North Korea sent the US a message in the early-morning hours of July 4: We can hit you in your own home with a nuclear missile if we want to.
But if you were born in America after 1960, then you've been living under threat of nuclear annihilation from ballistic missiles your whole life.
When the Soviet Union deployed the R-7A Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead in 1960, it did it so it could hit US cities and targets without deploying forces outside its borders.
At that time, the US had nothing even remotely capable of stopping such an attack. But the US had its own forces, and its own nukes, and it was clear then, as it is now, that any attack on the US mainland would be repaid in kind.
Since then, China has built a formidable fleet of ICBMs as well. Now North Korea has ventured into that club, though in a limited capacity.
Most Americans have now lived their entire life under constant possibility of nuclear annihilation. North Korea's ICBM, though destabilizing and deeply troubling, exists as a mechanism to guarantee the stability of Kim Jong Un's regime.
If Kim ever decides to fire a nuclear missile at the US, the US will track it, fire interceptors, and release a barrage of its own, more reliable and powerful nuclear weapons in response most likely before North Korea's missile even reenters the atmosphere.
North Korea's new weapons capability will most likely lead to increased diplomatic pressure and sanctions on the country, but don't expect a nuclear exchange. If North Korea had been intent on nuking the US, it could have tried to hide a mobile missile launcher on a container ship or smuggle a nuclear weapon inside the US without having to spend years and millions of dollars perfecting a missile.
The US's superior firepower is the deterrent against North Korea or any other country striking first. That reality isn't likely to change anytime soon.
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