The state of the standoff with North Korea
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
While North Korea's call for unification with the South could be interpreted as a step toward reducing tensions, Pyongyang hit several troubling nuclear milestones with unexpected speed in the past year. Tensions between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump also ramped up over tweets and statements in an almost dizzying back and forth.
Bottom line: The potential for miscalculation is high. But where exactly does North Korea's nuclear program stand amidst these risks, and where does it fall short? And what about the U.S. capability to defend itself?
The Trump factor
- Trump has boasted about having a "much bigger" nuclear button than Kim Jong-un. There's not actually a nuclear button. Here's how Trump could launch a nuke.
- The U.S. and South Korea delayed joint military drills until after the Olympics this year. North Korea views the drills as a rehearsal for invasion. The context.
- Trump has expressed openness to having talks with the North Koreans, but also said this month he isn't sure talking will solve the problem. Catch up on his statements.
- The administration just sanctioned additional entities with links to North Korea. That includes Chinese and Russian illicit actors. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called China and Russia out earlier this month.
Assessing the threat
- Is the U.S. ready for a North Korean nuclear attack? The short answer is, probably not. We're "falling behind in defensive" ability — Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told Axios. More on U.S. preparations here.
- The missile math — North Korea's maximum launch capacity vs. the number of U.S. interceptors — works right now, in theory. But it might not soon.
- North Korea isn't ready to field a reliable ICBM to hit the U.S. — yet. And that's the key word. Go deeper on where the North's capabilities stand, and the milestones it has hit so far.
What North Korea wants
- North Korea is in the cyber hacking game. Follow the money.
- And the North comes to any negotiating table with a lot of demands. But it says it won't ever give up its nuclear program.
Where other world players fit in
- China has skin in the game. What's at stake.
- Russia and China have been accused of violating sanctions against North Korea. The reports.
North Korea has said it intends to have an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland before it ever engages in diplomacy again. Until the regime has that capability nailed down, expect continued testing.
But it eventually will want to return to the negotiating table to get a reduction in sanctions and continued reduction of joint military drills in the region.