A U.S. military official says North Korea already has the capability to launch a nuclear missile. He added that the U.S. is making contingency plans as the range of the weapons is expected to increase over time, eventually even giving North Korea the ability to strike the west coast of the United States. From CBS News:

The official said it appears that North Korea can mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, but may not have the re-entry capabilities for a strategic strike. That would include the ability of the weapon to get back through the atmosphere without burning up and the ability to hit the intended target. The official said North Korea continues to try and overcome those limitations…

“It is the threat that keeps me awake at night,” the official said, “primarily because we don’t know what the dear leader in North Korea really is after. Truthfully, they have the capability, right now, to be able to deliver a nuclear weapon. They’re just not sure about re-entry and that’s why they continue to test their systems.”

This is obviously an immediate threat to South Korea and Japan and to the U.S. soldiers stationed there. The medium-term concern is that, as North Korea’s technology improves, they will eventually be able to strike as far as the west coast of the United States. CBS says some experts believe that could be the case as soon as 2020. In response, the U.S. military is drawing up contingency plans, but the official who spoke to reporters noted that the U.S. does not have much in the way of leverage.

“So we are in a very tenuous situation, with not a lot of leverage, not a lot of initiative in terms of negotiations,” the official who briefed Pentagon reporters said Thursday. “As you might imagine we’re preparing for contingency operations at the degree we need to.”

The question usually asked when dealing with a hostile foreign power with nuclear weapons is this: Are they rational actors or madmen? In the case of North Korea, they certainly appear to be the latter. The North Koreans routinely make threats, including nuclear threats, toward the United States.

This CNN report is from back in April but shows the same concerns about the range and development of North Korea’s missiles has been building up for a while: