n July, North Korea tested its longest-range ballistic missiles yet, putting it closer than ever to having a nuclear weapon that could strike the US mainland. But that is not actually our most urgent problem, says Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who has visited North Korea seven times and toured its nuclear facilities. While North Korea is bent on extending its nuclear strike range, it can already hit Japan and South Korea. With US politicians calling for military action against the North, and a general escalation of belligerent rhetoric on both sides, it is entirely possible that we will stumble into a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula. In this in-depth interview, Hecker calls on Washington to talk to Pyongyang—not to negotiate or make concessions, but to avert disaster.

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