US Korea Institute

Saturday March 25th 2017
Subscribe to Our RSS feed@38NorthNK on Twitter
38 North offers informed analysis of events in and around the DPRK.

Subscribe for latest



North Korean Missiles Can’t Actually Reach Europe

19 December 2016

(Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP)

(Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP)

We note with bemused interest that the South Korean government is now claiming that North Korea’s missiles pose a “direct threat to the US homeland” and that “Europe is also within range.” European media has reported that the director-general of South Korea’s North Korean Nuclear Affairs Bureau made the claim at a press briefing in Seoul last month. This claim is wholly unsubstantiated, and almost certainly not true – particularly where Europe is concerned.

The “US homeland” might generously be interpreted to include the island of Guam. At 3,500 km from North Korean launch sites, it could be just within range of North Korea’s Musudan missile. And the Musudan barely works, exploding in seven out of eight tests so far. But by a generous interpretation, North Korean missiles could possibly reach sovereign US territory that is home to some 125,000 US citizens. Not Hawaii or Alaska, and not the US mainland; one territory in the North Pacific.

Europe, by any standard, is completely out of reach. Even the Ural Mountains, traditionally Europe’s eastern border, are some 5,000 km from North Korea. And really, when the ROK talks about “Europe” being within reach, they don’t mean nuking Perm or Chelyabinsk, they mean NATO. NATO’s borders start at 7,000 km from North Korean launch sites, twice the distance North Korean existing missiles can reach.

Seoul may be referring to the threat posed by North Korea’s KN-08 and KN-14 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, which probably will be able reach Europe or the US West Coast. But those missiles don’t exist, except as parade mock-ups and engineering test articles. When they are completed, they will require years of flight testing to reach operational status, with no doubt many more catastrophic failures. We’ve been watching closely for those tests, and seen only ground tests of isolated components. Seoul has been watching as closely was we have, understands that these missiles are a threat for 2020 or beyond, so why are they making this claim now?

Reader Feedback

6 Responses to “North Korean Missiles Can’t Actually Reach Europe”

  1. o.m. says:

    Could they use their space launchers for a fractional orbit bombardment system? They are far from proving such a system operationally, but I hope some three-letter agencies worry about it.

  2. Kostadinov says:

    Unha in silo can reach any target in USA or Europe.
    Unha is about 30 meters and silo variant is possible.

  3. Stanley says:

    Great work as always. But what about the SSBM’s that they are working on. I mean in theory a sub can travel most of the distance and lob the missile. Based on another article they seem closer to launching their sub than an 7500km missile.

  4. 38 North says:

    Thanks Peter. We’ll make the change.

  5. Peter Hayes says:

    Gaum is in North Pacific not South Pacific. South Pacific is generally defined as in the Pacific south of the Equator. Guam is at 13 degrees N latitude. One legal definition may be found in Annex 1 of the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. Small areas north of the Equator adjacent to parties to the Treaty are included, as are Australian islands in the Indian Ocean. Guam is not in the South Pacific!

  6. Joe says:

    In trying to justify spending billions on renewing Trident at a time of government austerity, then-PM David Cameron claimed “they [the DPRK] can reach us” as a reason. I have not seen any other assessment from the UK that the DPRK is indeed capable of striking the UK, it smells of BS.

Leave a Reply

Credit for photo of young North Korean girl: T.M. All rights reserved, used with permission.