The bad news: If they get everything working perfectly, from the targeting to the launcher to the multi-stage long-range missile itself to the warhead mounted on top, they might be able to take out a city or two on the west coast before we bomb them back to — I was going to say “to the stone age,” but in their case let’s say “slightly closer to the stone age.”
The good news: You’re not so worried about Ebola anymore, are you?
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula, said North Korea now is capable of building a miniaturized nuclear warhead, a step needed to complete development of a nuclear-tipped missile…
Such nuclear warheads would be small enough to fit on a ballistic missile and would be a major improvement to Pyongyang’s weapons technology. Gen. Scaparrotti said he believed North Korea also had developed a launcher that could carry an ICBM with a miniaturized warhead…
Gen. Scaparrotti said North Korea may have gained know-how on warhead-miniaturization technology through its relationships with Iran and Pakistan.
There were reports about this last year but nothing so definitive as what’s coming from the Pentagon now. The assessment at the time from military intelligence was that they were moderately confident the NorKs could weaponize a nuke for missile delivery but that the “reliability” of that delivery would be low, i.e. that they’d have trouble hitting their target. We already knew that, though: When North Korea has tested its long-range missiles in the past, things have gone … badly. Obviously there’d be lots of testing required before all the bugs are worked out of the different technologies to be mastered here, and of course we’d detect those tests, giving us time to prepare some sort of prophylactic measure. (E.g., positioning jets in South Korea and Japan to blow up long-range North Korea missiles on the launchpad once they’re spotted being moved into position.) Then again, it seems silly to bank on North Korea behaving predictably when it comes to something as high stakes as a nuclear attack. If the regime started to come apart, why wouldn’t they go out with a bang by loading a few Taepodongs with nuclear warheads and firing them off, even if the targeting hadn’t been perfected yet? The better their technology gets, the closer we get to a protocol where we’ll have to blow up their missiles on the launchpad just to be on the safe side, even if we think they’re just test-launching them. Which means regional war.
If you’re looking for comfort here, take some from the fact that we’re building out our west-coast missile defense systems too. Every minute the NorKs spend perfecting their offensive capability is a minute we spend perfecting our defensive ones, and of course we’ll be more efficient with those minutes than they will. We may reach the point where our missile shield is sufficiently advanced that a NorK nuclear attack would be more analogous to suicide by cop than something that would seriously threaten an American city. And if you’re looking for really, really cold comfort, take it from the fact that a suicidal North Korea nuclear missile release might be aimed at South Korea and Japan rather than the U.S. If they’re going to pull the trigger on a decision that will end their civilization, logically they want some offensive bang for their buck. They’re more likely to get that by targeting their neighbors with short-range missiles, which are less likely to be intercepted because their in flight for less time and which might be allowed to launch by the U.S. and its allies on the assumption that it’s a test, than by targeting America with long-range ones.
Anyway, another bullet point here for the glorious Obama foreign-policy legacy. Exit question: Per the excerpt, what sort of “know-how” about weaponizing nukes for long-range missiles has North Korea gained from Iran? I’d be curious to know that before Obama signs a big peace-in-our-time nuclear agreement with the mullahs.