Since early 2017 tensions between the US and North Korea have become increasingly threatening, particularly given North Korea’s deployment of nuclear missiles, which have given rise to fears of a possible attack by North Korea on the US mainland. San Francisco is well within range of North Korean nuclear weapons, so naturally citizens are fearful. In this article, we discuss whether North Korea has the capacity to hit San Francisco, looking at their weapons development, their existing missile range and their military capabilities, as well as exploring the likelihood of them executing a nuclear attack.
North Korea’s Weapons Development
North Korea’s weapons development has advanced significantly over the past decade. Through a series of long and short range missile tests, North Korea has pursued the capability to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. The Pyongyang government has declared that its weapons are solely defensive in nature, yet these weapons are sufficient to cover a distance of around 10,000 kilometers – and San Francisco is approximately 8,000 kilometers away from North Korea.
In light of this, both the US and South Korea have increased their defenses against a potential attack. The US has deployed a THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea to counteract any threats. This system has proven to be very successful in intercepting medium and long range missiles as well as high altitude weapons; however, whether it is capable of stopping a nuclear missile is yet to be seen.
North Korea’s Missile Range
North Korea has developed the capacity to deploy missiles over distances greater than the distance from North Korea to San Francisco. North Korea possesses both medium range and long range ballistic missiles with an estimated range of 10,000 kilometers for the latter. Their recent advances in weaponry technology and miniaturization of warheads might even enable North Korea to deploy a nuclear weapon with a range of 13,000 kilometers, giving them sufficient capacity to reach San Francisco.
This further enhances the likelihood of North Korean missiles reaching San Francisco, as there is now sufficient technology to build a nuclear weapon with such a range. Moreover, while these missiles have so far been tested over the sea, they have yet to be tested over the land due to a lack of suitable targets.
North Korea’s Military Capabilities
In addition to their weapons developments, North Korea has also developed a large and powerful military force. The most prominent military unit is the Korean People’s Army which is made up of conscripts and volunteers who have been trained to perform various tasks.
North Korea’s military forces have been estimated at over 1.2 million personnel and their navy is said to possess around 280 warships and submarines.
The North Korean military has also deployed several strategic nuclear weapons targeting both the United States and South Korea. Yet, the accuracy of their missiles is questionable due to the limited number of tests that have actually been conducted on them.
The Likelihood of North Korea Launching a Nuclear Attack
While North Korea has the ability to hit San Francisco, the likelihood of them doing so is low due to the severe consequences of such a move. North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, knows any attack would result in terrible consequences, not just for his country, but also the US. It is also possible that North Korea’s provocations have been calculated in a bid to gain concessions from the US.
Nuclear security expert, Ramesh Thakur, has stated that he believes it is more likely that North Korea is thinking strategically and tactically. He believes that North Korea is deliberately escalating the tensions in order to gain attention and a better place at the negotiating table.
North Korea has the capacity to launch an attack on San Francisco given their weapons development, missile range and military capabilities. However, given the consequences of such an attack and the possibility that North Korea are merely acting out in a bid to gain attention, it is unlikely they would actually go through with it.
The US and South Korean militaries disclose close cooperation in order to deter any North Korean aggression. Both countries established the Combined Forces Command (CFC) which serves to protect against North Korean aggression and prevent any possible conflict from escalating. The two allied powers also established a Detailed Combat Plan (DCP) which details every step to be taken in the event of an attack from North Korea. This plan enables both sides to work in tandem to respond quickly and appropriately to any North Korean hostilities.
The US and South Korea are also involved in joint military exercises on a regular basis, in order to demonstrate their military strength and prevent any North Korean attack. These exercises usually involve troops, air and naval forces, as well as the latest weaponry. They are also used as a show of solidarity between the two countries.
US Military Containment
As well as US and South Korean cooperation, the US military forces have taken other steps to ensure North Korea does not attack its mainland. The US has deployed a vast array of aircraft carriers and ships, some of which are stationed off the coast of North Korea. It has also placed various ballistic missile defence systems in various locations throughout the region, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system which is located in Japan.
The US also deploys troops to the Korean Peninsula on a regular basis to assist in the monitoring and containment of North Korean forces. Special Operations Forces, such as Navy Seals, are also stationed in the region in order to provide additional support.
The US has imposed numerous economic sanctions on North Korea, such as banning their exports and limiting their imports, in an attempt to restrict the flow of goods and money to the Pyongyang government. The US is also leading an international effort to impose additional economic sanctions against North Korea in an attempt to further limit their access to goods and resources.
The US is also considering the use of secondary sanctions which would target companies and individuals who do business with North Korea. The US is also working with China and other regional powers to further restrict North Korea’s access to money and resources.
The ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea have led to international consternation, due to the potential for the situation to escalate into a full-scale conflict. Nations around the world have condemned North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and have urged them to come to the negotiating table in order to avert any possible conflict.
The United Nations has passed a series of sanctions against North Korea and has called for an end to their nuclear weapons tests. Additionally, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have all expressed concerns regarding North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and have supported further economic sanctions against Pyongyang.