Heads up: Pentagon report suggests North Korea might already have nuclear missiles

Via Eli Lake, who had a separate timely piece this morning quoting experts who think the world should be taking this latest NorK tantrum more seriously than it is. Fast-forward to this afternoon’s House Armed Services Committee hearing with Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey. Lake:

According to the [Defense Intelligence Agency] report, “DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low.” That line was read aloud by Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, on Thursday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Lamborn was questioning Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who seemed taken aback and declined to answer the question, saying, “I haven’t seen it and you said it’s not publicly released so I choose not to comment on it.”…

The DIA’s conclusion also has implications for how the U.S. assesses progress on Iran’s nuclear program. North Korea has shared advanced missile technology with Iran, according to a February 2010 diplomatic cable disclosed the same year by Wikileaks. North Korean engineers were also found at the Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel in 2007 known as al-Kibar, according to photos released by the U.S. government nearly a year after the strike.

If NK knows how to miniaturize nukes and stick them in missile warheads, Iran eventually will too. I’m not sure what that bit about “reliability” in the excerpt means, though. Does it mean their missiles are so rickety that they’d fail in the air, as as has happened before? Or does it mean they could hit something on the ground but probably not the specific target they’re aiming it? There’s not much comfort in the latter: Imagine Kim deciding he’s going to flex the ultimate muscle by nuking some uninhabited atoll and instead he hits Japan or Guam. Nuclear war, full stop. Michael Totten wonders, what if Kim’s serious this time?

Kim almost certainly isn’t serious, but what if he is? How would we know? His attention-seeking theatrics are identical to the behavior of a lunatic hell-bent on blowing the region apart. If war breaks out next month, everyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Korean Peninsula will slap their forehead and see, with the clarity of hindsight, that every warning we could possibly need, want, and expect was right there in front of us.

The North Korean military is nothing like Saddam Hussein’s or Moammar Qaddafi’s. Pyongyang has such an enormous array of artillery batteries targeting South Korea (the capital, Seoul, is only 30 or so miles away from the border) that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed over the weekend. North Korea would eventually lose at the hands of South Korea and the United States. It would be finished forever as a state. But the cost in lives would be unspeakable.

The regime is like a honeybee. It can sting only once, then it dies. But it’s like a honeybee the size of a grizzly bear.

Read this Time piece about the significance of April 15, Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, to North Korean saber-rattling. The Kims do tend to get a bit friskier in early April per Time’s chronology. Cross your fingers for an uneventful weekend, as unlikely as that now seems. Even Dick Cheney’s worried. Exit question: How on earth is it that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hasn’t yet seen the report Lamborn’s quoting here?

Update: A defense expert at British think tank tells the Times, “They now have a deliverable warhead,” albeit no missile — yet — that could reach American soil beyond bases in Japan. Does Iran have a deliverable warhead too?