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John Bolton Thinks North Korea Has Submarine-Launched ICBMs

SLBM from DPRK
What appears to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) flies in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA)

Read this paragraph and tell me what is wrong with it, or what at least jumps out at you, fellow Korea watchers:

“For weeks, North Korea observers have speculated that Pyongyang was preparing an election surprise for the U.S., perhaps testing a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile. So far there’s been no launch, but the strange shooting death this weekend of a South Korean official who might have been looking to enter the North by boat nonetheless highlights the hair-trigger on which the Peninsula still rests.”

The graph, courtesy of former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that did not get the attention it should have, suggests that North Korea has, is developing, or is close to testing a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile. As in, a missile fired from a submarine that could hit the U.S. homeland.

Wait? What?

Well, unless Bolton just revealed some sort of classified information that no one knows, that is flat out wrong.

The best submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) the North Koreans have, at least out in open source information, is the Pukguksong-3, with a range of 1,900-2,000 km. I can’t see how this missile would get to 5,500 km, the range needed to be classified as an ICBM. Could Bolton be discussing a new missile, one that is not known? While I won’t rule it out, it seems unlikely.

Let’s just hope Bolton made a writing error or a Wall Street Journal Editor made an editing mistake. But this is North Korea, and nothing would shock me anymore.

Image: KCNA/North Korean State Media. 

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as a Senior Director at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C. Kazianis in the past served as Editor-In-Chief of the Diplomat and a national security-focused fellow at CSIS, the Potomac Foundation, and the University of Nottingham (UK).

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