Kim Jong Un with rocket

2023 North Korea Missile Program Update

by Matt Collins

Table of Contents

  • 01

    2023 North Korea Missile Program Update

  • 02

    Genesis of the North Korea Missile Program

  • 03

    Why North Korea is Obsessed with Nuclear Weapons

  • 04

    The Likelihood of a North Korea Missile Attack

  • 05

    Surviving a North Korea Nuclear Attack in 2023

  • 06

    North Korea Missile Frequently asked questions

2023 North Korea Missile Program Update

The North Korea missile program has long been in the global media spotlight.

The rogue nation's ongoing quest to create weapons of mass destruction—as well as the inter-continental ballistic missiles to deliver them—traces its roots back to the 1950s as part of the country's movement towards "all-fortressization."

Fast forward to 2023, and the country's missiles are still making massive waves in the press.

On May 30, 2023, it was announced that a North Korea missile carrying the country's first military spy satellite had plunged into the ocean shortly after launch—causing profound concern among their South Korean neighbors.

And while these missile tests have so often failed, North Korean news indicates the country continues inching closer and closer to a functional missile that could deliver a deadly payload as far away as Europe or the United States.

The North Korean government has a long history of provocative actions and aggressive rhetoric, heightening apprehensions about the country’s nuclear capabilities. Frequent missile tests–with threats to use nuclear weapons against foreign adversaries–have been central to this bellicose stance. Naturally, such actions increase regional tensions and raise the risk of miscalculation or escalation.

North Korea’s foreign policy is not the only source of worry, however. Equally troubling is the country’s human rights record and the repressive nature of the Kim family's totalitarian regime.

In light of this, the country has faced international condemnation for human rights abuses and a lack of transparency. These factors, needless to say, have not inspired optimism regarding North Korea’s prospects for handling its nuclear arsenal responsibly, with many experts flagging a considerable potential for misuse.

Consequently, the world community–including countries such as the United States, South Korea, China, and Japan–has been engaged in diplomatic efforts to address the North Korean nuclear issue through negotiations, sanctions, and other means.

In spite of these international efforts to curb North Korean nuclear ambitions, however, Pyongyang authorities have continued to conduct multiple nuclear tests. If successfully developed and deployed, these weapons could pose a significant threat to regional stability and global security.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a deeper look at the North Korea missile program–and what you can do to prepare for a potential launch.

North Korean missile on truck

(Image courtesy of Stefan Krasowski/Wikipedia Commons)

Genesis of the North Korea Missile Program

North Korea's interest in weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) sparked shortly after the end of the Korean War (1950-1953).

Under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, North Korea sought to strengthen its defense capabilities against potential threats, including the United States and its allies—a movement dubbed "all-fortressization" by the government.

Then, in the 1960s, the country began exploring the development of chemical weapons, including nerve agents such as sarin and VX, blister agents like mustard gas, and riot control agents like tear gas.

A couple of decades later, during the Reagan era, Pyongyang's focus shifted to nuclear weapons–a pursuit that the US attempted to deter with a series of negotiations in the 1990s.

As tensions between the countries heightened, however, the disarmament talks collapsed, culminating in North Korea’s formal withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003.

Two years later, North Korea would declare itself a nuclear-armed state, and commence testing their weapons.

Though various diplomatic channels were engaged to address the issue–alongside widespread condemnation and UN sanctions–these efforts ultimately failed to deter the hermit kingdom from its chosen path.

To make matters worse, this path included the development of ballistic missiles, a decades-long project running parallel to the country’s nuclear armament.

In 1993, North Korea conducted its first successful test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, followed by long-range missile tests in the early 2000s. These advancements in North Korea missile technology further intensified concerns about North Korea's WMD capabilities, as it showcased the country's potential to deliver nuclear warheads to distant targets.

Under the purview of Kim Jong-il–and later his son, Kim Jong-un–North Korea's WMD program continued to make headway despite international pressure and sanctions.

Accordingly, the international community, led by the United States, has adopted a firm but nuanced approach for dealing with North Korea's WMD program.

Diplomatic efforts, such as the Six-Party Talks involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, have attempted to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. However, negotiations have proven challenging, with North Korea oscillating between brinkmanship tactics and intermittent agreements.

In the end, North Korea's pursuit and development of WMDs have marked a tumultuous chapter in international relations, with growing concerns about regional stability and global safety.

Efforts to address this issue remain ongoing, with diplomatic engagements, sanctions, and dialogues serving as the primary tools to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Kim Il Sung propaganda poster

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Why North Korea is Obsessed with Nuclear Weapons

The motivations behind North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons are multifaceted.

Firstly, possessing a nuclear deterrent serves as a means of self-preservation for the regime. By acquiring a credible nuclear arsenal, they aim to deter potential attacks from foreign powers and ensure the survival of the Kim dynasty.

Additionally, nuclear weapons provide a tool for North Korea to project power and enhance its position in regional and global affairs. The regime has historically used its nuclear program as leverage in negotiations, seeking economic and political concessions in exchange for disarmament.

In several cases, North Korea's missile tests have prompted renewed negotiations between North and South Korea, which have technically been in a state of war since 1950.

These negotiations have often involved economic aid, sanctions relief, or diplomatic engagement in exchange for Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization, or a temporary freeze of its nuclear activities.

However, it is essential to note that the effectiveness of these tactics in achieving long-term concessions or favorable treatment has been limited, with North Korea refusing to make any lasting commitment to denuclearization. Indeed, the regime has consistently worked in the opposite direction: continuing to develop and grow its nuclear arsenal.

By way of response, the international community has generally utilized sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and dialogue to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions and promote denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong Un laughing with officers

(Image courtesy of TheTimes)

An Unknown Arsenal

The exact details of North Korea's nuclear arsenal, including the specific types and numbers of nuclear weapons, are not publicly disclosed. What we know, therefore, is based on intelligence assessments and statements made by the North Korean government.

The country’s nuclear program is believed to include plutonium- and uranium-based weapons. Plutonium is produced in North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, where nuclear reactor and reprocessing facilities are located. Uranium enrichment facilities, such as the one at the Yongbyon complex, are also thought to play a role in North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Regarding delivery systems, North Korea missile technology has significantly evolved in recent years.

Here's a quick rundown of the different missiles they've tested over the years:

North Korea's ballistic missiles infographic

(Image courtesy of


  • Year Tested: 1984

  • Range: Approximately 300 km

  • Notes: The Hwasong-5 is a short-range ballistic missile based on the Soviet Scud technology.


  • Year Tested: 1990

  • Range: Approximately 500 km

  • Notes: The Hwasong-6 is an extended-range version of the Hwasong-5.


  • Year Tested: 1998

  • Range: Approximately 2,500 km

  • Notes: The Taepodong-1 is a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching parts of Japan and Alaska.


  • Year Tested: 2006

  • Range: Approximately 6,700 km

  • Notes: The Taepodong-2 is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that has demonstrated the potential capability to reach the continental United States.

5)Musudan (BM-25):

  • Year Tested: 2016

  • Range: Approximately 3,000 km

  • Notes: The Musudan is an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), with an extended range compared to previous North Korean missile systems.


  • Year Tested: 2016

  • Range: Approximately 1,200 km

  • Notes: The Pukguksong-1 is a solid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) designed for submarine-launched operations.


  • Year Tested: 2017

  • Range: Approximately 2,000 km

  • Notes: The Pukguksong-2 is an improved version of the Pukguksong-1, with an extended range.


  • Year Tested: 2017

  • Range: Approximately 10,000 km (reported)

  • Notes: The Hwasong-14 is an ICBM tested in 2017 and reportedly has the potential to reach the mainland United States.


  • Year Tested: 2017

  • Range: Approximately 13,000 km (reported)

  • Notes: The Hwasong-15 is an ICBM tested in 2017 and represents an advancement in North Korea's missile technology, with an increased range compared to previous models.


  • Year Tested: 2020

  • Range: Not officially disclosed (reported to have an extended range compared to previous missiles)

  • Notes: The Hwasong-16 is reported to be a new type of ICBM tested in 2020, and little information is publicly available about it.

Recent North Korea missile tests in 2018 include the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland United States. These developments suggest that North Korea is working towards the ability to deliver nuclear warheads via long-range missiles.

Here, it’s important to acknowledge that the threat from North Korea is very real.

Indeed, the latest iterations of its Hwasong-14 missile are designed to reach targets up to 10,000 kilometers away—which would put most of the continental United States firmly in North Korea's crosshairs. What’s more, the Hwasong-15 missile, which is still in development, would reach distances of up to 13,000 kilometers, with the potential to strike any target in the United States.

It is within this context, then, that 2022 saw North Korea missile tests reach stunning new heights, with more than three times as many test launches as any year prior. In addition, the yield of North Korea's nuclear weapons has steadily increased, with tested weapons reaching up to 140 kilotons in yield. That's equivalent to 1.4 million tons of TNT, or nearly ten times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

North Korean missile launches infographic

(Image courtesy of

Based on data from Alex Wellerstein's Nuke Map (which we recently covered in great detail), a weapon like that—dropped in the middle of New York City—would result in three-quarters of a million dead and over a million and a half injured.

With such increasingly sophisticated weaponry on hand, we're left to wonder… will they use it?

The Likelihood of a North Korea Missile Attack

While the possibility of North Korea using nuclear weapons oughtn’t be trivialized, it's crucial to be realistic about the situation.

North Korea's leadership is acutely aware of the severe consequences of a nuclear strike, including retaliation from the United States and its allies. Any nuclear action or North Korean missile strike would be met with a swift and overwhelming military response, leading to the potential destruction of the regime.

Simply put: a true counterforce or countervalue attack on behalf of the United States would essentially leave the country in ruin.

Moreover, the global community is deeply cognizant of the potential fallout damage from even a limited nuclear exchange. Hence, the world remains steadfast in its commitment to preventing the use of nuclear weapons, reinforcing deterrence through a collective security framework.

So while North Korea's nuclear capabilities have undoubtedly grown, the likelihood of them initiating a nuclear strike remains low due to the level of both literal and figurative fallout that it would entail. International efforts to engage with North Korea and find a diplomatic solution should persist, therefore, while maintaining robust deterrence.

This dovetails neatly with the goals of the international community–including countries like the United States, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia–which is to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, as well as maintain peace and stability in the region.

As such, diplomatic negotiations, such as the Six-Party Talks and other bilateral discussions, continue to take place in an attempt to address North Korea's nuclear ambitions through peaceful means.

Ultimately, the actions and decisions of the North Korean leadership will determine the future course of events. And as we've discussed in previous articles, it may only take a few hours or a few significant misunderstandings for a short-term conflict to devolve into a cataclysmic nuclear exchange.

Nuclear Counter-Attack?

The potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea is a grave concern for the international community–one that would necessitate profound ramifications.

Put plainly, a nuclear attack by North Korea would elicit an immediate and forceful military response from the international community.

The United States, as a critical ally of South Korea and Japan, would likely spearhead the efforts. Together with its regional partners and NATO, the US military would activate robust defensive measures, including missile defense systems, to intercept any additional incoming missiles. The aim would be to neutralize North Korea's nuclear capabilities and prevent further attacks.

Depending on available intelligence, the United States might implement a nuclear counter-attack to target North Korea's remaining nuclear weapons (before they can be deployed), or opt for a more aggressive countervalue attack by targeting North Korea's few industrial assets and population centers.

Once again, the global environmental risk of nuclear fallout from such an exchange cannot be overstated. Recent studies have found that even a limited nuclear exchange between two countries would eject so much particulate into the atmosphere that global agricultural output would fall by half in terms of calories produced.

As such, any nuclear counter-attack by Western forces would likely be calculated and limited to avoid another North Korea missile launch.

The Global Response

The global response to a North Korean nuclear strike would be informed by a number of variables. It is possible, however, to anticipate the broad strokes. In view of this, here’s how we see things playing out:

The United Nations Security Council would swiftly condemn North Korea's actions, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Alongside this, the international community would impose stringent economic sanctions on North Korea, targeting critical sectors and entities linked to its nuclear program. These sanctions would seek to isolate North Korea politically, economically, and diplomatically, putting immense pressure on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

A nuclear attack by North Korea would also serve as a wake-up call for the international community to bolster nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

From this perspective, nations would come together to reinforce existing treaties such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons and implement stricter verification mechanisms. Efforts would also focus on securing loose nuclear materials globally and preventing their acquisition by rogue states or terrorist organizations.

In the aftermath of a nuclear attack, the affected region would require extensive humanitarian assistance and support. Nations would rally together to provide aid, medical assistance, and reconstruction efforts. International organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), would coordinate relief efforts, working hand in hand with local authorities to alleviate the suffering and restore essential infrastructure.

Despite the gravity of the situation, diplomatic channels between North Korea and other nations would remain open, in a bid to explore opportunities for deescalation and conflict resolution.

In this vein, diplomatic efforts would aim to engage North Korea in dialogue, encouraging them to abandon their nuclear program in exchange for economic and security assurances. Regional powers, such as China and Russia, would play crucial roles in facilitating negotiations and acting as intermediaries between North Korea and the international community.

On the whole, swift and overwhelming military measures, coupled with diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, would form the backbone of the world community's strategy. In tandem, collaboration through international organizations, strengthened non-proliferation efforts, and humanitarian aid would be instrumental in mitigating the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

As the world collectively confronts this grave threat, the pursuit of peaceful resolutions, alongside steadfast deterrence, will be crucial in maintaining global security and preventing catastrophe.

Female unit of UN peacekeepers from South Africa

(Image courtesy of MONUSCO/Wikipedia Commons)

Surviving a North Korea Nuclear Attack in 2023

Even though a North Korea missile attack remains unlikely, the fact remains that a rogue totalitarian regime is in possession of increasingly powerful nuclear weapons.

The Kim family is playing an extremely dangerous game–one with global stakes that could potentially devastate millions of families, giving North Korea an edge in its failing negotiations with the West.

While it’s impossible to guess exactly what will come next for the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un and his regime, it’s easy enough to take some proactive steps now, protecting yourself and your family from a megalomaniacal dictator half a world away.

So if North Korea ever unleashes an attack on North America, here are three critical pieces of gear that could save your life:

Potassium Iodide pills are the easiest and most practical way to prepare your family for a potential nuclear attack. These pills flood your thyroid gland with safe iodine, preventing it from absorbing radioactive I-131 that is dispersed after a nuclear detonation, and can cause thyroid cancer. Your body's thyroid gland is crucial for managing everything from your heart rate to nervous system function, so it's paramount to protect it.

Our Potassium Iodide tablets cost just a few dollars and have a ten-year shelf life. There's minimal risk of adverse reaction or side effects when taking them, and they will be vital for anyone near ground zero in the first few hours and days after an attack.

Note that I-131 can also be ejected into the atmosphere after a reactor meltdown, too.

Due to their efficiency, potassium iodide tablets sell out rapidly in times of elevated risk–so stock up now, while they're readily available.

MIRA Safety potassium iodide tablets

Geiger-2 Dosimeter is a next-gen detection device that combines modern features with a proven SBM-20-1 Geiger-Muller tube to provide reliable detection of radiation. Powered by an integrated rechargeable battery and solar panel, the Geiger-2 features a 1.1 inch digital LCD display to navigate between all its settings and features. You can set daily exposure limits, customized alarms, and more—making it more flexible than any traditional Geiger counter. And the rechargeable battery could save you a fortune.

In order to safely navigate the aftermath of a nuclear attack, you'll need to be able to detect localized threats and "hot spots" of radiation. More than any specific piece of personal protective equipment (PPE), the Geiger-2 will allow you to identify and avoid threats instead of risking your safety.

Geiger-2 Dosimeter

The CM-7M gas mask is another obvious must-have. When paired with the NBC-77 SOF (or any other filter with P3 and Reactor certification), it can prevent the inhalation of irradiated fallout. But a nuclear attack could potentially eject other toxins into the atmosphere—destroying power plants, ripping industrial facilities to shreds, and scorching infrastructure. Moving around in the aftermath of a nuclear attack could expose you to any number of Toxic Industrial Chemicals or even Chemical Warfare Agents in addition to fallout.

While the CM-6M has its own advantages, there is one crucial aspect in which the CM-7M reigns supreme—it's available in three sizes. Granted, the one-size CM-6M provides a good fit for probably 80% of gas mask users, but the CM-7M pushes those numbers into the stratosphere, with a size that will fit just about any adult. And since it's absolutely critical to get a perfect airtight seal with your gas mask, the CM-7M comes out ahead.

There are other compelling reasons to invest in the CM-7M, too. For example, its dual eyepiece configuration allows for easy use with rifle optics and night vision equipment. And it compromises little in terms of field-of-view. The CM-7M is also compatible with all the outstanding MIRA Safety Gas mask accessories that make life so much easier while masked up. Fully kitted-out with MIRAVision Spectacles, a gas mask microphone and a PAPR, this is easily one of the most suitable respirators on Earth.

MIRA Safety CM-7M gas mask

"Little Rocket Man"

In 2004's Team America: World Police, the creators of South Park depicted Kim Jong-il as a joke. And we all had a good laugh at the self-serious dictator's expense.

Even as recently as 2017, when President Trump infamously referred to Kim Jong-un as "little Rocket Man,” the nickname drew chuckles from Americans across the political spectrum.

That same year, a North Korea nuclear test yielded 140 kilotons.

Illustration of Kim Jong Un with rocket

(Image courtesy of TimesLive)

It’s safe to say: the Kim family isn't a joke anymore.

Over the last two decades, the North Korea missile program has rapidly evolved. In fact, in the last five years alone, they've radically ramped up their testing and demonstrated greater destructive power than anything we've seen since testing began in the 1980s.

And while it's certainly not in North Korea's best interest to deploy any of these nuclear weapons, we can't say how much infrastructure is really in place to prevent that from happening either. Most likely, North Korea has much different nuclear release procedures to that of the United States, with far fewer checks and balances preventing Kim from launching his missiles at foreign foes.

So it's essential to pay close attention to this threat—and take it very seriously.

North Korea Missile Frequently asked questions

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