The smaller support vehicle footprint and shorter time window between arriving at a launch position and firing the missile enabled by the solid fuel, combined with the expanded launch site options offered by the tracked TEL, significantly reduce the ability to track and target the Pukguksong‐2.
The technical developments on display in the latest missile test reduce the feasibility of any response option that involves destroying North Korean nuclear weapons in a preemptive strike. Wheeled TELs carrying liquid‐fueled missiles are still the norm in North Korea’s arsenal, but the Pukguksong‐2 gives Pyongyang a more survivable retaliatory capability that can carry out a nuclear strike even if the majority of North Korea’s land‐based missiles are held at risk. It is unclear how many Pukguksong‐2 missiles are in service and if they have functioning nuclear warheads. But the successful test of the missile should give the Trump administration pause as it considers its response options.
The risks and potential costs of a U.S. sneak attack against North Korea’s nuclear facilities and nuclear delivery systems, or a decapitating strike against Kim Jong‐un by South Korean and U.S. forces, grow as the North improves its missile technology. As the viability of the military option diminishes, the United States must find other ways to prevent North Korea’s nuclear development. Negotiating with Kim Jong‐un may not seem like “winning” to Trump and his advisors, but as military options become more dangerous and harder to effectively carry out, diplomacy might offer the United States the best chance to slow or halt North Korea’s progress.