North Korea has the ability to launch nuclear warheads on its short and medium-range missiles—projectiles capable of hitting both South Korea and Japan. That’s the consensus view of South Korea and the U.S. intelligence community. From the New York Times:
The assessment of the North’s new capabilities is not based on direct evidence from inside its nuclear program, senior officials said, but draws on intelligence gleaned from high-level defectors, analysis of propaganda images and data collected from North Korean missile and nuclear tests, which have accelerated over the past six months.
While some intelligence agencies suggested as early as 2013 that the North had learned enough about rocket engineering and the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to mount one on a shorter-range missile, there is a new consensus and greater confidence in that view in both Washington and Seoul, the officials said.
Given the years of research North Korea has devoted to the program, experts do not consider the conclusion particularly surprising. But the politics of the assessment, which means the North can target American bases in South Korea and Japan, are delicate, both in the region and in the midst of a presidential election in the United States.
So this is what a failed nuclear accord looks like. It is also a reminder that diplomatic accords do not themselves enforce norms so much as serve as proof of the acceptance of those norms by the involved parties. As Adam Garfinkle has written, “You can’t affect the position of a shadow by doing things to the shadow; arms control negotiations are the shadows, and strategic realities cast them.” North Korea, which was never properly confronted as it repeatedly violated the terms of its earlier deal, has clearly made its own calculations about what it can get away with.