Skip to main content

How close is North Korea to a nuclear missile?

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
A North Korean soldier uses binoculars on Thursday, February 6, to look at South Korea from the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War. A new <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/asia/north-korea-un-report/index.html'>United Nations report</a> describes a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." A North Korean soldier uses binoculars on Thursday, February 6, to look at South Korea from the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War. A new United Nations report describes a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korea says it carried out an underground nuclear test Tuesday
  • It is the third nuclear test Pyongyang has carried out since 2006
  • It comes after new U.N. sanctions for North Korea's December satellite launch
  • Experts say it's unknown how close the North is to being able to launch a nuclear warhead

(CNN) -- North Korea's latest nuclear test, coming on the heels of December's successful satellite launch, suggests that Pyongyang is moving forward toward developing a nuclear warhead and a deliverable missile system, experts say. The question remains: How close is it?

The answer, like the cloistered "hermit kingdom," remains largely a mystery, as does much of its nuclear program.

"It's a question over the delivery system and the reliability of those systems," said Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group covering Northeast Asia. "That is essentially unknown, or known by a few people inside North Korea."

South Korean rocket successfully puts satellite in orbit

A 2009 report by International Crisis Group suggests that North Korea "probably has somewhere between six and twelve nuclear weapons, or at least explosive devices," but notes that experts are divided on whether any of these are now usable as warheads -- small enough to be mounted on missiles and durable enough to withstand the hazards of flight.

North Korea prepares for nuke test
North Korea move in 'defiance' of U.N.?
North Korea's threats annoy China
Why South Korea's rocket launch matters

"It's pretty clear that these are advanced technologies and the systems present a number of engineering challenges -- and to master these technologies requires a number of tests," Pinkston said.

North Korea on Google Maps: Monuments, nuclear complex, gulags

In December, on the first anniversary of the death of its former leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea successfully launched a three-stage rocket that put the satellite Shining Star-3 into orbit. The launch also signaled that the North's long-range missile program now puts the United States within reach.

Last month, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that strengthened sanctions against the North in response to the December rocket launch. Declaring sanctions to be tantamount to "a declaration of war," North Korea threatened further missile and nuclear tests, which it said are a new phase of confrontation with the United States.

For the U.N. and North Korea: Game on

Tuesday's underground nuclear test is North Korea's third, following tests in 2009 and 2006. The test, "probably" conducted in the vicinity of P'unggye, yielded "several kilotons," according to assessments cited by the U.S. director of national intelligence.

Koreas in 2013: Watch the generational politics

Estimates of the size, or yield, of the 2009 nuclear test range from 2.5 kilotons to 6 kilotons, Pinkston said. By comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 16 kilotons.

While the specter of a North Korea able to send nuclear-tipped missiles is worrisome, equally troublesome to the international community is Pyongyang's atomic technology fueling the black market for weapons.

"If its clandestine uranium-enrichment program has made strides, Pyongyang could demonstrate that it will gain access to a far larger pool of fissile material than simply its limited supply of weapons-grade plutonium," wrote Patrick M. Cronin, an Asia expert at the Center for New American Security, in a CNN op-ed. "A larger pool of fissile material is a dual threat: As a vital part of an expanded nuclear weapon program and as a commodity to be sold on the black market."

Timeline: North Korea's rocket-fueled obsession

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0817 GMT (1617 HKT)
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0431 GMT (1231 HKT)
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
February 8, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 0818 GMT (1618 HKT)
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 0250 GMT (1050 HKT)
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.
ADVERTISEMENT