U.S. officials, who announced increases in missile defenses Friday, are taking seriously nuclear threats by North Korea, whose new, young leader — Kim Jong-un — is an unknown quantity, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said Sunday.
“This is very, very concerning because we just don’t know the stability of their leader,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re just not confident that we know he wouldn’t take those steps.”
“So you have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military and the military eager to have saber-rattling for their own self-interest. And the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly,” Mr. Rogers said.
The Pentagon announced Friday that it is deploying 14 ground-based missile interceptors to Alaska to guard against the threat from North Korea.
“We believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that, and if he’s not, we’ll be ready,” Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld said during Pentagon briefing Friday.
A North Korean official over the weekend said the country would not be intimidated to roll back its nuclear program, and denied that the country is developing nuclear weapons in order to gain recognition or to create a bargaining chip for economic aid.
North Korea’s “nuclear weapons serve as an all-powerful, treasured sword for protecting the sovereignty and security of the country. Therefore, they cannot be disputed even in the least as long as the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy persist,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday announced the increase in missile defense and other moves to address potential threats from Iran and North Korea’s increasing capabilities in nuclear and missile technology.
The U.S. also is deploying a second early warning system in Japan, studying whether to add ground-based missile sites in Alaska and one on the East Coast, and restructuring a Europe-based missile defense system.
Although Iran and North Korea are both developing nuclear capabilities, U.S. officials said their recent actions were taken mostly in response to a North Korean nuclear capability that is progressing faster than expected.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last month and successfully launched a long-range rocket in December, both in violation of U.N. sanctions. U.S. defense officials added that six mobile long-range missiles were displayed during a parade in Pyongyang last April.
Earlier this month, North Korea threatened a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the United States, after the United Nations imposed a new round of sanctions. Military analysts, however, say it does not have the know-how to create a nuclear warhead.
Still, the North Koreans “certainly have a ballistic missile that can reach U.S. shores,” Mr. Rogers said.
“[North Korea has] the largest military in the world, still in uniform,” he said. “So the sheer threat that they would openly threaten a nuclear attack against the United States is problem enough, but their military movements along the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, in North Korea, [presents] a whole new set of problems for us.”
North Korea signed an armistice with South Korea in 1953, ending the Korean War, but North Korean officials announced the country’s withdrawal from the agreement last week.