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Question of the Day
North Korea is expected to deploy a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching parts of the United States in the next decade, despite two long-range missile flight-test failures, according to the Pentagon’s ballistic-missile defense review.
The review report, made public this week, concluded that missile threats from several states, including Iran, Syria, China and Russia, are growing “quantitatively and qualitatively,” and it outlined Pentagon plans for silo-based and mobile anti-missile systems to counter them.
On North Korea, the report disclosed for the first time the U.S. intelligence estimate of when Pyongyang will be able to reach the technically challenging threshold of producing a nuclear device small enough to be carried on a missile.
“We must assume that sooner or later, North Korea will have a successful test of its Taepodong-2 and, if there are no major changes in its national security strategy in the next decade, it will be able to mate a nuclear warhead to a proven delivery system,” the report said.
U.S. intelligence officials said North Korea was one of at least three states — along with Libya and Iran — that benefited from the spread of nuclear technology provided by the network of suppliers headed by Pakistani technician A.Q. Khan. Included with that assistance and discovered when Libya gave up its Khan-supplied nuclear goods were Chinese-language documents on how to make a warhead for a missile, the officials have said.
U.S. intelligence agencies suspect but have not confirmed that North Korea also obtained the warhead-design documents from Mr. Khan.
North Korea’s two underground nuclear tests and its development of long-range missiles is a major worry, the report said, noting that Iran also is developing long-range missiles.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Senate testimony this week that the Pentagon is seeking $8.4 billion for missile defenses under what he described as a phased plan to shift the focus from larger ground-based long-range interceptors to shorter-range missile defenses, like the Navy’s SM-3 ship-based missile interceptor.
“We have deployed ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely [in Alaska]. We have a very aggressive test program that has been successful. We believe that those interceptors give us the capability to deal with launches from either Iran or North Korea, a small-scale threat,” Mr. Gates said.
Chuck Downs, a former Pentagon official and specialist on North Korea, said the North Korean drive for a long-range nuclear missile is part of Pyongyang’s objective of being able to threaten the United States.
“They are a regime that has already relied on coercive threats, with their own people, with their neighbors and with the United States,” he said.
Developing a nuclear-tipped Taepodong will be “the high point of their military development program,” said Mr. Downs, head of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. “It should come as no surprise that they are seeking to develop this missile.”
A defense official said the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress last year that North Korea may be able to mate a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile, noting that the Taepodong would be nuclear-capable. Additionally, DIA has stated that “North Korea could have several nuclear warheads capable of delivery by ballistic missiles.”
“We have publicly stated that North Korea has a theoretical capability to produce a warhead and mate it with a missile, but we have no information to suggest they have done so,” the official said.
Five years ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York, made headlines when she asked DIA director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby during a hearing whether North Korea had a nuclear warhead small enough to be carried on a missile. Adm. Jacoby said yes, but a Pentagon spokesman said later that officials did not know whether Pyongyang has a nuclear missile warhead capability.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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