Skeptics of North Korea’s nuclear threat, and there are many, have long clung to two comforting thoughts. While the North has the bomb, it doesn’t have a warhead small enough to put on a long-range rocket. And it certainly doesn’t have a re-entry vehicle to keep that warhead from burning up in the atmosphere before it could reach a target like, as it has suggested before, Manhattan.
North Korea on Tuesday suggested it will soon show the world it has mastered both technologies. That would require a huge jump in the North’s suspected nuclear capabilities, so it may be just the latest case of Pyongyang propaganda. But if it delivers, it will put to rest one other comforting thought: that it’s safe for policymakers in Washington and elsewhere to take North Korea’s claims as mainly just bluster.
Kim Jong Un supposedly ordered the commencement of preparations for a “nuclear warhead explosion test” and test-firings of “several kinds of ballistic rockets able to carry nuclear warheads” to be conducted soon. As with all such reports, it’s hard to separate Pyongyang’s wishful thinking from the current reality.
Seoul, meanwhile, was holding to its skeptical line. Its Defense Ministry said Tuesday it remains unconvinced the North has achieved re-entry vehicle technology. Spokesman Moon Sang Gyun said the assessment is based on South Korean and U.S. intelligence. He refused to elaborate.
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