Nuclear-armed North Korea already has hundreds of ballistic missiles that can target its neighbours in northeast Asia. The only thing the rogue state needs is foreign technology to upgrade its arsenal to pose a direct threat to the US, researchers say.
Those are the latest findings of a research program investigating what secretive North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability will be by 2020. Unlike Iran, the current focus of international nuclear diplomacy, North Korea has conducted atomic test explosions. Its bloodcurdling rhetoric and periodic missile tests have set the region on edge and there’s no sign of negotiations restarting to coax it into disarming.
For now, the emphasis in the US is on sanctions and military preparedness. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Japan and South Korea this week amid speculation the US wants to place a missile defence system in South Korea against North Korean ballistic missiles, which Seoul is reluctant about as it would alienate China. The US has already deployed antimissile radar in Japan.
US military officials have expressed growing concern about North Korea’s capabilities. Navy Admiral William Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the US thinks North Korea has the ability to miniaturise a warhead to put on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
US officials are most concerned about a long-range missile called the KN-08 that has been displayed in military parades. It is said to be capable of being launched from a road-mobile vehicle and would therefore be difficult to monitor via satellite.
But the research published Tuesday by the North Korean Futures Project stresses that for now the principal threat from North Korean missiles is to its neighbours in Asia. The project is conducted by the US-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction.