Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that it threatened "not only the security of the Korean peninsula, but that of the region and the United States as well."
However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, was more measured in his remarks on the rocket launch during the Fox News program Outnumbered on Feb. 8.
"China controls North Korea’s destiny, we should have some sanctions against, not just North Korea, but Chinese that do business with North Korea. And by the way, they’re not going to have a capability to reach the United States anytime real soon, but it is inevitable over time they will," McCain said when asked about what the United States should do in response to the launch.
We wondered just how close North Korea is to reaching the United States via missile, so we put McCain’s statement through a fact-check.
The technology is there
The day after McCain made his claim, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Clapper said North Korea is "committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States," but he also noted that the system has not been "flight-tested."
A January 2016 Congressional Research Service report on U.S.-North Korea relations also stated that North Korea has the ability to put a nuclear weapon on their KN-08, an intercontinental ballistic missile, "and shoot it at the homeland." McCain press aide Julie Tarallo pointed us to this when we asked about his comments.
However, the report also notes that until North Korea tests the device, its nuclear capabilities will "remain uncertain."
Missile experts we spoke with held largely the same views.
Melissa Hanham is a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies North Korean weapons. She agreed with McCain’s statement and said Americans shouldn’t be fearful because it takes North Korea days to prepare for a rocket launch.
The estimated range of their rockets, at 10,000 km, puts Alaska, Hawaii and the western United States in range. But, they have never demonstrated all the capabilities needed to turn their present technology into a missile.
"Regardless, they are working toward this goal, and unless there is some appropriate intervention, they will achieve it," Hanham said.
Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said McCain’s claim is "generally accurate."
"The imminence of the North Korean threat has been hyped for a long time; that being said, one successful KN-08 test would revolutionize perceptions of North Korea’s capabilities," Snyder said.
As far as a timeline, Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, estimates that North Korea will not be able to reach the United States by missile until at least 2020 -- assuming a lack of intervention.
McCain said of North Korea’s missile program, "They’re not going to have a capability to reach the United States anytime real soon, but it is inevitable over time they will."
His statement is a bit of a generalization, but he’s right. North Korea may have the missile technology -- and range -- to strike the United States, but it hasn’t been tested. Experts on missile technology agreed with McCain.
We rate McCain’s claim as True.