North Korean Missiles Can’t Actually Reach Europe

(Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP)
(Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP)

We note with bemused interest that the South Korean government is now claiming that North Korea’s missiles pose a “direct threat to the US homeland” and that “Europe is also within range.” European media has reported that the director-general of South Korea’s North Korean Nuclear Affairs Bureau made the claim at a press briefing in Seoul last month. This claim is wholly unsubstantiated, and almost certainly not true – particularly where Europe is concerned.

The “US homeland” might generously be interpreted to include the island of Guam. At 3,500 km from North Korean launch sites, it could be just within range of North Korea’s Musudan missile. And the Musudan barely works, exploding in seven out of eight tests so far. But by a generous interpretation, North Korean missiles could possibly reach sovereign US territory that is home to some 125,000 US citizens. Not Hawaii or Alaska, and not the US mainland; one territory in the North Pacific.

Europe, by any standard, is completely out of reach. Even the Ural Mountains, traditionally Europe’s eastern border, are some 5,000 km from North Korea. And really, when the ROK talks about “Europe” being within reach, they don’t mean nuking Perm or Chelyabinsk, they mean NATO. NATO’s borders start at 7,000 km from North Korean launch sites, twice the distance North Korean existing missiles can reach.

Seoul may be referring to the threat posed by North Korea’s KN-08 and KN-14 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, which probably will be able reach Europe or the US West Coast. But those missiles don’t exist, except as parade mock-ups and engineering test articles. When they are completed, they will require years of flight testing to reach operational status, with no doubt many more catastrophic failures. We’ve been watching closely for those tests, and seen only ground tests of isolated components. Seoul has been watching as closely was we have, understands that these missiles are a threat for 2020 or beyond, so why are they making this claim now?

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