North Korea has developed nuclear weapons capable of being launched on its ballistic missile forces, according to a new report by a defense analyst.
The Obama administration is seeking to hide the fact that North Korea possesses nuclear missile warheads, according to a report by Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon strategic analyst and director for forces policy at the office of the secretary of defense. Schneider’s statement came in a report published April 28 in the journal Comparative Strategy.
According to the 16-page report, “The North Korean Nuclear Threat to the United States,” the Defense Intelligence Agency stated in an unclassified assessment made public a year ago that “DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North [Korean government] currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles.”
“This is disturbing news,” the report says. “The North Korean regime is one of the most fanatic, paranoid, and militaristic dictatorships on the planet. … While North Korea has long made occasional nuclear attack threats, the scope, magnitude, and frequency of these threats have vastly increased in 2013.”
North Korea has in the recent months issued provocative threats to carry out nuclear strikes on U.S. cities and against American allies.
According to the report, the Obama administration has sought to hide the alarming intelligence because it undermines efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Administration spokesmen sought to “walk back” the unwelcome intelligence of nuclear missile warheads with officials asserting that the nuclear strike capability is limited or untested.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a proponent of the leftist “global zero” anti-nuclear initiative, said the same day that the intelligence was made public that neither Iran nor North Korea is capable of attacking the United States with nuclear weapons.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, also disagreed with the DIA assessment.
However, the report states that despite the denials, “there is every reason to believe that the DIA estimate is accurate.”
Disclosure of the DIA intelligence coincides with the unusual resignations this week of DIA Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who abruptly announced Wednesday he is stepping down as the Pentagon’s top intelligence official. Flynn’s deputy, David Shedd, also resigned as a result of disputes within the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.
U.S. officials said Flynn disagreed with senior intelligence officials, including Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The specific reasons for the departure could not be learned.
DIA praised the two leaders in a statement for helping transform the agency.
The report on the North’s nuclear warheads stated that the assessment of a missile-delivered nuclear strike capability is not new.
Based on a declassified 2001 National Intelligence estimate, North Korea’s Taepodong-2 ICBM can deliver a payload of several hundred kilograms up to 6,200 miles, distance enough to hit Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the western Untied States.
“If the North uses a third stage similar to the one used on the Taepodong-1 in 1998 in a ballistic missile configuration, then the Taepodong-2 could deliver a several-hundred-kg payload up to 15,000 km—sufficient to strike all of North America,” the report said.
North Korea also has acquired Chinese-made transporter-erector launchers that are now deployed with a new road-mobile KN-08 ICBM.
Building small nuclear warheads that can be launched on missiles is not difficult based on vast improvements in computer power and high-explosive technology over the past five decades and because of the publicly available information on nuclear arms technology.
Additionally, Chinese small nuclear warhead design data was uncovered around 2003 after Libya gave up its nuclear program. The warhead designs were sold by the Pakistani nuclear supplier network headed by A.Q. Khan and the data is believed to have been sold to Iran and North Korea, in addition to Libya.
“The argument that there is no current nuclear missile threat to the U.S. from North Korea is based upon the dubious assertion that North Korean nuclear weapons are too heavy to be delivered by the North Korea ICBM that successfully orbited a satellite,” the report said. “This position is frequently taken by opponents of U.S. missile defense and nuclear deterrence both in the U.S. and abroad.”
North Korean defectors also have stated that Pyongyang has developed nuclear warheads capable of being launched on missiles.
North Korean propaganda in recent months has referred to new strategic nuclear capabilities for its missile forces. Recently, North Korean Gen. Kang Pyoyong told state-run media that the military had developed “miniaturized and reduced-weight warheads.”
The report said it is difficult to assess the number of warheads that may be in the North Korean nuclear arsenal, but an estimate of 10 devices could be low.
North Korea is estimated to have produced 30 kilograms to 50 kilograms of plutonium, enough for six to 10 weapons and could have enough for an additional 10 warheads.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the House Armed Services Committee April 2 that North Korea “remains a significant threat to United States’ interests.”
“North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” he said in prepared testimony.
“It is investing heavily in longer-range missiles with the potential to target the U.S. homeland,” Scaparrotti said. “North Korea shows little regard for the fact that the possession of, pursuit of, and threat to use nuclear weapons and their means of delivery are the primary barriers to its inclusion in the international community and productive economic integration.”
The North Korean nuclear missile threat is compounded by the current U.S. policy of reducing U.S. nuclear forces and reluctantly investing in needed modernization, the report said.
“The de-emphasis on nuclear deterrence in the Obama administration is blatant,” the report said, noting the lack of support for nuclear arms and infrastructure from both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who rarely mention nuclear weapons or deterrence.
As a further sign of U.S. weakness, the administration canceled the test launch of a Minuteman III ICBM during a recent period of North Korean military provocations.
“The Obama administration’s current position on the North Korean nuclear threat may very well be linked with its plans to radically reduce U.S. military capabilities in both the nuclear and the conventional arena in the near future, starting with sequestration,” the report said.
“From its first days in office the Obama administration downgraded the importance of nuclear deterrence and cut missile defense.”
“The Obama administration’s ‘nuclear zero’ ideology does not impress North Korea,” the report concludes. “Indeed, it may have precipitated the unprecedented nuclear attack threats from North Korea.”
Whether North Korea would initiate a nuclear attack on the United States is not known. However, in recent years the Pyongyang regime has carried out two major military attacks against South Korea and demonstrated a pattern of escalating threats that could result in a future miscalculation that could lead to a nuclear war, the report said.
Schneider, the author of the report, has held senior positions in the Pentagon, including principal director for forces policy; principal director for strategic defense, space and verification policy; director for strategic arms control policy; and representative of the secretary of defense to the Nuclear Arms Control Implementation Commissions.
He also has worked for the State Department Policy Planning Staff. He is currently with the National Institute for Public Policy.