North Korea still lacks capability to strike Hawaii

Published  6:39 PM HST Mar 26, 2013
Korean Peninsula
HONOLULU -

The latest threat issued by North Korea Tuesday mentions Hawaii by name, but Asia-Pacific security experts say the rogue nation has little chance of striking The Aloha State with even its most sophisticated missile, the Taepodong II.

"Our missiles, we measure their accuracy in feet," said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies. "North Korea's missile has about a 100-kilometer accuracy, so it's a pretty good chance they can hit the ocean."

North Korea's military said it had placed its rocket and artillery units on high alert, as the United States conducts training exercises with South Korean forces below the 38th Parallel.

In a statement, the North Korean army's Supreme Command said units are "assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity."

Denny Roy of the East-West Center said North Korea has failed to carry out threats in the past, and the latest statement follows a well-established pattern.

"They've threatened to destroy Seoul several times over," said Roy. "They've threatened to destroy other cities on the U.S. mainland, but they don't at the moment have the capability to directly threaten Hawaii."    

The White House responded to the latest provocation by saying Pyongyang is only isolating itself further from the international community. Earlier this month, North Korea threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S.

"North Korea's bellicose rhetoric and the threats that they engage in follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others," White House spokesman Jay Carney, said Tuesday.  "And as we say consistently, the DPRK will achieve nothing by these threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia."

Carney urged North Korea to comply with its international obligations and "to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace."

Cossa believes the real threat from North Korea is to its neighbors, in particular South Korea and Japan. Some experts estimate Pyongyang can lob as many as 10,000 conventional shells and rockets at Seoul every hour. But even if cross-border tensions were to escalate into war, any conflict would likely be short-lived.

"Once they fire the first shot, then you have to expect a rain of iron coming down on them from South Korea and the United States, so at the end of the day, they lose," said Cossa.

Roy said the North Korean end game could be to bolster Kim Jong-Un's leadership, the 30-year-old son of former dictator Kim Jong-Il, who died in 2011.

"It's possible that there's strong pressure on him to gain legitimacy by proving to be tougher than perhaps his father," said Roy. "He's in more of precarious position than his father."

The North Korean threat against Hawaii and other U.S. military sites came on the third anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors. South Korea claims the Cheonan was destroyed by a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang has consistently denied those claims.

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