So Who's Got the Bigger Button?
While the banter surrounding North Korea's nuclear button took place quite a while ago, it is worth addressing again to potentially quell some concerns of the public, in addition to stock market agitation thanks to fears regarding political risks. Political risks impact the stock market heavily sometimes, which is why I feel it is important to talk about them to show if they are truly justifiable fears or not.
In college, I listened to a professor lecture on data that showed how the threat of war with North Korea was so slim due to the country's substantial lack in everything else that it shouldn't be a concern. This was over 10 years ago.
Additionally, the following data from Statista highlights some more important points surrounding North Korea as a potential nuclear threat to the US and the world...
Currently, there are an estimated 14,555 nuclear warheads in the hands of just nine countries. At the top of the list, as compiled by the Federation Of American Scientists (FAS), are of course Russia and the U.S. With a combined arsenal of 13,400: a very real hangover from the Cold War. Up until now, the two countries have been undergoing programs of disarmament - of this 13,400, over 5,000 are officially retired and awaiting dismantlement. In Kim Jong-un's New Year's Day speech, he claimed that North Korea's nuclear forces are now "completed", stating that the nuclear launch button is always within his reach. The FAS does indeed estimate that the country is in possession of between 10 to 20 warheads.
In response to the claim, President Trump fired back, pointing out that his button is "much bigger & more powerful" - something which can not be disputed, as Statist infographic shows.
Kim Jong-un's incessant desire to acquire his own nuclear deterrent is far from a state secret. At a time when tensions between the United States and North Korea are only getting higher, the threat of an armed conflict erupting has arguably not been greater since the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong island in 2010. Two major differences between 2010 and 2017 though, are 1) a somewhat unpredictable president sitting in Washington and 2) the apparent advancement of North Korea's nuclear program. In this new climate, the data from Statista's infographic uses information from Nuclear Threat Initiative to show where Kim Jong-un's nuclear infrastructure is located.
So can the US really stop missiles from doing any major damage to civilians?
Statista goes on to explain that as diplomatic efforts stall, eyes are turning to the region's missile-defense technology. Despite it being South Korea's first line of defense against a nuclear attack, the U.S. Army's THAAD system has proven controversial in the country with residents fearful the areas surrounding the launchers could become North Korean targets. The most recent nuclear test has prompted the country's defense ministry to deploy the four remaining THAAD launchers, on top of the two already in operation. That decision may turn out to be well-founded, considering that the THAAD system has a 100% success rate in test interceptions. That's according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, who say the system hit 13 targets in 13 attempts up to May 2017 (as well as another successful test since then). Countries in the region can also count on the Aegis missile system fitted to U.S. and Japanese naval vessels. Its Raytheon Standard missiles cannot currently engage ICBMs but they are capable of destroying ballistic missiles. They have proven reasonably reliable in tests, destroying 35 targets and failing on seven occasions. The U.S. Patriot surface to air missile system is also used by South Korea and Japan. When it is used to engage missiles, it has a shorter range and is more effective protecting strategic targets rather than larger areas. Despite controversy regarding the system's record intercepting Iraqi SCUD missiles during the Gulf War, anti-missile tests have generally proven successful. The Ground-Based Mid-course Defense is responsible for defending North America by intercepting incoming warheads in space during the mid-course phase of ballistic trajectory. So far, however, the system has proven far from reliable with only 10 out of a total of 18 tests ending in success. Israel has demonstrated how far missile defense technology has evolved, deploying its Iron Dome system with great success. As North Korea continues testing, the U.S. and its allies will be hoping their own defenses won't be put to a far greater test.