North Korea has responded harshly, albeit late, to a comment tweeted by President Donald Trump early this year by threatening the Republican leader’s hometown of New York City.
North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran an article last week referencing a Twitter remark made weeks before Trump took office in January. At the time, Trump said North Korea’s plan to develop a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. “won’t happen.” Since then, Trump has deployed extensive naval firepower to the region to try to prevent North Korea from pursuing a sixth nuclear weapons test, sparking a recent period of heightened tensions in the Asia-Pacific.
“Trump blustered early this year that the DPRK’s final access to a nuclear weapon that can reach the U.S. mainland will never happen,” the article read, according to Foreign Policy, using an acronym for the country’s official name: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “But the strategic weapons tests conducted by the DPRK clearly proved that the time of its ICBM test is not a long way off at all.”
“The DPRK is about 10,400 km (6,462.26 miles) far away from New York. But this is just not a long distance for its strike today,” the paper added.
Trump’s tweet was a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s announcement earlier this year that the country was in the final stages of developing an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. North Korea has never tested such a weapon and experts, such as Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, don’t believe the nation will be capable of launching such a weapon until at least 2020 or even later, and not before at least 20 flight tests. North Korea is still caught up testing intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and continues to face significant difficulty, meaning that a jump to ICBM would likely only raise the rate of failure seen in recent tests.
“There are no shortcuts to developing a reliable ICBM,” Elleman, who is also a frequent contributor to North Korea monitoring project 38 North, told Newsweek. “While testing could start this year, it is unlikely that North Korea would have an operationally viable ICBM before 2021, and this assumes the regime is willing to accept a weapon that works only most of the time, not with less than 90 percent reliability.”
New York City, home to over 8 million people, is an unlikely target for Pyongang in part because it is so far from North Korea compared with other major cities on the West Coast, such as Los Angeles, which former members of Kim’s government have threatened before. North Korea has also utilized its media to depict fictionalized attacks on the U.S. capital of Washington, where Trump now resides with his family. Multiple videos have shown simulated North Korean missiles “bombing” the White House, the U.S. Capitol and more.
While the current North Korean ICBM threat to Washington is currently about as remote as that of New York City, the reclusive, militarized state’s ballistic and nuclear arsenal, estimated to contain up to 20 warheads, poses a very real threat to U.S. military assets and personnel stationed in the area, as well as the military and civilian populations of nearby countries.