

“I think they’re still 4 to 6 years away from having a nuclear weapon that can reach the lower 48 states.”

If the administration feels rushed due to false reports about North Korea’s capability, they may make a rash decision. If the Trump administration did attack and North Korea responded with a missile launched at South Korea, Japan, or Guam, Dr. Postol said the US missile defense system was unlikely to intercept the attack.

“The systems are so unreliable it would almost be an accident if they worked. They’ve never been tested under real conditions and they can be defeated by very basic countermeasures.”

The lack of a reliable missile defense system would seem to be one more reason the Trump administration should slow down and pursue diplomacy.

“We have no choice but to develop diplomatic agreements, though I’m not saying that would be easy. The negotiations have to be done in a way that North Korea doesn’t feel like it has no option, and they shouldn’t be expected to give up their weapons systems as a precondition of talks, right now that’s their only leverage,” Dr. Postol said.

“We have to solve this issue, but we have time.”

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Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email: paul.gottinger@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine


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