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A missile is a weapon that is capable of high-velocity flight, using a self-propulsion device such as a jet engine. In modern usage, the term usually refers to guided missiles, or missiles that are able to modify their trajectory in mid-flight to accurately reach a target.

Guided missiles can be categorized according to the guidance system employed: remote or self-tracking. Generally, a missile consists of the propulsion device, guidance system, calibration/stabilization devices, explosives/detonators, and the missile body in which these devices are housed. Missiles that can reach targets 1,000~5,500km away are categorized as intermediate-range missiles, while those with an effective range of 500~1,000km are categorized as short-range missiles. (Definition: Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, 1987).

Therefore, a missile is a device that can carry weapons, usually bombs or explosives, and can guide or track itself during mid-flight to accurately hit a stationary or moving target. Accordingly, a discussion on nuclear capabilities has little meaning without a discussion on missile capabilities. That is, even a highly sophisticated nuclear bomb is rendered useless in the absence of a device to carry it accurately to its target. So the term ‘nuclear weapon’ usually refers to a missile equipped with a nuclear warhead. Missiles vary in their effective ranges: from close-range missiles for local warfare to ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile) that can strike targets located on the other side of the globe. Missiles can be launched from stationary launch pads, railroad cars, trucks, aircraft, warships, and even submarines. There are even portable missiles that can be carried and launched by individuals.

When one discusses North Korea’s nuclear missile capabilities, one is usually referring to strategic-level arms, especially intermediate-range ballistic missiles.