×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
September 18, 2017

Defense experts have long warned that American anti-missile capabilities are still a longshot technology that likely would fail against a determined foe — say, North Korea. The U.S. government and media hasn't curbed its excitement about Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense systems, though, with Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves claiming a successful test in July proves America will "stay ahead of the evolving threat."

Not so, writes Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione. "Reporters routinely use words like 'shield' and 'dome' to describe our supposed capability, giving us a false sense of security," Cirincione wrote for Defense One. "Officials make the matter worse with exaggerated, if carefully constructed, claims."

He added that "the number one reason we don't shoot down North Korea's missiles is that we cannot," pointing to North Korea's missile test that flew over Japan last week:

If North Korea cooperated and shot their new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, at the United States with adequate warning so that we could prepare, and if the warhead looked pretty much like we expect it to look, and if they only shot one, and if they did not try to spoof the defense with decoys that looked like the warhead, or block the defense with low-power jammers, or hide the warhead in a cloud of chaff, or blind the defense by attacking the vulnerable radars, then, maybe [the U.S. military could defend against a North Korean attack]. The United States might have a 50-50 chance of hitting such a missile. If we had time to fire four or five interceptors, then the odds could go up. [Defense One]

But "North Korea is unlikely to cooperate," Cirincione adds. Read his full, chilling warning at Defense One, and more about if America can protect itself against North Korean missiles here at The Week. Jeva Lange

September 16, 2017
STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea's military force will soon reach "equilibrium" with that of the United States, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boasted Saturday. "We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attain the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade," Kim said, as reported by the country's state media.

The statements came one day after North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan on Friday, which traveled 2,300 miles, farther than any other North Korean ballistic missile. The launch prompted the U.N. Security Council to accuse the nation of undermining regional peace and security. Jessica Hullinger

September 14, 2017
STR/AFP/Getty Images

The South Korean military said North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile early Friday morning from a site near the capital of Pyongyang, with a Japanese government spokesperson saying it flew into the sea 1,242 miles east of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The missile is believed to have reached an altitude of 478 miles and traveled about 2,300 miles, the military said. On Thursday, a North Korean state agency called the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee warned that the "four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by [our] nuclear bomb," and "Japan is no longer needed to exist near us." In response to this latest launch of a missile over Japan, the second in less than three weeks, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of his national security council. Catherine Garcia

September 11, 2017
STR/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to more sanctions against North Korea, following the country's sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.

The sanctions cap North Korea's imports of refined and crude oil at 8.5 million barrels a year, and ban textile exports, which last year accounted for more than a quarter of North Korea's export income. The United States had to soften its initial resolution in order to get Russia and China on board. China, responsible for 90 percent of North Korea's foreign trade, is worried that if the economy there becomes too unstable, North Korean refugees will flood into China.

Previous sanctions have affected coal, iron ore, and seafood exports, and a U.S. official familiar with the new resolution told The Washington Post that more than 90 percent of North Korea's exports are now covered by sanctions. Catherine Garcia

September 11, 2017
KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

The United States has softened language in its draft for new sanctions on North Korea ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote on Monday that risks a veto by Russia or China, Reuters reports. The proposal for new sanctions follows Pyongyang's nuclear test on Sept. 3. American diplomats' initial draft sought an oil embargo, a halt on North Korea's textile exports, and a financial and travel ban on leader Kim Jong Un. The latest draft, meant to earn the support of Russia and China, does away with the restrictions on Kim and eases the terms of the oil and gas bans.

North Korea warned that America would pay a "due price" for its push for new sanctions. "The world will witness how [North Korea] tames the U.S. gangsters by taking a series of actions tougher than they have ever envisaged," one spokesperson said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has opposed stricter sanctions on North Korea, particularly those involving oil, warning of the humanitarian downside, Reuters reports. China, which supplies oil to the North, also likely would have used its veto power if the strict oil sanctions had made it into the final draft.

South Korea, on the other hand, has pushed the council for tough measures against its northern neighbor, insisting that "oil has to be part of the final sanctions."

"I do believe that whatever makes it into the final text and is adopted by consensus hopefully will have significant consequences on the economic pressure against North Korea," said South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Jeva Lange

September 5, 2017
Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday that he is allowing Japan and South Korea "to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States." The decision follows North Korea's test over the weekend of what appeared to be a hydrogen bomb.

Bradley P. Moss, who specializes in national security law, tweeted in response to Trump that "these deals took years to negotiate and plan out. And they've been ongoing for decades."

Last March, Trump indicated that he was interested in supporting Japan and South Korea's development of nuclear weapons. "At some point we have to say, you know what? We're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea," Trump told Anderson Cooper at a CNN town hall. "We're better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself." Jeva Lange

September 4, 2017

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to enact "the strongest sanctions" against North Korea to curb the nation's growing nuclear program. "Enough is enough," Haley said at the emergency meeting. "We have taken an incremental approach, and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked." She said that Kim Jong Un is "begging for war" and the stakes "could not be higher."

The meeting was called after North Korea conducted a test Sunday of what appears to have been a hydrogen bomb. Both President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have called for sanctioning countries that do not cut business ties with the defiant Hermit Kingdom. "The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea," Trump tweeted Sunday. Jessica Hullinger

September 4, 2017

South Korea on Monday fired a series of missiles into the Sea of Japan in response to North Korea's testing of what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb on Sunday. The South Korean military said its bombing drills, conducted at dawn, involved having F-15 fighter jets practice dropping ballistic missiles on a North Korean nuclear test site "to send a strong warning to North Korea for its sixth nuclear test," The Washington Post reported. The South also said it believes the North is planning to launch more intercontinental ballistic missiles in the coming days, BBC reported.

South Korea's missile drills come after President Trump criticized the country for being soft on North Korea. He then said he would consider "stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea." Jessica Hullinger

See More Speed Reads