Is North Korea missile capability a threat to Guam, Hawaii?

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This past weekend's missile test from North Korea raised concerns to a new level for Pacific area residents in Guam and here in the islands. This 10th test of a brand-new intermediate range ballistic missile is being considered as a major turning point in the country's program that has had its fair share of failed, embarrassing launches in the past, and also raised alarms about its nuclear weaponry capability.

While just a test, experts say that if the missile were fired with the intent of hitting a target, and armed with a nuclear warhead, it could have traveled about 2,500 miles. This is within the range of the U.S. territory of Guam -- home to Andersen Air Force Base — and could be considered a potential area of attack.

Hawaii Pacific University professor Carl Schuster, also the former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN that the launch tells China, North Korea’s closest ally, “I don’t care what you think, I’m independent,” and with the tested missile landing so close to Russia says, “I can touch you, too.”

After North Korea's military parade of April 15 that proudly showcased its hardware -- which included the very same missile model that was launched Saturday, the Hwasong-12 -- red flags were already going up internationally and here in Hawaii.

Back then in an interview with KHON2 News, State Representative Matt LoPresti said he wanted to see an update of the state's community shelter plan and fallout shelters in the event of a nuclear attack. “The point is to let people know that we are preparing, and at least provide some comfort that we are making some efforts to protect people,” he said.

LoPresti's resolution passed out out of his House Public Safety Committee this last legislative session and sent to the Finance Committee for further consideration. There is no word if it advanced any further.

In an article by former local-based journalist Adrienne LaFrance in the April issue of The Atlantic, the scenario of a nuclear missile heading for Hawaii makesmemories of the attacks of Dec. 7, 1941, more scarily vivid then ever.

Article interviewee Denny Roy, research fellow at the East-West Center who focuses on North Korea and nuclear weapons, told LaFrance that "One of the legacies of the Pearl Harbor attack is that residents of Hawaii feel a stronger sense of vulnerability than people on the United States mainland. Whenever the mainstream news reprises the issue of North Korea working toward a nuclear (intercontinental ballistic missile) and threatening to use it against the United States, people in Hawaii get nervous.” He added that such a missile could reach the islands in less than 20 minutes after launch.

Roy also told KHON2 News that the bigger question behind North Korea's nuclear attack capability is would they chose to exercise that power. “I don’t have any doubt that the North Koreans are aware that if they use a nuclear weapon in anger, it would be the extinction of the regime and indeed of North Korea as a separate country,” he said.

“I have to emphasize there’s no good reason for the North Koreans to actually use their nuclear weapons because it would be suicidal, and contrary to the image of the North Korean government that’s popular among most Americans of it being a crazy and irrational regime, there’s nothing to indicate that the regime is in a hurry to have themselves or their country destroyed,” Roy said.


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