President Donald Trump continued his blustery North Korea rhetoric on Friday, tweeting that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” and later telling reporters that Kim Jong-un had better not make any “overt threats” against the United States.
“This man will not get away with what he is doing,” Trump told reporters from his golf club in New Jersey, adding that if Kim makes a move against the U.S. or its allies “he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.”
In the midst of this spike in tension between the United States and the Hermit Kingdom, a team of independent rocket experts published a paper Friday asserting that North Korea’s two July test firings of supposed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were, in fact, “a carefully choreographed deception by North Korea to create a false impression” that the country has missiles capable of striking the continental U.S.
In other words, it was “a hoax,” as one of the experts explained to Newsweek.
The team consisted of Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and German missile engineers Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologie. Postol has previously disputed official reports on the parties responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
They opened their paper, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and titled “North Korea’s ‘not quite’ ICBM can’t hit the lower 48 states,” by highlighting that the July 3 launch was “trumpeted by the US mainstream press” as proof that the United States was vulnerable to an attack from North Korea.
But the Western press jumped the gun, the team argues in their paper:
“The rocket carried a reduced payload and, therefore, was able to reach a much higher altitude than would have been possible if it had instead carried the weight associated with the type of first-generation atomic bomb North Korea might possess. Experts quoted by the press apparently assumed that the rocket had carried a payload large enough to simulate the weight of such an atomic bomb, in the process incorrectly assigning a near-ICBM status to a rocket that was in reality far less capable.”
All these assumptions worked out great for the Kim regime, the researchers write:
“From the point of view of North Korean political leadership, the general reaction to the July 4 and July 28 launches could not have been better. The world suddenly believed that the North Koreans had an ICBM that could reach the West Coast of the United States and beyond.”
But these beliefs aren’t based in truth, Postol and his colleagues write:
“In reality, the North Korean rocket fired twice last month — the Hwasong-14 — is a ‘sub-level’ ICBM that will not be able to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States.”
The analysts concluded that North Korea is likely “years away from completion” of a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the continental United States. The team’s full report, containing the details of their scientific methods, can be found here.