North Korean missiles
North Korean missiles on display during a military parade. Photo by Stefan Krasowski via Wikimedia Commons

North Korea’s boast of having strategic ballistic missiles with the capability to reach the United States appears to be purely bluster at this point, a USC professor of international relations said.

“North Korea does not have the ability at present to attack the West Coast with a nuclear missile,” said Professor Jacques E.C. Hymans, whose research focuses on international security and national identity in various world regions. “The recent tests showed its ability to send a missile a very long way, but the missile appears to have burned up or fallen apart as a result of the stresses of re-entering the atmosphere.”

Pyongyang declared Tuesday that North Korea is “examining the operational plan” to attack United States military bases on Guam — home to thousands of American service members and their families — with medium- to long-range missiles, according to news reports.

President Donald Trump earlier on Tuesday warned North Korea that if there were continued threats to the United States, the totalitarian country would face fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

On Monday, the U.S. flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula, joined by Japanese and South Korean aircraft, according to news reports.

A spokesman for regime leader Kim Jong-un responded that such maneuvers “may provoke a dangerous conflict.”

Tensions further escalated Tuesday with reports that U.S. intelligence officials have determined that North Korea has developed a miniaturized warhead that could fit on one of its missiles.

But Hymans said Southern California residents can be assured that any danger from North Korea is far afield.

The re-entry phase presents a very technically challenging problem” for North Korean missiles, “and it will take some time before the North has mastered it. How long, it is hard to say, but probably a year or more.”

Meanwhile, the professor said, “the best thing we can do at this time is to engage with all states in the region to seek a diplomatic resolution to this crisis.”

Although Washington has indicated it will use force to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs if need be, U.S. officials have said global diplomatic action, including sanctions, is preferable.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said it is clear North Korea is looking to position a nuclear warhead on a missile capable of reaching the United States.

“What this tells me is that our policy of isolating North Korea has not worked,” she said. “The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions.”

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.