Quantcast
Latest Stories

US stresses limits of NKorea’s nuclear firepower


US Secretary of State John Kerry. AP FILE PHOTO

WASHINGTON— On the brink of an expected North Korean missile test, U.S. officials focused on the limits of Pyongyang’s nuclear firepower Friday, trying to shift attention from the disclosure that the Koreans might be able to launch a nuclear strike. They insisted that while the unpredictable government might have rudimentary nuclear capabilities, it has not proven it has a weapon that could reach the United States.

A senior defense official said the U.S. sees a “strong likelihood” that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days in defiance of international calls for restraint. The effort is expected to test the North’s ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down, several officials said. As a precaution, the U.S. has arrayed in the Pacific a number of missile defense Navy ships, tracking radars and other elements of its worldwide network for shooting down hostile missiles.

The tensions playing out on the Korean peninsula are the latest in a long-running drama that dates to the 1950-53 Korean War, fed by the North’s conviction that Washington is intent on destroying the government in Pyongyang and Washington’s worry that the North could, out of desperation, reignite the war by invading the South.

The mood in the North Korean capital, meanwhile, was hardly so tense. Many people were in the streets preparing for the birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung — the biggest holiday of the year. Even so, this year’s big flower show in Kim’s honor features an exhibition of orchids built around mock-ups of red-tipped missiles, slogans hailing the military and reminders of perceived threats to the nation.

The plain fact is that no one can be sure how far North Korea has progressed in its pursuit of becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, aside perhaps from a few people close to its new leader, Kim Jong Un.

More is known about North Korea’s conventional military firepower, and it is being heavily monitored for signs of trouble. The North has long had thousands of artillery guns positioned close enough to the border to hit Seoul with a murderous barrage on short notice. The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in the South.

Concern about the North’s threatening rhetoric jumped a notch on Thursday with the disclosure on Capitol Hill that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency believes with “moderate confidence” that the North could deliver a nuclear weapon by ballistic missile. The DIA assessment did not mention the potential range of such a strike, but it led to a push by administration officials to minimize the significance of the jarring disclosure.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in Seoul on Friday “it’s inaccurate to suggest” that the North had fully tested and demonstrated its ability to deliver a nuclear weapon by ballistic missile, a message also delivered by the Pentagon and by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence and a former head of the DIA.

Indeed, the attention-getting DIA report made no such suggestion; it simply offered what amounts to an educated guess that the North has some level of nuclear weapons capability. It has been working on that for at least 20 years, and private analysts who closely track North Korean developments say it’s fairly clear that the North has made progress.

Within the government’s 16 intelligence agencies, analysts often disagree on even basic aspects of important issues. Deciphering the technical military advances in a reclusive society like North Korea is as much an art as a science, and the writers of intelligence reports are supposed to describe the degree of confidence in their sources in set terms.

The website of the director of national intelligence defines “high confidence” as indicating that “judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment.” Moderate confidence means “the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.” Low confidence means the information’s “credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated … or that we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.”

Kerry, who arrived in Beijing Saturday to seek Chinese help in persuading North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile testing, told reporters in Seoul that the North’s progress on nuclear weapons, as described in the DIA report, pushed the country “closer to a line that is more dangerous.” Kerry also was due to visit Japan.

“If Kim Jong Un decides to launch a missile, whether it’s across the Sea of Japan or some other direction, he will be choosing willfully to ignore the entire international community,” Kerry said. “And it will be a provocation and unwanted act that will raise people’s temperatures.”

The DIA report’s assessment, written in March, was in line with a statement it issued two years earlier.

In March 2011, the agency’s director, Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, told a Senate panel, “The North may now have several plutonium-based nuclear warheads that it can deliver by ballistic missiles and aircraft as well as by unconventional means.”

David Albright, a leading North Korea expert at the Institute for Science and International Security, wrote in February, after the North’s latest nuclear test, that he believes North Korea can mount a nuclear warhead on a shorter-range Rodong ballistic missile, whose estimated range of about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) puts it within range of Japan.

“Pyongyang still lacks the ability to deploy a warhead on an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile), although it shows progress at this effort,” Albright wrote.

Bruce Bennett, a Rand Corp. specialist on North Korea, said this week there is a “reasonable chance” that North Korea has short-range nuclear missile capability, but it is “very unlikely” that it has one that can reach the U.S.

While U.S. officials are watching for a missile test as early as this weekend, they are equally concerned about other actions the North Koreans might take to provoke a reaction either by the United States or South Korea.

Officials say that the U.S. has seen North Korea moving troops, trucks and other equipment arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone that separates the North and South. And they worry about the possibility Pyongyang could once again shell a South Korean island, torpedo a ship or perhaps fire artillery rounds at South Korean people or troops.

Limited attacks of that sort could be a greater threat because they would more likely result in injuries or deaths, and could more quickly trigger a military response from South Korea or the U.S. and its allies.


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: John Kerry , missile test , North korea , nuclear firepower , nuclear strike , South korea




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Opinions split on Napoles turning state witness
  3. Delfin Lee: Blame Pag-Ibig, not me
  4. Plunder complaint filed vs PNP chief, firearms office head over license delivery deal
  5. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  6. San Juan cops fail to arrest Cedric Lee
  7. More ‘Yolanda’ bodies found
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  10. Boy ‘sexually assaulted’ at Indonesia international school
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  3. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  4. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  7. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  8. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  9. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
Advertisement

News

  • PNP chief on plunder raps: ‘Amateurish’
  • Makati readies 12-month traffic plan for Skyway 3
  • Heard on Radyo Inquirer 990AM
  • Did you know
  • HK apology: Why Estrada and not Aquino?
  • Sports

  • Mixers trim Aces, force do-or-die tiff
  • Donaire junks Garcia as coach, taps father
  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • In love … with acting
  • From prison to the peak of success
  • ‘Asedillo’ location thrives
  • Business

  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • SMIC to issue P15-B bonds
  • Honda upgrades PH plant
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement