How Much of a Nuclear Threat is North Korea Really?

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We all like to scoff at that crazy little dictator, Kim Jong Un, who is a walking caricature, putting himself on the cover of a magazine as the sexiest man alive and talking smack like a WWF champ. But, in all seriousness, is North Korea actually a threat?

Unfortunately, it looks like the answer to that question is yes…and they’re turning into a bigger one each year.

Despite the buffoonery of their Dear Leader, the threat of North Korea is growing rapidly, according to the US Intelligence community. When prepping for a nuclear strike becomes the officially recommended course of action, it is time to pay attention.

(What you do in the minutes after a detonation could save your life. Learn what to do in the event of a nuclear strike here.)

They have successfully tested an ICBM that could carry a nuke.

The US military Defense Intelligence Agency says that by sometime in 2018, North Korea could have an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with the ability to transport a nuclear warhead.

They’re basing this on a recent successful test of such an ICBM.

“This test, and its impact on our assessments, highlight the threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to the United States, to our allies in the region, and to the whole world,” the DNI’s National Intelligence Manager for East Asia, Scott Bray, told CBS News on Tuesday, adding that the U.S. intelligence community was “closely monitoring the expanding threat from North Korea.” (source)

Currently, Alaska, part of Canada, and Hawaii are within range.

Right now, experts don’t believe that North Korea could transport a nuclear warhead to the US mainland, however, Alaska and Hawaii are at risk. Hawaii would be a particularly valuable target, as it is the home of the US Pacific Command.

This image shows the current reach of different missiles that we know they possess.


Image Credit

However, they’re making rapid progress, and experts believe that by sometime in 2018, they’ll have the capability of striking the West Coast, with its large population centers in Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco.

UPDATE: Two days after the publication of this article, North Korea successfully tested a missile that could reach as far as LA, Denver, and Chicago. This has changed the situation drastically, as now, half of the US mainland is in the nuclear range of North Korea. Get the details here.

The US State Department has advised American citizens against visiting North Korea.

In the immortal words of my daughters in their pre-teen years, “Duh.”

Although I personally can’t understand why anyone would want to travel to North Korea, especially after what happened to that poor young man, Otto Warmbier, it appears that thousands of people vacation there every year. 95% of the visitors are from China and about 75% of the visitors are male. About 800 Americans per year make the trip.

Recently, the State Department issued a travel warning:

The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). U.S. citizens in the DPRK are at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement. This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with “wartime law of the DPRK.” Since the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, the U.S. government has no means to provide normal consular services to U.S. citizens in North Korea. This notice updates the number of U.S. citizens who have been detained in North Korea and replaces the Travel Warning dated February 7, 2017. (source)

Being part of an official tour won’t help Americans if they are found with anything in their possession that is critical of North Korea, and there is no consulate there to rescue you. Some of the things that are illegal in North Korea and punishable by labor camps or death are:

  • Showing disrespect to the country’s former leaders, Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, or for the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un, including but not limited to tampering with or mishandling materials bearing their names or images;
  • Entering North Korea without proper travel documentation;
  • Possessing material that is in any way critical of the DPRK government;
  • Proselytizing or carrying out religious activities, including activities that may be construed as such, like leaving behind religious materials;
  • Engaging in unsanctioned political activities;
  • Traveling without authorization, even for short distances;
  • Having unauthorized interaction with the local population;
  • Exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor;
  • Taking unauthorized photographs;
  • Bringing pornography into the country;
  • Shopping at stores not designated for foreigners; and
  • Removing or tampering with political slogans and signs or pictures of political leaders.


Personally, I’d rather go just about anywhere on the planet than North Korea, but that’s just me.

What preparations are being made for a potential attack?

When prepping becomes official, it’s time to pay attention.

First, the US recently tested defense technology and successfully shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to the ones used by North Korea. The simulation took place over the Pacific Ocean in July:

The test was the first-ever of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.

The US Missile Defense Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the US.

“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. (source)

Finding themselves particularly in the crosshairs of North Korea, Hawaii has been openly working to prepare citizens for the potential of an attack. They’ll be testing an attack warning system in November.

A “guidance summary” from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency says residents will be alerted of nuclear detonation through siren alarms and flashing white lights. An Emergency Alert System will broadcast over television and radio frequencies as well. (source)

The state has released official guidelines on surviving a potential nuclear attack. (This is useful information no matter where you live.)

Matthew LoPresti, a legislator in Hawaii has been a strong advocate of the preparations.

“People think everybody would perish, but that is not the case. It would be a mass casualty event, but most people would survive. If you don’t take steps, more people will lose their lives.” (source)

A dear friend of mine living in Hawaii recently attended a public meeting informing citizens about getting prepared for the potential of an attack. Citizens were told that an official response could take a while, and to plan to be completely on their own for up to a month. (Gosh, sounds familiar, right?) These meetings have been taking place all over the state as the local government urges residents to be prepared for a disaster, a shut-down of services, and a complete halt to any merchandise of food being shipped into the islands.

They aren’t the only ones preparing. Los Angeles California is also making preparations for the potential of an attack, even though the technology is not expected to be advanced enough to reach them right now.

Fleets of big black trucks, harbor boats and aircraft, equipped with radiation sensors and operated by specially trained law enforcement teams, are ready to swing into action in Los Angeles for a catastrophe that nobody even wants to think about: a North Korean nuclear attack…

“We monitor events all over the world and assess whether there is something that could impact us here,” said Capt. Leonard McCray, commander of the emergency operations bureau at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “North Korea is clearly one of them.”

As tension rises, the inevitable question is: How well prepared are Los Angeles and other U.S. cities for a nuclear strike? The answer is somewhat unexpected. After two decades of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies and the federal government today are better equipped and trained to handle the aftermath of a limited nuclear attack than they ever were during the Cold War. Yet generations of Americans have grown up without learning how to protect themselves in the aftermath of a detonation. (source)

Unsurprisingly, some people object to preparing citizens for a nuclear attack.

There are several reasons that some squeaky wheels object to these wise preparations.

David Wright, a weapons expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that civil defense preparations are sending the wrong message to Kim Jong Un. And Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons analyst with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., thinks that the Venture County Sheriff’s Department may be overreacting.

“He’s ruthless, but he’s not crazy. There’s reason to be cautious. But it’s not a reason to start digging bomb shelters.” (source)

Hawaii’s Tourism Authority is likewise unimpressed. Charlene Chan, their spokeswoman, said in a statement:

“Everyone’s safety in Hawaii is always our top priority. However, we also know from speaking to our tourism industry partners that if reports are misinterpreted about the state’s need to prepare for an attack, this could lead to travelers and groups staying away from Hawaii. The effect of such a downturn would ultimately be felt by residents who rely on tourism’s success for their livelihood.” (source)

According to Chan, they shouldn’t be worried because an attack by North Korea “is a very remote possibility at this time.”

Finally, prepping becomes official.

I applaud the preparations being made. While the reason behind it is terrible, it’s always a positive sign when people realize that they can’t always depend on the government to save them.

This article explains what to do in the event of a nuclear strike. As stressed above, if you aren’t at Ground Zero, it’s entirely survivable and it isn’t going to turn into some nuclear winter in which your surviving neighbors decide which family to cook for dinner, ala The Road.

We can scoff at North Korea as much as we want, but the fact remains that their technology is advancing extremely rapidly. Their tests are becoming more successful. And this article doesn’t even touch on the potential of an EMP, which, if detonated over the middle of the US would have a potentially devastating effect for a long period of time.

While North Korea has to know that they’ll lose in the event of a war, the vibe I get from Kim Jong Un is that he would be delighted to cause as much damage as possible on his way out.

Think about the psychology of someone who knows he is going to die anyway. When they’ve got nothing left to lose, people become dangerous indeed.

The threat is real.


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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • I love it when folks make predictions based on short-sighted conventional thinking. “…have the capability of striking the West Coast, with its large population centers in Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco….” Such foci as this eliminate any possibility of creative aggression. Hannibal couldn’t possibly cross the Alps.
    Unpredicted but creative aggressions offer the opportunity for great achievement. Such acts can be for good, but are often of evil intent. Conventional thinking such as this limits the ability to anticipate and prepare for evil. Who says the boy wonder MUST launch from North Korea? Conventional thinking does. But what guarantees that any psychotic – or even a healthy person – is constrained to act conventionally? It wouldn’t be very difficult to put a missile on a ship and route that ship along either coast of the US. Such reality would immediately acknowledge that our entire country is within range, and that’s not correct mainstream thinking, so therefore nobody would ever act that way, not even the psychotic dictator who has killed his own family members and loyal followers. Too many people not only can’t think outside the box. They don’t even notice the box.

    • I have to admit you may be correct; I’ve read that he can or might deploy a nuke from a submarine, which can possibly be masked or unable to be tracked, etc.
      It’s incredible to think that this crazy dictator could eventually rule the world, but amazingly, he would still let his people starve, while he eats himself into oblivion

    • These are all excellent points.

      First, let me preface this by a statement: this article is NOT a prediction. I don’t have a crystal ball. I just like to put together information from a wide variety of sources and discuss the possibilities.

      This was a simple analysis of the facts that have been publicized. While many different types of attacks *could* happen, I outlined the ones that experts have said are the most likely. (When you hear hoofbeats, think horses instead of zebras.)

      But UltraCynic, you’re absolutely correct – there are many more possibilities out there and we’d be wisest to be prepared for any of them.

      Thank you for your input – great perspective!


  • For those who want to be prepared, may I humbly suggest a copy of “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Cresson Kearney. The title says it all.

  • The only countries the US has not attacked are those with nuclear weapons, so OF COURSE N.Korea wants nukes.

    • While a slight exaggeration (we haven’t, for example, attacked Lichenstein in quite a while), nonetheless, this hints at an observable truth. That is, nukes are a decisive threat of counter-attack and have so far resulted in a balance of terror between various nuclear powers. Unfortunately, all other nations have reasonably rational leaders. I suppose everything is relative. And perhaps I should additionally qualfity that by observing our most recent election leaves some question about what’s going on here. Kim Jong Ding Dong has shown himself to be emotionally unstable, violently unpredictable, internationally provocative, delighted to have his own family members assassinated and/or executed, and in general behaving outside the norms of even those wild eccentrics who achieve great power but at some level maintain a level of rational restraint. Kim has shown no such propensity for reasonable behavior. There have been some close calls between Russia and the US. We were fortunate that those in the chain of command were rational enough to recognize that the alarms being raised were false, and therefore they didn’t order nuclear retaliation for what later proved to be erroneous alerts. North Korean behavior has not shown any hint of such restraint, and that is terrifying. Any misinterpretation there threatens to fall in the category of “shoot first and verify later”. I’m not terribly optimistic that even our tiptoeing around nuclear powers will be sufficient to keep North Korea and their Iranian allies from nuclear aggression, especially if they can disguise the source of their attack by some mid-ocean launching platform with no national identity.

  • This reminds me of a certain situation in WWII. The British government was terrified that Germany would use gas attacks on the citizens, so the government spent lots of time and money in preparing them. Of course, Germany never attacked Britain with gas. But some people believe that the reasoning behind this is because Hitler knew how prepared the people were, and so he didn’t bother in a pointless exercise. A similar case might be in Hawaii and the rest of the US. If Kim Jung Un thinks the US is too well prepared, he might not attack.

    Also, the biggest reason behind North Korea currently not having ICBMs is that they need to make the warhead smaller, yet still powerful.

    And North Korea is building nukes in order to have their own ‘nuclear umbrella’. Without the USSR protecting them, and China’s support as okay at best, North Korea feels like it needs a way to retaliate against the US in case of an attack against them. If the US said it would stop protecting South Korea and Japan, those two countries would also start up their own nuclear programs, leading to an arms race in that area.

  • My son is in the Army with about a year to go to retirement. Unfortunately, he is spending this last year of active duty in South Korea about 15 miles from the DMZ. This is his second tour in S. Korea. He has been in Bosnia twice and Iraq three times.

    His convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq and he sustained some minor injuries, shrapnel in his left eye and the loss of a tooth, but I think this time he is in much, much more danger.

    If any of you are religious people, please keep him and all the other soldiers in your prayers.


      • Thanks, Daisy

        I talked to my son yesterday (7-29) The 28th was his birthday. He is doing fine there, although he said they were on high alert. He said the North is now doing things that are “expected” but it was when they did the “unexpected” they would be worried.

        They are very busy and it is the monsoon season, so there is nothing but rain and high humidity now. He’s down two months with only 10 more to go.

        He is upbeat which is his nature and always has been even in a combat zone, so I’m glad about that. Also, being able to talk to him and hear his voice,( and sometimes when I’m with my daughter-in-law who has a smart phone, I can actually see him) makes me feel a little better.

        Thanks for the big hugs. When I get a little down, I’ll think of your hugs.

  • North Korea are a fake bogeyman.

    Don’t believe everything you see on TV.

    North Korea are ‘probably’ no threat whatsoever.

    It’s all about creating fear.

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