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North Korea is fully fledged nuclear power, experts agree

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April 24, 2009

North Korea is fully fledged nuclear power, experts agree

A firing drill inNorth Korea


Intelligence experts believe that North Korea has reduced nuclear warheads to a size that could be added to medium-range missiles. Some have mobile launchers and are difficult to detect

Blog: Kim Jong Il’s poignant evil

The world’s intelligence agencies and defence experts are quietly acknowledging that North Korea has become a fully fledged nuclear power with the capacity to wipe out entire cities in Japan and South Korea.

The new reality has emerged in off-hand remarks and in single sentences buried in lengthy reports. Increasing numbers of authoritative experts — from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the US Defence Secretary — are admitting that North Korea has miniaturised nuclear warheads to the extent that they can be launched on medium-range missiles, according to intelligence briefings.

This puts it ahead of Iran in the race for nuclear attack capability and seriously alters the balance of power between North Korea’s large but poorly equipped military and the South Korean and US forces ranged against it. “North Korea has nuclear weapons, which is a matter of fact,” the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said this week. “I don’t like to accept any country as a nuclear weapon state \ we have to face reality.”

North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test in 2006 but until recently foreign governments believed that such nuclear devices were useless as weapons because they were too unwieldy to be mounted on a missile.

With 13,000 artillery pieces buried close to the border between the two Koreas, and chemical and biological warheads, it was always understood that the North could inflict significant conventional damage on Seoul, the South Korean capital. Military planners had calculated, however, that it could not strike outside the peninsula.

Now North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, has the potential to kill millions in Japan as well as the South, and to lay waste US bases and airfields in both countries. It will force military strategists to rethink plans for war in Korea and significantly increase the potential costs of any intervention in a future Korean war. The shift from acknowledging North Korea’s nuclear weapons development programme to recognising it as a fully fledged nuclear power is highly controversial. South Korea, in particular, resists the reclassification because it could give the North greater leverage in negotiations.

The successful work enabling the nuclear devices to be mounted on weapons happened towards the end of last year, according to Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group think-tank. He says that he has been shown detailed intelligence assessments of the new nuclear capability by a foreign government. Last December, the US Forces Joint Command published an annual report which, for the first time, listed North Korea, alongside China, India, Pakistan and Russia, as one of Asia’s nuclear powers.

The US Government insisted that this did not reflect its official policy — but then James Schlesinger, a former US Defence Secretary, delivered a report by a Pentagon task force saying the same thing. “North Korea, India and Pakistan have acquired both nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems,” he said. In January Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, published an article in Foreign Affairs in which he referred to the “arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India, and on to China, North Korea, and Russia in the east”.

According to Dr Pinkston, the long-range Taepodong-2 rocket that North Korea fired this month is an unsuitable vehicle for a nuclear bomb because it takes weeks to assemble, fuel and arm, giving ample time for it to be destroyed on the launch pad.

The danger lies with shorter-range weapons, some of which are difficult to detect. They include variants of the Scud, which could strike South Korea, and the Nodong, which could reach much of Japan. Pyongyang also has a short range weapon called the Toksa, which is highly accurate up to 75 miles. The Musudan, which can be transported by road, could reach US bases on the Pacific island of Guam.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

April 24, 2009 at 1:53 am

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