The ICAS Lectures


Missile Defense and the U.S. Response to the North Korean Ballistic Missile and WMD Threat

Frank A. Rose

ICAS Spring Symposium

May 19, 2015, 1:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318
Capitol Hill Washington DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Frank A. Rose

Missile Defense and the U.S. Response to the North Korean Ballistic Missile and WMD Threat


Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
Washington, DC

May 19, 2015

As prepared


Thank you so much for that warm introduction. It is a pleasure to speak at this ICAS Symposium today and to return to Capitol Hill where I began my career just across the street on the Senate side. Twenty years ago, I worked as a staffer for the then junior Senator from my home state of Massachusetts. Little did I know then I would have the privilege to rejoin Secretary Kerry as his Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

My work at the State Department is focused on enhancing strategic stability around the world. A key part of our Bureau’s portfolio is addressing emerging security challenges. North Korea’s cyber-attack on Sony last December is an example of one such type of emerging challenge that has highlighted the need to build global consensus against destructive attacks in cyberspace.

The AVC Bureau also plays a key role in strengthening regional missile defense architectures to confront ballistic missile threats. This afternoon, I’ll focus my remarks on a timely and important subject; North Korea’s evolving ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction program.

First, I will begin by outlining the threat posed by North Korea’s illicit ballistic missile program and nuclear weapons ambitions. Second, I will discuss what North Korea may seek to achieve through its provocative actions. Third, I will discuss the range of missile defense capabilities the United States and its regional allies have deployed to confront the threat from North Korea. Lastly, I will touch on a few of the ways the United States demonstrates its security assurances to allies and partners that live in the shadow of the North Korean threat.

The Threat from the DPRK’s Ballistic Missile and WMD Programs

Just ten days ago, according to U.S. government information, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile-related ejection test, which was related to the DPRK’s effort to develop a ballistic missile submarine. While this test is just one step in a long process, it nevertheless heightened tensions on the Peninsula and in the region. The test was also a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, including UNSCR 1718, that require North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

North Korea’s ballistic missile programs date back to the 1990s.

In 1998, the DPRK conducted a test launch of a long range ballistic missile that overflew Japan and irresponsibly dropped a rocket stage close to Japanese territory. The launch was not a success. However, the launch was a highly provocative act that spurred a concerted effort by the United States and our Allies to monitor, deter, and counter North Korean ballistic missile capabilities.

Since that time, North Korea has continued to make quantitative and qualitative advances in its ballistic missile program. For example, in 2012 North Korea placed a satellite in orbit with its Taepo-Dong space launch vehicle, which could be used as a ballistic missile. Furthermore, at a parade in Pyongyang in 2012, the regime unveiled what appeared to be a mobile ICBM (KN-08) with a range purportedly capable of reaching the United States. In addition to this ICBM, North Korea also has an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which has not been flight-tested, but that is potentially capable of holding Guam and the Aleutian Islands at risk.

As part of a series of provocations last year, North Korea conducted multiple short- and medium-range ballistic missile launches and threatened to conduct additional longer-range launches. Today, North Korea fields hundreds of Scud and No Dong missiles that can reach all of the Korean Peninsula and threaten U.S. forces deployed in the region.

Running in parallel with an ever evolving ballistic missile program, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program remains a priority for the ruling regime. The United States and its Five Party partners – the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, and Russia – remain committed to North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. We remain open to dialogue with the DPRK, with the aim of returning to credible and authentic negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but North Korea has thus far been defiant. One of North Korea’s more inflammatory actions was its third nuclear test conducted February 2013, timed with the birthday of the late Kim Jong-il.

North Korea’s Ballistic Missile and WMD Programs

So why is North Korea so keen on continuing its current course of behaviore even in the face of enormous international costs?

By developing ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction capabilities, North Korea intends to intimidate its neighbors and prevent the United States from meeting its regional security commitments. The DPRK does this despite receiving a number of security assurances over the years, and being the outlier in a region otherwise marked by peace and prosperity.

One of the most glaring miscalculations of the North Korean regime is believing that its military capabilities will garner it respect in the international community. As North Korea spends staggering amounts of its GDP on military hardware to threaten its neighbors, it finds itself increasingly isolated and with its citizens deprived of basic needs.

Through North Korea’s provocative missile and nuclear tests and through its official public statements, it has made clear its intentions to threaten the United States with long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. As the North Korean ballistic missile threat to U.S. and allied interests grows, so too must our response.

The BMD Response to the Threat from North Korea

The U.S. approach to defending against the possible ballistic missile threats from North Korea is two pronged. First, the United States is improving its capability to protect the U.S. homeland from an intercontinental ballistic missile launched from North Korea. Second, the United States works with regional allies to defend their territories from North Korean aggression, and in the case of our alliances with Seoul and Tokyo, to develop alliance solutions to these threats. Simply put, as long as North Korea continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with our allies and partners to defend against this threat. This is a measured, limited, and prudent response.

With respect to the defense of the United States homeland, we are working toward greater missile defense capability and capacity with our commitment to increase our homeland defenses to 44 Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) by the end of 2017. Additionally, we are also working to field a new kill vehicle for our Ground Based Interceptors and are continuing the development of a Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) with persistent sensor coverage that will improve our ability to discern between decoys and real incoming missiles fired against the U.S. homeland. Our regional missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific help to reassure our allies and to deter North Korea from seeking to coerce or attack its neighbors

. We have encouraged our allies to contribute to their own defense by providing capabilities that can enhance their own security and add to stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The Korean Integrated Air and Missile Defense capability is a means to do just that and we continue to support South Korea in its development.

There has been a lot of discussion in the press recently about the possible deployment of a Terminal High Attitude Area Defense or THAAD system in the region. I will underscore although we are considering the permanent stationing of a THAAD unit on the Peninsula, we have not made a final decision, and we have had no formal consultations with the Republic of Korea on THAAD deployment. To be clear, THAAD is a purely defensive system that would improve our ability to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea. It does not and cannot impact broader strategic stability with Russia and China.

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to visit the Korean demilitarized zone. Seeing UN and North Korean military personnel just yards apart highlighted the immediate stake South Korea has in preventing missile strikes fired from the North. We have worked closely with South Korea to ensure that our Alliance has the capacity to do just that. The United States deploys Patriot PAC-3 batteries in South Korea to defend U.S. and South Korean forces. In addition, South Korea is taking steps to enhance its own air and missile defense systems, which include sea-and land-based sensors, and upgrading its Patriot PAC-2 batteries to the PAC-3 system. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense continues to consult with South Korea about how it can improve its missile defense capabilities as part of an Alliance response to the growing North Korean missile threat.

North Korea’s missile development does not just threaten South Korea, it also explicitly threatens Japan and the U.S. ability to deploy forces into the region in the event of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. A number of North Korea’s provocative missile tests have overflown the Sea of Japan, creating understandable cause for alarm. In response to this growing threat, the United States and Japan continue to deepen their cooperation on BMD in several ways. Just last December, the United States and Japan announced the deployment of the second AN/TPY-2 radar to Japan. This radar, along with the first AN/TPY-2 already deployed in Japan, provides a critical addition to our regional deterrence and defense architecture, and builds on a deep and broad cooperation between the United States and Japan. This cooperation also includes joint development of an advanced interceptor and continuing work on enhancing interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces.

Finally, we welcomed the inclusion of missile defense in the updated guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation. This reflects the valuable contribution of BMD to our collective self-defense and an acknowledgement of North Korea’s destabilizing role in the region.

Extended Deterrence

As we speak here today, states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are gathered in New York for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. One of the cornerstone bargains of the Treaty is that non-nuclear weapon states vow to forgo nuclear ambitions and nuclear weapon states move towards disarmament.

In the forty-five years since the NPT entered into force, the United States has done just that. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has been slashed by approximately 85% and the role it plays in national security strategy reduced. However, it is clear that not all states that possess nuclear weapons are moving in the preferred direction of reducing their inventories and the role those weapons play in their national security strategies; indeed, one such state is North Korea. A North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and a means to deliver them constitutes a serious threat to international peace and undermines the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the broader Northeast Asia region.

I echo the words of the President in saying that our commitment to the security of allies who live in the shadow of the North Korean threat will not waiver. The United States remains fully prepared and capable of defending itself, our allies, and the peace and security of the region with the full range of capabilities available, including our conventional and nuclear forces.

An important component of this effort is the work we do with Japan through the Extended Deterrence Dialogue and with South Korea through the Deterrence Strategy Committee. In his visit to Seoul yesterday, Secretary Kerry affirmed that "The U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance has literally never been stronger…we are united firmly in our determination to stand up against any threats from the DPRK." Having led bilateral consultations with our Japanese and South Korean partners, I can attest to the value of dialogue in strengthening our already strong bilateral alliances.


To conclude, the diplomatic pressure on North Korea continues to intensify. In January, President Obama signed an Executive Order that authorizes new sanctions. Last September, the IAEA General Conference unanimously condemned North Korea’s nuclear program, which China has exhibited unprecedented firmness in opposing.

Even as the international community grows more united, the United States and its allies cannot and will not stand idle in the face of threats and destabilizing actions by North Korea. Simply put, North Korea cannot obtain the security, prosperity, or respect it wants without negotiating an end to its provocative nuclear and missile programs.

Our goal remains to bring North Korea into compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions and its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six Party Talks. We continue to call on North Korea to take credible steps to demonstrate its genuine commitment to denuclearization. Until the day North Korea embraces that opportunity, the United States will work to build homeland and regional missile defenses to deter and to respond to North Korean aggression.

Thanks again for inviting me to speak today and now I look forward to your questions.

This page last updated May 21, 2015 jdb