North Korea has one-upped US President Donald Trump’s reported 12 cans a day – by providing Kim Jong Un with a similar button that can launch nukes at anywhere in the US on his desk.
At least, that’s if you take his word for it.
“The United States can never fight a war against me and our state,” Kim told North Koreans in a nationally televised New Year’s Eve event, per the Washington Post. “It should properly know that the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office, and this is just a reality, not a threat.”
Just as the White House has advised the public to take the president seriously but not literally, this hypothetical button probably doesn’t exist. For one, while most nuclear-armed countries do maintain a fairly direct line of command for their weapons, a button is a simple mechanical switch incapable of conveying complicated things like where the nukes should be launched at. Instead, there’s usually some process involving military officials and launch codes, and the button is just a metaphor. (Two, Kim seems to spend much of his time partying, travelling, and out looking at things, not at his desk.)
However, the button is unimportant compared to the meat of Kim’s claims: That the North Korean government is past the development phase of its nuclear program and is prepared to mass-produce missiles.
“This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment,” Kim added. “These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened.”
While North Korea is confirmed to have nuclear weapons as well as medium-range ballistic missiles, it’s not clear whether their long-range missiles yet possess the sophisticated guidance and re-entry systems necessary to carry out a successful intercontinental strike – though it’s likely only a matter of time. The US military and its allies have only limited options to avert such an attack after a missile has been launched, even if the target is considerably closer to North Korea than the lower 48 states, like Japan, Hawaii or bases in Guam.
As the Post noted, though, Kim seemed to relax somewhat in his rhetoric after touting his much-expanded nuclear capabilities, mentioning the possibility of sending a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While an actual improvement in relations between the North and South Korean governments is unlikely, that could be taken as a small hint that now that he has them, Kim is more interested in the weapons’ deterrent effect rather than actually starting World War III. Fingers crossed.