FACT CHECK: MSNBC Host Claims North Korea Has Been Able To Strike Guam For Years

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Amid North Korea’s threats toward the U.S. territory of Guam and reports that the rogue nation can now produce miniaturized nuclear warheads, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell claimed Tuesday that North Korea has been able to strike Guam for years.

Verdict: False

North Korean missiles did not pose a credible threat to Guam until 2017, and the flight-testing of missiles that could reach the island did not begin until 2016.

Fact Check:

As news broke that North Korea was planning to launch missiles at Guam, Mitchell claimed via Twitter that North Korea has had the ability to hit Guam for years.

North Korea has made large technological strides in its missile program in the last year. After the successful May flight test of the new Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), experts now believe the reclusive country has the ability to reliably strike Guam, a Pacific island with around 160,000 residents and two major U.S. military installations.

“It looks pretty reliable, it certainly has the range,” Joshua Pollack, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

North Korea has developed several types of missiles over the years, and until the Hwasong-12 was first tested in 2017, experts speculated that North Korea would rely on its IRBM predecessor, the Musudan missile, to threaten Guam.

For Mitchell to be correct, the Musudan needed the ability to strike Guam years before the introduction of the Hwasong-12.

While IRBMs like the Musudan have a theoretical range far enough to reach Guam from North Korea, until about a year ago, the country had not proven it could successfully flight-test the missile. “Its reliability was always in question,” Pollack said.

A 2017 government report estimates the range of the Musudan at “3,000+” kilometers. The estimate puts Guam, which is about 3,400 kilometers away from North Korea, possibly within striking distance.

The U.S. estimate, however, may not be indicative of the Musudan’s actual capability. After the North Koreans began flight-testing the missile in April 2016, it not only failed seven out of eight launches, but analyses after a partially successful test in June 2016 suggest the Musudan could not reach Guam.

“Based on the performance of the missile on this trajectory, it would not have the range to reach Guam,” David Wright, co-director and senior scientist for the liberal Union of Concerned Scientists, concluded in an article after the 2016 flight test. A separate assessment from 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, agreed with Wright’s conclusion.

“It’s a matter of reliability,” said Pollack. “And reliability enhances credibility.”

North Korea has deployed satellite launch vehicles for many years that could, in theory, be converted into missiles capable of reaching Guam – or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter – but they aren’t well suited for military purposes.

“While they always have had an emergency launch capability using their space launchers, a really fully militarized – what we would call a survivable system – it would have had to have been the Musudan,” Pollack told TheDCNF.

If the North Koreans kept testing the Musudan, it’s possible the missile could have become a credible threat to Guam, but as late as April 2016, it did not appear to be one. For this reason, North Korea has not been able to strike Guam for years as Mitchell claimed.

MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment.

Ryan Pickrell contributed to this article.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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