Q. How about the nuclear threat to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike against US “aggressors?” Is this credible?
A. Last week, a North Korean official said the North would pursue "a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors." While such threats are not credible in the sense that North Korea could not use nuclear missiles to reach continental American shores, that is clearly a goal of the North Korean government.
In 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that Pyongyang was within five years of being able to strike the US with an intercontinental ballistic missile. “In that sense, [the threat] is quite worrying, because that was two years ago,” says Mr. Cha, adding that such a technological breakthrough could conceivably happen during President Obama’s current term in office.
“We’ve been watching the missile and nuclear program in North Korea as much as you can watch secret programs,” Cronin of CNAS notes. Though North Korea has not tested any kind of nuclear warhead or long-range missile with the technology it needs to reach the United States, North Korean missiles could hit “many” US targets in South Korea and Japan.
That said, Cronin adds, “There are plenty of other ways for North Korea to hurt us, including cyberspace attacks.”