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Could North Korea missile strike the US?

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Posted at 12:55 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 14:55:54-05

Not to worry, North Korea's Feb. 7 rocket launch does not mean they are any closer to striking the United States. 

Arizona Sen. John McCain said as much during a national television interview on Feb. 8.

“And by the way, they’re not going to have a capability to reach the United States anytime real soon, but it is inevitable over time they will,” said McCain. 

We wondered just how close North Korea is to reaching the United States via missile, so we put McCain’s statement through a PolitiFact truth check. 

The technology is there

The day after McCain made his claim during the Fox News program, Outnumbered, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Clapper said North Korea is “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” but he also noted that the system has not been “flight-tested.”

Missile experts we spoke with held largely the same views.

Melissa Hanham is a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies North Korean weapons. She agreed with McCain’s statement and said Americans shouldn’t be fearful because it takes North Korea days to prepare for a rocket launch.

She agreed with McCain’s statement and said Americans shouldn’t be fearful

The estimated range of their rockets, at 10,000 km, puts Alaska, Hawaii and the western United States in range. But, they have never demonstrated all the capabilities needed to turn their present technology into a missile.

“Regardless, they are working toward this goal, and unless there is some appropriate intervention, they will achieve it,” Hanham said.

So how close are they? 

As far as a timeline, Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, estimates that North Korea will not be able to reach the United States by missile until at least 2020 - assuming we don't intervene before then. 

Our ruling

McCain said of North Korea’s missile program, “They’re not going to have a capability to reach the United States anytime real soon, but it is inevitable over time they will.”

His statement is a bit of a generalization, but he’s right. North Korea may have the missile technology -- and range -- to strike the United States, but it hasn’t been tested. 

We rate McCain’s claim as True. 

Null

 

For the complete fact-check, visit our news partner, PolitiFact Arizona