If You're Worried About North Korea Striking The U.S., Here's What You Should Know

by John Haltiwanger
Justin Merriman/Getty Images

As tensions between the United States and North Korea reach new heights it's difficult not to wonder whether North Korea's nuclear weapons reaching the U.S. is a real possibility. The truth is that it's not entirely clear, which isn't exactly the most comforting answer. This doesn't mean that nuclear war is imminent, but this is certainly a topic that deserves continued attention.

North Korea's nuclear program has reportedly made a lot of progress recently.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, The Washington Post reported a confidential assessment conducted by U.S. intelligence officials concluded North Korea has successfully developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. The assessment states, "The [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles."

This news follows a separate intelligence assessment from July that concluded North Korea has 60 nuclear weapons, according to The Post. Moreover, it was also reported last month North Korea is way ahead of schedule in terms of producing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that experts told CNN is theoretically capable of reaching mainland U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and possibly even targets on the East Coast.

But, as Russell Goldman of The New York Times explains, in order for an ICBM to hit the U.S. from North Korea it would first need to fly in an arc into space before traveling back down to Earth and hitting its target. According to Goldman, North Korea has not yet developed the technology that would allow a warhead to withstand the heat it would be subjected to during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere from space. So, while North Korea might be able to arm an ICBM with a nuclear warhead, there's no guarantee it can protect it throughout flight and prevent it from being incinerated during reentry.

The shorter version: It seems North Korea is close to having missile-ready nuclear weapons that could reach the U.S., but it's not 100 percent there yet.

North Korea still poses a threat.

There are clearly still a number of questions to answer regarding how advanced North Korea's program is. Regardless, the fact remains North Korea is already capable of striking targets where millions of innocent people live and that are of vital strategic importance to the U.S., including South Korea and Japan.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, North Korea also said it was considering a strike against the U.S. territory of Guam after Trump threatened it with "fire and fury" while responding to reports of its evolving nuclear program.

In response to these recent developments, Hawaii is also reportedly doing what it can to prepare for a nuclear attack.

Everyone stay calm.

Before you panic, none of these recent developments indicate a nuclear holocaust is around the corner. This is definitely a complicated and disconcerting topic, but it's also not the first time the U.S. and North Korea have taken highly aggressive stances toward one another.

Sure, we should probably hope the president approaches the situation with a bit more tact moving forward, but it's also arguably not unfair to say Trump has a habit of talking tough without following through (and he's not exactly a man of his word). The same is true for North Korean leaders. To put it another way: A lot of this is bark. With that said, fingers crossed the bite never actually comes.