North Korea Might Have U.S. Within Missile Range   

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 23 2012 11:00 AM

North Korea Rocket Might Have Western United States in its Range

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The wreckage of North Korea's rocket is seen at the Second Fleet Command's naval base on December 14, 2012 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea

Photo by Byeon Yeong-Wook/DongA Daily/Getty Images

North Korea’s rocket launch earlier this month seems to have demonstrated that the secretive country has the technology to fire a warhead more than 6,200 miles, according to South Korean officials who analyzed the debris from the first stage of the rocket. That would mean the U.S. West Coast could be in the range of a North Korean missile. But there’s no need to panic just yet because “there's no evidence that the North has the guidance systems or re-entry capability needed to mount an actual strike,” points out the BBC’s Charles Scanlon. And experts believe the country is still “years away from mastering the technology needed to miniaturize a nuclear bomb to mount on a missile,” notes Reuters.

The South Korean official who briefed journalists took pains to emphasize that the welding on the rocket was “crude” and the material used in the first stage of the rocket wouldn’t be used by countries with advanced space programs. But in a crucial detail, the design of the rocket suggests an “Iran connection,” reports the New York Times, noting that foreign-made components appear to contradict North Korea’s claims that the rocket was “indigenously produced 100 percent.” Regardless, the successful launch has been a huge boost to young leader Kim Jong-un. On Saturday, North Korea praised 101 scientists and technicians involved in the development of the rocket, awarding them a "hero's title," one of the most prestigious awards in the country.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.