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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) is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive and serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree in International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization. Kazianis also has a background in defense journalism, having served as Editor-In-Chief at The Diplomat and Executive Editor for the National Interest.

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