As the news media widely reported on Tuesday, North Korea threatened to attack the U.S. territory of Guam as a means of sending a warning signal to the United States. The reclusive country's threats toward Guam are certainly disconcerting and have also likely led many Americans to contemplate whether North Korea actually poses a threat to the continental United States as well.
The question of whether or not North Korea veritably poses a threat to the continental United States is certainly complicated. The general answer, however, is likely "probably not." That being said, North Korea's threats are certainly not entirely empty. It has seemingly developed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach the United States, as well as reportedly created a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit on an ICBM. However, despite these alarming new capabilities, many experts nonetheless believe that North Korea does not constitute a veritable threat to the Untied States.
First and foremost, despite reportedly possessing the capability to strike the United States with a missile, many experts agree that doing so would essentially be "suicidal" for the North Korean regime. If the country did attack the U.S., the retaliatory attack would very likely be so detrimental that the country would be largely destroyed. As Business Insider pointed out the North Korean regime is completely aware of this notion and as a result, intentionally behave in a strategic way that allows the country to acquire what it desires without engaging in any type of military campaign.
Many defense and foreign affairs experts believe that North Korea continues to enhance its nuclear arsenal and engage in missile tests as a way of self-preservation to deter other countries from attacking it — not because it truly wishes to attack other countries. As a senior U.S. defense official working in nuclear deterrence told the publication, "Their primary concern is regime survival, [not warfare]."
On top of that, North Korea's threat to the U.S. is limited because of the United States' missile defense system. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system was specifically designed to target missiles like those that could be launched by North Korea. The system has been tested and successfully thwarted missiles in simulations, though as everal analysts pointed out to HuffPost, simulations do not always mimic reality.
Nevertheless, experts remain confident that the U.S. can successfully defend itself against any North Korean attack. General Lori Robinson, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told HuffPost that her agency "remains unwavering in our confidence that we can fully defend the United States against this ballistic missile threat.”
Finally, even if a North Korean missile were to thwart the U.S.'s ballistic missile defense system, the U.S. would likely not face an existential threat from the attack. As a recent article in The National Interest indicated, a missile attack in the U.S. would certainly be utterly devastating and awful. However, due to our large geographic size, it is highly unlikely that it would threaten the U.S.' continued existence (like a U.S. attack on North Korea would).
Nonetheless, while it seems unlikely that North Korea is a true threat to the U.S. — at least for now — this certainly does not mean that one should not be concerned about North Korea's weaponry. North Korea certainly poses a much more significant threat to nearby countries, including Japan and South Korea, with whom the U.S. has mutual defense pacts. Moreover, a country's possession of nuclear weapons should never be taken lightly, especially considering the rogue and sometimes unpredictable nature of the North Korean regime.
That being said, current circumstances seem to dictate that an attack from North Korea on continental U.S. soil would be highly unlikely. Though it is, of course, always incredibly important for the U.S. to be prepared for any potential threat it may encounter from North Korea, both on its own soil and in regards to its allies.