Why North Korea's US attack plans are nutty

US analysts play down threats from North Korea. Photos from Pyongyang that show the paths of possible missile attacks on the US appear to ignore the fact that North Korean missiles won't reach that far.

In this photo, released by North Korea’s state news agency on March 29, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (c.) meets with military aides for an 'urgent operation meeting' at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang.

North Korea is continuing to rattle its weaponry as loud as it can. In its latest action, the Pyongyang regime appears to have moved a long-range missile to its east coast while threatening to hit US forces with “smaller, lighter, and diversified nuclear strike means."

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” added the general staff of the North Korean military, in a statement broadcast by the nation’s official media.

Most US analysts continue to downplay these threats, saying they are bluster intended at least partly for domestic North Korean consumption. Pyongyang’s missiles aren’t really capable of reaching the US – yet. North Korean forces may be preparing some kind of missile test to take place about April 15, the anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il Sung.

But US forces in South Korea and Japan are well within range of medium-range North Korean rockets. In an effort to bolster regional deterrence, the US in recent days has announced it is moving more missile-defense cruisers into the Pacific while speeding up deployment of land-based missile defenses on Guam, home to many US warships and jets.

That said, aspects of North Korea’s alleged attack plans are ludicrous enough to verge on comic opera, according to some experts.

For instance, on March 29 North Korea’s state news agency released photos of current leader Kim Jong-un meeting with military aides in front of a large map outlining the paths of possible missile strikes on the US.

As military blogger David Cenciotti notes on his blog, The Aviationist, North Korean missiles would find it “extremely difficult” to reach the US along the map’s straight lines. Since Earth is a sphere, the shortest routes for intercontinental airplane and missile flights are great circle trips over the poles. On flat maps those show up as deeply bent arcs, not arrows.

“North Korea is such a great country that they haven’t yet realized the earth is round,” wrote one Aviationist reader in a comment on the post.

Then there are the possible targets indicated by those lines. They include Washington, D.C., Honolulu (base for US Pacific Forces), San Diego (ditto), and  ... somewhere in Texas.


It’s possible the line points to Austin.

“The individuals in North Korea understand that Austin, Texas, is a very important city in North America, as do corporate CEOs and others who are moving here in record numbers,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) told CBS News.

(Way to get a plug in for economic development, Governor Perry!)

But at the Arms Control Wonk blog, nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis has another theory: The fourth target is San Antonio, home to Air Force Cyber Command.

“The North Koreans have recently been complaining about cyberattacks against their networks,” writes Mr. Lewis.

North Korean state media appear to have been offline for periods in recent months. Last month, the North Koreans issued a statement claiming that US cyberattacks were timed to coincide with US-South Korean military exercises.

If North Korea’s attack map represented true plans, one would think it would target such places as Omaha, Neb., headquarters of US Strategic Command and US nuclear forces, according to Lewis.

“I think it is very interesting that San Antonio makes the top four, but not Omaha. I suppose this should tell us that Kim Jong-un is very, very unhappy about not being able to read [Korean media] on his smart phone,” writes Lewis.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.