This Is Not a Test: Operational Missile Ranges of Nuclear-Armed States

In July 2017, North Korea tested a missile that they claimed could reach “anywhere in the world.” But weapons experts say Pyongyang’s claims of global nuclear reach remain unsubstantiated. North Korea is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests since 1988, though that doesn’t mean other nuclear-armed countries have been entirely inactive. Innovations in missile systems, which are responsible for the delivery of nuclear warheads, have brought the possibility of nuclear attack to more world regions than ever before. 

Though North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is still in the testing stage, several other states already have some in operation. So, what do we know about which regions are in range of a nuclear attack? Only nine countries in the world have nuclear weapons: Russia, China, India, Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, France, and North Korea. Their range depends on the class of the missile. The United Kingdom’s and France’s longest-range missiles are submarine-launched ballistic missiles, while the rest have either medium-range, intermediate-range, or intercontinental ballistic missiles. It is likely that North Korea already has an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States, but attaching a nuclear warhead to that missile is another matter. Doing so would degrade the rocket’s distance, accuracy, and ability to survive atmospheric reentry.

The threat posed by North Korea’s missiles can only be estimated at this point. Using data from Missile Threat, the CSIS Missile Defense Project, we compiled a graphic to show what is currently known about the longest possible ranges of operational nuclear missiles. In reality, a majority of the world is in range of a nuclear attack, even without North Korea’s new ICBM.

Read the text-only version of this graphic.

When sharing our graphic, please cite us as “IR Online, American University’s International Relations online program.

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