North Korean soldiers, led by their national flag bearers, march on a street in Pyongyang, North Korea on Saturday, March 16, 2013.
As military tension escalates in North Korea, the U.S. is left wondering about the nation’s true nuclear capabilities. North Korea has moved a missile to its coast, and according to South Korean military officials, it has “considerable range,” though not enough to reach American shores, according to reports.
North Korea has been famously ambiguous about its true technological strength, frequently making claims to possess missiles and weapons they don’t and notoriously doctoring photos to create a public image of increased arms strength. North Korea has threatened an attack on the U.S. with “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear weapons, but South Korean defense has said that missile movements could be for testing or drills, and many analysts doubt the range and accuracy of North Korean weapons.
What is North Korea’s true nuclear capability? How would the United States handle an attempted attack, even if a missile couldn’t reach American shores? Could an attack on South Korea inspire U.S. retaliation?
Joseph Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund. He is the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005)