What’s Going On With North Korea’s Nuclear Programme

A vehicle carrying a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) during a military parade to mark the 100th year of the birth of former premier Kim Il-sung in 2012

North Korea’s growing missile prowess and nuclear capability are starting to pose a serious threat not just to the South, but most of the world


Text Lim Jun Xi


The weapon in question is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a super-fast, long-range missile designed to carry nuclear bombs and detonate them over a specific target. ICBMs, which are launched from land, are closely related to intercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), which are also nuclear capable.

These nuclear-tipped missiles are incredibly difficult to make, and only seven countries are known to have managed the feat: the United States, Russia, China, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel. Despite sanctions from international bodies, isolated North Korea also hopes to make a missile powerful enough to launch a nuclear attack.


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Last year, North Korea successfully tested two ICBMs, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, the latter of which is believed to be capable of reaching the US mainland. However, the country has yet to prove it can produce a nuclear warhead compact enough for the missiles to deliver. One significant hurdle is making a sufficiently lightweight shroud, the cover that protects the warhead from melting in the heat of re-entry, as the missile would hit the ground at over 25,000 km/h. In response, other countries – particularly the US – are looking into making reliable missile defence systems that can shoot down an ICBM, but during tests, few have managed to hit targets as fast as an ICBM.


For more stories and photographs from this issue, see Asian Geographic Issue 129, 2018


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