By Victor Cha
A KCNA report in English revealed that Kim Jong-un has signed off on an order for the military to prepare rockets on standby for a strike on the U.S. mainland and U.S. military bases in the Pacific, including South Korea. Visible on the photos published by the Korea Worker’s Party paper, the Rodong are the words, “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan [미본토타격계획]” showing San Diego, Washington D.C., Hawaii and possibly Austin, Texas as possible targets.
These were the official lines from the KCNA report: “He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea.”
Why is North Korea releasing photos depicting Kim Jong-un studying an apparent missile attack plan against the United States? The most proximate explanation is that the North is responding to the ongoing and routine U.S.-ROK military exercises this month, and specifically the portion of the exercise reported yesterday in which the U.S. military sent two nuclear-capable B-2s stealth strategic bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on a “a long-duration, round-trip training mission”—practice sortie—over South Korea. In addition, the young leader presumably needs to prove his bona fides, and therefore is making as much of the current situation as he can.
Can the DPRK reach the United States with missiles?
Not yet. The DPRK does not currently possess a deployed missile system that can reach the United States. The primary deployed system today, the No-Dong missile system, can reach U.S. troops in Korea and Japan, but the accuracy of these missiles is not known. The missile test last December successfully demonstrated ballistic missile technology of a longer range, possibly as far as Hawaii and maybe Alaska. There are still several technical hurdles to deploy a finished system, but this test undeniably crossed a technological threshold that puts them within years—rather than decades—of deploying a longer range system.
Dr. Victor Cha is a senior adviser and holds the Korea Chair at CSIS. Follow him on twitter @vcgiants. To learn more, read Dr. Cha’s critical questions on the recent news. He is also the author of a recently published book titled The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future.
Dr. Victor Cha is senior adviser and Korea Chair at CSIS. He is also a professor of government at Georgetown University.