People in my generation (X, if you hadn't guessed) spent our first 20 or so years under the constant threat of nuclear war. Back then it was with the since defunct(ish) USSR, but after a nice couple decades where we got to relax, it seems like a globally-devastating nuclear conflict is again on the table, this time with North Korea.
According to a Reuters report from this morning, President Trump says that "'a major, major conflict' with North Korea is possible." That's because North Korea "has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the program is necessary to counter US aggression," and has repeatedly done high-profile "tests" of the in-development weapons, including one just a few days ago.
All this is perhaps great news for anyone who is looking for a way to get out of paying their student loans, but I am of course being glib because since my seventh grade social studies class watched TV movie/nuclear holocaust porn The Day After, I (like many of my cohort) have been haunted by the again-ascendant possibility that it will all — you, me, and everything we both hold dear — end in a flash.
It is comforting, or not, to learn that scientists who spoke with the Associated Press say that we in SF are unlikely to even see it coming? According to senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists David Wright, and Markus Schiller, an analyst with Germany-bases independent space technology and rocketry consulting company ST Analytics, the West Coast would be the first area in the mainland US struck by an intercontinental ballistic missile launched by North Korea.
Schiller explains that the time it takes for an ICBM to cover its first 5,500 kilometers [that's 3417.54 miles - ELB] is usually a little more than 20 minutes. If you fire at something 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) away, however, he says it will still reach it in less than 30 minutes.
So while Wright suggests 33-34 minutes to San Francisco, Schiller predicts a faster trip to the West Coast — saying a missile could hit Seattle (8,000 kilometers, or 5,000 miles away) and Los Angeles (9,000 kilometers, or 5,600 miles) away in under 30 minutes from launch.
The big question, obviously, is if North Korea actually has an ICBM with enough range to travel that far. The device they "launched on Sunday came close, flying for 30 minutes on a highly 'lofted' trajectory that if flattened out would suggest a range of about 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles)."
The game changes again if North Korea has the capability to launch from places other than their own territory. As you likely know, the country is currently working on submarine-launched ballistic missiles like they one they successfully sent into the air last August, which "flew about 300 miles before falling into the sea inside Japan’s air defense identification zone," the Washington Post reported at the time.
Schiller and Wright predict that North Korean missiles could make the 6,800 mile (again, assuming we're talking a launch from North Korean soil) trip to New York and DC in 30-39 minutes, which means they'd barely be absorbing our destruction when their own begins.
Our defense against the attack, should it occur, is our Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Yes, that's the same system that in February garnered the LA Times headline "There's a flaw in the homeland missile defense system. The Pentagon sees no need to fix it."
Wright's organization is one that's been especially vocal about the GDM system, saying in a lengthy report (all of which you can read here) that “In its current form, strategic missile defense is a waste of resources at best and dangerous at worst...It is not a reliable defense under real-world conditions; by promoting it as a solution to nuclear conflict, US officials complicate diplomatic efforts abroad, and perpetuate a false sense of security that could harm the US. public.”
Speaking of diplomatic efforts abroad, that's apparently how President Trump plans to manage North Korea...for now. According to Reuters, "all options are on the table, but Trump says he wanted to resolve the crisis diplomatically, possibly through the extended use of economic sanctions."
Sounds great! Meanwhile, I'll be eating a large cheese pizza, hugging my dog, and putting the bare minimum toward my debt. Why live like a pauper today, when tomorrow may be our last?