North Korea nuclear missiles: How startling is Pentagon assessment? (+video)
A new Pentagon intelligence report claims that North Korea has the ability to make a nuclear device small enough to fit on a ballistic missile – not that it's been fully tested or is set to fire.
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Second, it’s also crucial for context to know that many nonproliferation experts outside the government already believe North Korea has the ability to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit a short- or medium-range ballistic missile. In that sense the DIA is only saying what they believe.Skip to next paragraph
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For instance, in a Feb. 13 report on North Korea’s nuclear miniaturization, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, concluded that Pyongyang probably can make a nuclear device just small enough in diameter to fit on a Nodong, a short-range missile that could reach South Korea.
“Pyongyang still lacks the ability to deploy a warhead on an ICBM, although it shows progress at this effort,” Mr. Albright wrote.
Others note that Pentagon spokesman Little’s statement must be read carefully: It says that North Korea does not have a “fully tested” arsenal, for instance. That does not preclude a partly or untested nuclear capability.
Third, North Korea’s recent increase in belligerence may be the result of its nuclear progress.
Right now, Pyongyang has a strategic military problem: Its conventional forces are aging and decrepit compared with US and South Korean counterparts. That means that North Korea’s leadership may have a declining confidence in the ability of its military structure to keep the nation secure, writes Nautilus Institute East Asia expert Alexander Mansourov in a recent post on the North Korea analysis blog 38 North.
In the North Korean calculus, nuclear weapons may offer a way out of this box.
“The acquisition of nuclear weapons may have endowed the North Korean regime with a false sense that this new capability offers a solution to its deteriorating security predicament and a perception of invincibility,” writes Mr. Mansourov.
That may be the bottom line here: Even a rudimentary North Korean nuclear weapon capability could change the Pyongyang regime’s behavior and the response of the US and its allies. Though the DIA judges North Korean nuclear weapons “unreliable," does anyone really want to find out if they work?
Thus the US-South Korea-North Korea relationship may now be entering a new and even more difficult period.
North Korea “may provoke more often from behind safety of nuclear capabilities. Like seat belts,” tweeted East Asia proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., on Thursday night.
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