North Korea’s New Rocket Technology Looks Like It’s for Real

Sanctions and refusal to engage will not stop North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. (Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Sanctions and refusal to engage will not stop North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program.(Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

On April 9, it was reported that North Korea had tested a powerful rocket engine which could be used to launch rockets tipped with nuclear warheads. At the respected blog about North Korea, 38 North, John Schilling writes that “the test demonstrated that North Korea has an even greater capability at a more advanced state of development than previously anticipated.” The engine “uses high-energy propellants that would give a missile greater range than Pyongyang’s traditional mix of kerosene and nitric acid.”

Using this technology, North Korea’s road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) …. could deliver a nuclear warhead to targets at a distance of 10,000 to 13,000 km. That range, greater than had previously been expected, could allow Pyongyang to reach targets on the US east coast, including New York or Washington, DC.

Testing, Schilling explains, could begin within the years and the ICBMs could be operational by 2020.

We recently posted that, in the New York Times, Choe Sang-Hun reports:

… one senior United States military commander, Adm. William E. Gortney, said at a Senate hearing last month that it was a “prudent decision” to assume that the North “has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM.”

At Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis agrees:

Our studied skepticism of North Korea’s capabilities is not in our long-term interest. We should be in the business of seeking moratoria in North Korea on nuclear and missile tests, not daring Pyongyang to do more.

Perhaps the best answer can be found in an article written by John Feffer at  Foreign Policy in Focus.

… registering our opposition to the program will not magically eliminate the North’s nukes. Nor will additional sanctions convince the leadership in Pyongyang to change their minds, any more than the economic embargo against Cuba transformed the system there. North Korea is convinced that the outside world wants to destroy it — which is not mere paranoia — and a nuclear weapon is its only security blanket.

… at at some point, again in the interests of non-proliferation, the key players have to get back to the table with North Korea and negotiate a freeze of its nuclear capabilities at their current rudimentary level. More importantly, we have to multiply the points of engagement, not shut them down.