The Pentagon insists any missile from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea fired at the United States could easily be shot down, but independent auditors and investigators claim that may be a dubious proposition. The Pentagon has dumped $40 billion into its ground missile defense program to neutralize threats posed by rockets from North Korea or Iran, but huge questions remain as to how successful that program has been. A 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the multi-billion dollar Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has just a 50 percent accuracy rate in shooting down enemy missiles. The schema for defeating enemy missiles has been compared to using a bullet to stop a bullet, a prospect that doesn’t exactly inspire hope.
Defense officials conveniently overlook such issues in their proclamations about US security. Generals have been misleading political leaders to believe that they have a military capability that, in fact, they don’t have, said David Wright, a scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program. While the US and North Korea keep up their tit-for-tat saber-rattling, one detail about Pyongyang’s missile program is clear: the North has never tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of flying across the Pacific. This perhaps gives citizens on the US West Coast reason for relief.
Still, though, 33-year-old Kim Jung-un, the leader of North Korea, could flight test an ICBM today and it could work or it could take 12 to 24 months to make corrections, according to Josh Pollack of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. There is consensus among US experts that North Korea attaching a nuke to an ICBM is well within the range of their technical capabilities and competence. And according to the GAO report, the US has only “partial capability” to defend against a “simple” ballistic missile strike from North Korea or Iran.
The risks of harm rise as one moves closer to North Korea itself, however, and for the 80,000 American soldiers stationed across the Pacific Theater, not to mention the country’s neighbors, the threat of a nuclear attack from North Korea is looking all too real.