North Korean nukes threatening Austin? Don't cancel your plans
Posted on March 29, 2013 at 6:14 PM
Updated Friday, Mar 29 at 7:21 PM
AUSTIN -- Images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un published online Friday morning show a disturbing sight.
Photographs released by North Korean news show a map of purported missile trajectories targeting American cities on the West Coast, East Coast, Hawaii and Central Texas.
Wait, could that be Austin? Why Austin?
"Well this is a great question. I would not have expected to see Austin on their target list," said Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas.
A renowned author, professor and foreign policy expert, Suri speculates if it is, it could have something in part to do with Austin's major university and ties to international business.
"Samsung electronics is a company that has a strong South Korean connection and the North Koreans are probably targeting that, but I think there might be some deeper issues too," said Suri, noting that events like the internationally televised Formula One race have certainly helped Austin's global exposure.
"Austin has a lot of international cache. It's seen as a center of music, as a center of exciting technology, and they want to show they can threaten that. They want to show that they can do something to get attention," said Suri. "I think it's also worth speculating on whether Kim Jong Un himself, the young leader of North Korea, might actually be a fan of Austin music."
Getting attention is something the rogue state has done fairly well over the years. Friday's threat is just the latest in weeks of escalating statements and propaganda released by the communist government. Just this week, North Korea was accused again of doctoring photographs to exaggerate depictions of its military forces.
Believed to be 29 years old, Kim Jong Un has been in control of the impoverished nation since the death of his father, supreme leader Kim Jong Il, in December 2011. Suri suggests the recent incendiary rhetoric may be as much about building confidence at home in the young, new leader as about the nation asserting itself internationally.
"He wants to show to his own people that he's strong, that he's standing up to the big powers outside," explained Suri. "But they're also trying to scare people. What they're trying to do is make people fear them and therefore give in to them. They're trying to use fear to compensate for the absence of real power."
So how serious is the threat?
Military experts disagree over the exact range and sophistication of North Korea's missile technology.
North Korean Scud-D missiles have a maximum range of just over 400 miles. The No Dong family of missiles can reach roughly 600 miles, far enough to strike Japan. The Taepodong family of intermediate-range missiles are believed to be capable of reaching targets from 1,300 miles away to as far as 2,800 miles. Only the Unha rocket used to launch North Korea's first satellite into orbit is believed to be capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, but it has never been tested as a missile.
"Let's be clear on this. They have tested missiles that can reach Japan and perhaps a little further," said Suri. "They have no proven capability of reaching any further than that. Most of their missile technology is not super advanced technology. What they are doing is they're trying to engineer capabilities on the cheap as quickly as they can. They have no serious threatening capability to the United States mainland."
With even communist ally China now expressing frustration with North Korea's saber rattling, Suri warns the potential for danger is rising.
"As they get more and more isolated they are looking to lash out in ways that will protect them when they have no friends," said Suri. "I don't think they're suicidal, but they will cause damage before they go down. So what I would be worried about is their using their capability to kill a lot of people in South Korea or kill a lot of people in Japan."
It's not the first time Austin has been concerned over the threat of nuclear attack, as indicated in this 1960 civil defense film. The missile trajectories shown in Friday's photographs aren't entirely clear, and could also be pointing to the U.S. Army installation at Fort Hood, 70 miles north of Austin.
The bottom line: Should Austinites cancel their Easter plans and be prepared to duck and cover?
"We have nothing to worry about," said Suri. "There is no threat to Austin, Texas immediately. North Korea is an international problem, but it's not a problem that threatens our security."