The North Korean Nuclear Missile Threat:
Failing to Connect the Dots.
The Chinese government encourages North Korean missile and nuclear developments because
they think it gives them leverage over the US. They seek to eliminate the US military presence in
the Pacific. North Korea seeks to end US presence on the Korean peninsula as well. Looked at
this way, these goals are complimentary, not antagonistic.
True, the strategy could backfire if it leads to either the ROK or Japan developing their own
nuclear deterrent. It could also strengthen American and allied military capability though the
deployment of better and more advanced missile defenses.
Yes the Chinese say they are anti-nuclear, want to rid the world of nuclear weapons and are
opposed to nuclear proliferation. One PLA General told Danny Stillman, a top official at Los
Alamos nuclear lab "China will never proliferate nuclear technology".
As Tom Reed, co-author with Danny Stillman of "The Nuclear Express", writes, "That is utter
bunk. In 1982 the Chinese leadership made the conscious decision to support the proliferation of
nuclear weapons technology into the Third World". Two details will suffice from "The Nuclear
Since 1991, China has shipped uranium to Iran, helped with mining at Saghad, instructed Iran on
the construction of the conversion facility at Eshfahan and of the EMIS enrichment facility at
Karaj, as well as the transfer of missile technology.
China uses North Korea as a re-transfer point for the sale of missile and nuclear technology to
Iran, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, overseeing the North Korean-Pakistani trade of missiles for
nuclear equipment while working closely with North Korean military officers.
Now China artfully camouflages its proliferant activity, innocently claiming it has no influence
over the behavior of the North Korean regime, despite supplying North Korea a large percent of
its fuel and food.
Peking always urges the US and its allies to engage in "peaceful diplomacy", avoid any
deployment of greater military power, and resolve all issues through "negotiations".
Accepting Chinese appeasement of North Korean rogue behavior has tied the hands of the US
administration. We fail to confront China for its own proliferation activities as well as
consistently avoid "antagonizing" the Chinese by strengthening our own and the ROK defenses
on the peninsula. In short, we end up apologizing for defending ourselves.
This suits China just fine. While the conventional wisdom believes China has an interest in
controlling North Korea's growing military capability. That is not true.
Far from seeking "stability in the region" China encourages North Korea's belligerence as a
lever to remove US military power from the region, including our missile defenses, Navy and
Already CATO's Doug Bandow-on the far right-- is again calling for the United States to leave
the Korean peninsula as is Larry Korb of the Center for American Progress on the far left.
There is thus a strong geostrategic connection between North Korea testing nuclear weapons and
long range ballistic missiles and China's growing push to control the vast oil and gas resources in
the South China Sea.
For China to exercise hegemony over the area, they want US military capabilities in the region
reduced and eventually withdrawn. North Korean missile and nuclear threats are assumed to
hasten that day.
After the December 2012 and February 2013 missile and nuclear tests by North Korea, for
example, and the growing threats from Pyongyang to attack Japan, the Republic of Korea and the
United States, the US State Department turned to Peking to keep things under control.
In a meeting with the US Secretary of State, the Chinese leadership right on cue complained that
US military deployments in the region were "unduly provocative".
They further claimed they might not be able to fully rein in North Korea's behavior, explaining
they did not have that much influence over the regime in Pyongyang.
In the clincher, they told the Secretary that the US should pull back its missile defense
deployments and lessen its troop deployments in the Western Pacific.
As detailed in "Regional Disorder: The South China Sea Disputes", Sarah Raine and Christian
Le Miere in the Wall Street Journal
explained the PRC had it exactly backward:
"China is almost singlehandedly driving the growing conflict with Brunei, Vietnam, the
Philippines, and Indonesia over the energy and mineral resources of this huge area. China now
claims all the islands and 80% of the water area."
North Korea's provocative behavior would appear to work against this goal.
After all, following the nuclear and missile tests, the United States did fly B-52 nuclear capable
bombers from Minot USAF base in North Korea thousands of miles to the Korean peninsula. We
forward deployed some missile defense and radar systems to Guam. We signaled our solidarity
with our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea.
But all is not as it seems on the surface. Very soon after these actions, the US was described by
China as being unduly provocative. American analysts and their media followers then parroted
the Chinese complaints and urged more restraint-on our part!
The US decided against testing an already scheduled Minuteman III ICBM test launch. Our own
assertive rhetoric such as it was dialed back.
Our leadership agreed in principle to a new round of six-party talks, and opened the door to
humanitarian assistance to the North.
The peace talks are a distraction, of course. While urging "negotiations", China has made very
assertive claims over the oil resources of the South China Sea, some 1200 miles beyond its
southernmost area the island of Hainan.
If North Korea threatens the US with nuclear armed missile, the logical US policy would be to
"Peace talks" with North Korea would seem to be beside the point.
Thus it is to avoid taking action, we end up underestimating and downplaying North Korea's
capability to launch a nuclear armed missile. After all the reasoning goes, we can't really have
"peace talks" if the North Koreans keep developing better and better weapons.
Naturally, the top question is what Pyongyang will now do with this capability. As the tensions
on the Korean peninsula escalated in 2013, conventional wisdom was the bluster from the North
Korean leadership was just that-sound and fury signifying very little of a practical threat to the
At the time, media surveys of opinion in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, emphasized
the relative calm among its people.
While the US government and its allies are now taking the North Korean threats more seriously,
particularly given the recent nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang, there is much still missing
in the analysis of the import of Pyongyang's military capabilities.
The regime in North Korea never just does one thing. The parade of rockets and missiles, the
harsh and ominous sounding rhetoric, the nuclear weapons tests, the launch of missiles, the
closing of the economic development zone around Kaesong and other actions all have multiple
North Korea wants us off of the peninsula and China wants us out of the western Pacific.
What better way to achieve those goals then to portray the United States as the "bad guy?"
After the late 2012 and early 2013 missile and nuclear tests, true to form, Walter Pincus of the
Washington Post blamed a bellicose United States for the North Korean actions. Pincus claimed
the US deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the ROK after the Korean War led Pyongyang
to respond by building its own nuclear capability some 40 years later!
Conveniently forgotten by Pincus was the withdrawal of those same forces from ROK by the
Bush administration in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent
North Korean development of nuclear weapons.
Similarly, the Carnegie Endowment published "Do Unto Them", a study on nuclear weapons
proliferation. North Korea and Iran seek nuclear weapons because the US threatens them, says
Carnegie. After all, the United States has "talked about regime change", and we have not pledged
never to use nuclear weapons "first".
This tendency to "always blame America" stems from an understandable hope that with just a
change in US policy the regime actions of Iran and North Korea will change accordingly.
Pyongyang plays on this theme incessantly, always claiming its missiles, nuclear weapons, or
other military action is the result of and response to a "US hostile policy".
And because such "hostile policy" is in the eye of the beholder, North Korea gets to define what
it is, and thus whatever they find objectionable is immediately cited by American disarmament
enthusiasts as proof positive that it is largely US policy that drives the North Korean missile and
This is complimented by a parallel analysis that explains away threatening North Korean military
capabilities as not really being "too serious", usually defined as not requiring more US defense
deployments or a change in current "conventional wisdom".
This has been going on for decades with our other adversaries. In the early 1980's, for example,
Secretary of Defense Weinberger annually published "Soviet Military Power" a compilation of
Moscow's military capabilities.
The New York Times
described the 1987 assessment on April 20, 1987 as a "cartoon",
although conceding later that the document makes a "powerful case for balancing Soviet military
Since the 1998 North Korean test launch of its Tae Po Dong rockets, many analysts have
complained Pyongyang's military capability is relatively weak and not a threat to the US.
The assumption has been the North would undertake an extensive test regime prior to any
deployments and thus the US would see by satellite all such efforts and thus provide plenty of
warning time to defend ourselves.
The 1998 Rumsfeld Commission report on ballistic missile threats to the US grew out of the CIA
cooking the books in 1995, denying in a letter to Congress that Pyongyang would pose any threat
"to the United States" for at least 15 years, arguing that missile defense deployments then being
debated in the US Congress need not go forward.
Left out of the analysis was whether "United States" included Hawaii or Alaska-the
intelligence report conveniently did not include them in the threat analysis. The Commission
concluded that international cooperation between states-such as China, Iran and North Korea-
could significantly advance the capability of any regime to develop ballistic missiles beyond a
solely self-contained effort.
But the effort to downplay Pyongyang's military capabilities continued, as it does today. Instead
of examining the strategic objectives of the regime, which could in all likelihood include
delivering a surreptitious EMP attack against the United States, many pundits continue to claim
they do not have a "sufficient", or "fully" tested, or "demonstrated" capability.
Over the past 15 years, critics argued North Korea could not build "staged" rockets, (they can),
solid fueled capable missiles, (they can),or have a satellite launch capability (they do).
One prominent critic complained in a May 2010 East-West Institute report that Iran, for example,
had no demonstrated capability to launch staged rockets or missiles with solid fuel. These two
technologies are very important.
A "Scud missile", the mainstay of many rogue nations for many years, does not separate the
warhead from the missile, and thus carrying that volume through space gets you not much further
in range than 2000 kilometers.
And solid fuel allows you to keep a missile capable of being launched 24/7, giving the
"receiving" country little warning of an imminent launch. A liquid fueled rocket requires fuel to
be brought to the launch site over a period of time, adequate for our satellites to then detect a
In fact, the East-West Institute report turned out to be both in error on the facts known at the time
and very poor prognosticators. Literally just days after the report was issued, Iran launched a
rocket that successfully demonstrated a staging capability, on top of its solid fueled capability
demonstrated some months prior to the East West Institute claim.
The reaction to the most recent nuclear tests and missile launches has followed the same pattern.
We are told the rockets would not be able to reach the continental United States, (relax
everyone), but yes they could reach Hawaii, or Guam and certainly the Republic of Korea and
But then the reports dismissed even those threats, arguing well, yes the rockets could reach such
targets but they were not very accurate. An EMP explosion need only take place somewhere in
the atmosphere over the eastern United States-between Boston and Atlanta, and the eastern
seaboard and Memphis. Accuracy should not be our worry!
On top of which, many analysts concluded the North Koreans had not mastered the technology to
make a nuclear device, (what former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf described as "bigger
than a sofa"), small enough to be lifted into space by one of its rockets.
In 2012, Dr. Hecker of Stanford University, who had visited North Korea frequently to examine
its nuclear capability, was extensively and favorably quoted that the regime in Pyongyang posed
no threat to the United States and probably not even South Korea.
This accepted wisdom was blown out of the water in 2013 with the disclosure by Congressman
Doug Lamborn of Colorado, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and founding
member of the Congressional Missile Defense and EMP Caucus, that a yet unpublished
unclassified DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, report concluded North Korea had in fact
mastered the technology of smaller nuclear weapons and could launch such a device on its
This then was followed by a series of "walk backs" by various analysts, as the United States
public was reassured that the DIA report was a "minority view" within the intelligence
community, that such a capability had neither been "demonstrated" or "fully tested".
The underestimation continues today.
For example, in the aftermath of North Korea's latest nuclear test on January 6, 2016, television
and press reporters were quick to reassure the American people that North Korea has not
miniaturized a nuclear warhead for delivery by missile. Yet this commonplace assertion that
North Korea does not have nuclear armed missiles is untrue. Let us look at the record:
Eight years ago, in 2008, the CIA's top East Asia analyst publicly stated that North Korea had
successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads for delivery on its Nodong medium-range missile
indicating the Nodong is capable of striking South Korea and Japan, or the United States if
launched off a freighter.
We now know North Korea can both attach a nuclear warhead to at least some of its growing
arsenal of ballistic missiles and reach Hawaii, Alaska, and our allies in East Asia and at least
since 2012 the western portion of the continental United States under certain highly probable
In 2009, European intelligence agencies at NATO headquarters told the press that North Korea's
Nodong missiles are armed with nuclear warheads.
In 2011, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Ronald Burgess, testified
before the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea has weaponized its nuclear
device into warheads for arming ballistic missiles.
In February and March 2015, former senior national security officials of the Reagan and Clinton
administrations warned that North Korea and Iran should be regarded as capable of delivering by
satellite a small nuclear warhead to make an EMP attack against the United States.
Articles that should have made media headlines--by Dr. William Graham (President Reagan's
Science Advisor, Administrator of NASA, and Chairman of the Congressional EMP
Commission), Ambassador R. James Woolsey (President Clinton's Director of Central
Intelligence), Ambassador Henry Cooper (former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative),
and Fritz Ermarth (former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council), have gone largely
unheeded, ignored by the dominant media.
On April 7, 2015, at a Pentagon press conference, Admiral William Gortney, Commander of
North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) responsible for protecting the U.S. from long-
range missiles, warned that the intelligence community assesses North Korea's KN-08 mobile
ICBM can strike the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.
And on October 8, 2015, the Commander of NORAD warned the Atlantic Council: "I agree with
the intelligence community that we assess that they [the North Koreans] have the ability, they
have the weapons, and they have the ability to miniaturize those weapons, and they have the
ability to put them on a rocket that can range the [U.S.] homeland."
Now, on January 6, 2016, North Korea announced they conducted a nuclear test of an H-Bomb.
And then on February 7, 2016, they launched a mock satellite. Again, most media outlets and
their "instant experts" rushed forward to deny that North Korea has an H-Bomb or that their
missiles could reach America.
For example, much of the reaction from "experts" to the North Korean test was along the lines of
what one BBC report explained, quoting one Andrea Berger from the Royal United Services
Institute in London, who assured us that North Korea "wants a peace treaty with the USA" and
"seems to believe that it will not be taken seriously until it can enter talks on this issue with
sizeable military strength."
The New York Times
echoed other analyses claiming "Although North Korea can learn much
about the technology to build ballistic missiles from satellite launches, putting a satellite into
orbit does not guarantee an ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic
The Times further diminished the North Korean threat commenting "North Korea has never
tested a ballistic-missile version of its Unha-series rockets. [And] after four nuclear tests by the
North, Western analysts were still unsure whether the country had mastered the technology to
build a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile" or "survive the intense heat
while re-entering the atmosphere, as well as a guidance system capable of delivering a warhead
close to a target."
THE NORTH KOREAN H-BOMB
Fast forward to January 2016.
On January 6th, North Korea tests what they claim to be a hydrogen bomb. Instant analysis by
media chosen experts dismiss the claim, explaining that the evidence indicates the bomb was no
more than 10 kilotons in strength and thus not anywhere near a bomb as advanced as an H-
Henry Sokolski of the National Proliferation Education Center, (NPEC), and Dr. Peter Vincent
Pry, the Executive Director of the Congressional EMP Task Force, a former top staffer on the
House Armed Services Committee, a former CIA analyst, and the co-author of this essay, both
said "Not so fast".
First, our intelligence on North Korea is not perfect. Second, the test could very well have been
what is known as a "boosted fission weapon" (which such experts as former Secretary of the Air
Force and Reagan's National Security Adviser Tom Reed believes it was), rather than a primitive
Remember the US and other intelligence services have not detected uranium or plutonium (A-
Bomb fuels) in any of the North Korea tests, but have detected tritium (H-Bomb fuel) in at least
one. A boosted weapon could explain this anomaly.
One Rand analyst also thinks the test might have been of a boosted fission weapons and uses a
different seismic model that gives a test yield of 50 kilotons and not the 6-10 kilotons (KT)
reported by South Korea and widely used by press reporting on the issue.
What Henry Sokolski notes is that North Korea may be getting help from Russia or China, a
possibility the former CIA report of 1995 (about which we began this essay) completely
neglected to take into account. If true, it changes the framework of how we in the United States
have traditionally approached and dealt with proliferation of nuclear weapons and particularly
the possible sophistication of nuclear threats from aspirant states.
If North Korea and Iran are getting help from Russia or China, which retired US North Com
Commander General (Retired) Charles Jacoby agrees they are, and do not have to rely only on
their indigenous capabilities, their nuclear and missile programs at any time could be much more
advanced than is commonly thought as well as the possibility such advanced technology could be
sold to other rogue regimes such as Iran.
North Korea could, in fact, have the H-Bomb. Everyone assumes that the North Korean test was
not an H-Bomb because the seismic signal indicates that the yield was too low for an H-Bomb.
But North Korea could very well have conducted a "decoupled" nuclear test. In a decoupled test,
the nuclear explosion is in a large cavern filled with shock-absorbing materials to reduce the
seismic signal and conceal the true yield of the test. North Korea would not need help from
Russia or China to do a de-coupled test which is both easy and well within North Korea's
A decoupled test could reduce the seismic signal by more than 10-fold. Thus, a test that looks
like 10 KT in the seismic signal could have been a yield of 100 KT or a 50 KT seismic signal
could really have been a 500 KT test. Such high yields are in H-Bomb territory.
Alternatively, North Korea could be testing only the primary or first stage of a much more
powerful two-stage H-Bomb, albeit the second stage being a technical challenge.
In the last decades of the Cold War this is what the US did to comply with the Threshold Test
Ban Treaty (TTBT). We rarely tested our H-Bombs to full yield both to comply with the TTBT
and because if anything went wrong with a warhead the problem would most likely be in the
primary or first stage.
After the July 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) between the USA and the USSR, the
U.S. never tested a nuclear weapon over 150 KT--indeed most tests were far under that level and
many were under 10 KT. And we have not tested to any yield in the past twenty years because
component testing suffices even for our most powerful nuclear weapons.
Can we get away with this because our science is so much better than other nation's?
Interestingly, Russia, China, Britain, and France are not testing their H-Bombs either. Israel
developed the H-Bomb without testing. South Africa was enroute to doing so, without testing,
when they dismantled their arsenal under pressure from the Reagan administration.
Pakistan and India claim to have tested H-Bombs, but many of the "instant experts" dismissing
the North Korean threat also insist Pakistan and India are not being truthful because the test
yields were like North Korea's recent test, supposedly "too low".
Too many "experts" cannot believe that North Korea and Pakistan could duplicate what the
super-powers have done and re-invent the H-Bomb. None appear to remember that critical
design information for thermonuclear weapons was leaked by the magazine-- The Progressive
- when it published the article "The H-bomb Secret".
The Carter administration objected but failed to stop publication, losing their case in the US
Supreme Court. The EMP Commission and we believe that North Korea could very well have
tested a Super-EMP weapon. It better explains all the data.
Super-EMP Nuclear Warhead
A Super-EMP weapon is designed to produce gamma rays, not a big explosive yield, so it is
consistent with all the North Korean tests, including very low yield tests, such as the first 3 KT
test and two other suspected North Korean tests that were sub-kiloton yet also evidenced traces
Because a Super-EMP weapon is low-yield, not designed for blast effects, it can be easily
tamped when tested, which could account for our inability to detect any plutonium or uranium
from the North Korean tests.
One design of a Super-EMP weapon, of Russian origin, is virtually a pure fusion weapon, so
there would be no or very little plutonium or uranium to detect after an explosive test. Since a
Super-EMP weapon is, essentially, a very low-yield H-Bomb, it would be consistent with North
Looked at holistically, we also have to remember that North Korea's one successful satellite
launch, of the KSM-3, looks like the initial testing of a FOBS or Fractional Orbital
Bombardment System, which was a Soviet era ICBM program that after launch would go into
low earth orbit.
This allowed the Soviets to conceal the target it was seeking because its flight path masked that
information. And it would have allowed the Soviets to attack the United States from over the
South Pole, the opposite direction from which our early warning radars under the North
American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) are oriented.
This is precisely the direction from which you would launch a surprise nuclear EMP attack,
which would only be practicable if the North Koreans had a warhead small enough for delivery
by satellite, as a Super-EMP warhead would be.
North Korea has also flown a Nodong medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) over Japan at an
altitude consistent with making an EMP attack.
Russian experts, one Chinese military commentator, and South Korean military intelligence all
claim that North Korea has Super-EMP warheads. If we follow the rules for "all sources
analysis" this data should not be ignored. FN36
Nearly twenty years ago, the North Korea Advisory Group of the US Congress reported in
November 1999 that they were convinced that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons,
despite the 1994 Agreed Framework deal with the United States under which North Korea
promised to not build such weapons. At the time the administration claimed no such work was
being done by the North Koreans.
Yet we now know the Advisory Group was right, and the Clinton Administration was wrong.
Whether it is ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons, North Korea is a deadly serious threat.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned us that it was a terrible mistake to hold
talks with North Korea in Beijing in 1994 in an effort to persuade North Korea to stop missile
exports to the Middle East.
Rabin said that instead of trying to solve the problem, "North Korea tried to fool Israel. North
Korea demanded $1 billion to stop the sales" while receiving at the same time hundreds of
millions of dollars from Iran to produce missiles with longer ranges, threatening not only
America's Middle East allies but allies elsewhere once the North Koreans received help from the
In the face of the latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests, and in the face of Iran's tests of
nuclear-capable missiles in violation of UN resolutions, and since North Korea and Iran are
strategic partners who cooperate on missile and probably nuclear technology, and since both
probably receive help from Russia and China--it is time to stop wishful thinking that everything
is fine, that diplomacy will work, and face reality.
The reality that the major media must face and start reporting is that North Korea has nuclear
armed missiles that threaten the United States--right now. Defending the homeland, including the
critical electrical grid is now imperative.
Here are ten action items we should consider:
- Build effective missile defenses with ROK and all East Asian pacific allies including Aegis
SM3, THAAD, Patriots as well as national missile defenses ---- Congress add funding to the
NDAA; ROK, Japan and allies in Pacific follow suit; candidates for office asked to make pledge
to defend US and Pacific allies
- Expand the Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict technology transfers to the DPRK-
requires making a formal arrangement with some of the 100+ members of the PSI to work
toward specific goals and metrics stop NK trade in WMD/missile technology
- Stop all trade between the DPRK and ROK and Japan and declare the DPRK a terror
sponsoring country; this can be implemented through sanctions on any ROK/Japan entities that
do business directly or indirectly with NK. In fact, our sanctions against Burma exceed those on
- Prohibit the use of the American banking system by any country business or any entity doing
business with the DPRK and any DPRK entity much as we did re Banco Delta in 2005 plus
designate the DPRK as a counterfeit and money laundering center...This could be initiated by US
sanctions legislation or contained in the NDAA or the Homeland Security funding
legislation.....office in US Treasury Department should be established solely to undertake such
- Enhance US, ROK and Japan deterrent military forces in the region by adopting complete 5-
10 year modernization program. Match US FYDP modernization plan adopted by Congress with
proposals for our Pacific allies with specific recommendations of how to fund partnership
military activities similar to Japan-US missile defense cooperation; put acquisition on fast track;
put $15 billion Pacific pivot fund together for defense priorities....
- Roll up and shut down network of DPRK "diplomats" that sell drugs, and seek to steal military
- Stop USA airline service of any kind to the DPRK by denying any air carrier that flies into the
DPRK the right to operate anywhere on American soil...can be done through Congressional
initiative....or executive order by POTUS....
- Lay out how the use of American and allied military power can hold at risk and where
necessary destroy all key DPRK nuclear facilities
- Prohibit DPRK any visas re aircraft to land on ASEAN or USA soil/territory...similar to 7 but
prevent DPRK diplomats from engaging in drug, contraband and technology smuggling.
- Blockade all non-humanitarian maritime trade with the DPRK unless and until the DPRK
verifiably and permanently ceases its nuclear and missile programs and proliferation activities.
Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, Senior Defense Consultant to the Mitchell
Institute of the Air Force Association, and teaches nuclear deterrent policy at the US Naval
A Pattern of Underestimation
In 1994, the Contract with America called for the deployment of a national missile defense. With
the November election, control over the House and Senate switched to the Republican Party for
the first time in nearly half a century.
Many in the arms control community utterly opposed national missile defense. New York Times
Editor William Keller captured the character of such thinking as what he described as an
impractical wish for seeking an unfettered foreign policy capable of bullying our adversaries.
Within a month of the new Congress convening, Democrat South Carolina Representative John
Spratt, a senior member of the House Armed Services and Budget Committees, proclaimed a
missile defense of the US homeland unnecessary at that time a waste of money.
On February 15, 1995, he proposed HR7, a bill to delay any consideration of a national missile
defense system until theater and short range missile defenses were completed and other non-
missile defense military priorities were fulfilled, and only if funding was available. His bill
opposed even asking the Secretary of Defense for a report on when a national missile defense
system could be deployed to protect the United States.
As it turned out the defense bill that went to President Clinton later that year included a
requirement to address the looming long range missile threat to the United States which the
Spratt bill had deleted.
Following Spratt's lead, however, President Clinton vetoed the bill arguing that a new November
1995 intelligence finding revealed a missile threat to the United States would not occur for at
least 15 years, eliminating the need to plan, develop and deploy a national missile defense.*
The next month, following the veto of the defense bill, and during subsequent debate whether to
override the President's veto, the legislative office of the CIA wrote a letter to Congress based on
this new National Intelligence Estimate, (NIE 95-19) reiterating North Korea would not have a
missile capable of hitting the United States for at least fifteen years and probably much longer
although the details and assumptions of the NIE assessment were not revealed.
The assumptions made by the NIE are instructive. Many of them are being repeated today. The
1995 NIE assumed no country would get foreign assistance in developing ballistic missiles.
Many are today asserting the same with respect to North Korea not only with respect to missiles
but also nuclear weapons. The 1995 NIE further argued that a space launch capability would not
appreciably further an ICBM capability. The same argument we are hearing today about North
Korea's launch of a space vehicle.
And the NIE argued all missile development would come only from a country's home grown
capability and technology. And it argued any successful short and medium range missile
development by a country would have no bearing on the development of a longer range
It turned out the NIE assumptions were seriously flawed.
That very next year, in September 1996, the General Accountability Office concluded that two
former Directors of National Intelligence-R. James Woolsey and Robert M. Gates, were correct
when they told Congress the 1995 NIE was seriously "flawed" and its assumptions "politically
As it turned out, North Korea achieved a long range missile capability to strike the United States
at least as early as 2012 according to testimony of administration officials before Congress, a
bare two years outside of the 1995 fifteen year "safe" window promised by the CIA.
This has often been cited as proving the cautious 1995 assessment was correct.
Not so fast.
They key is North Korea did achieve such a capability. And the 15 year safe period was not used
by opponents of national missile defense to build such defenses, but to do much to stop them.
But the constitutional obligation of the US government is to anticipate such a threat and prepare
to deal with it by protecting the US homeland. Thus the delay of more than ten years from when
President William J. Clinton announced in 1993 that Reagan's missile defense work was to be
eliminated-"taking the stars out of Star Wars" declared Secretary of Defense Les Aspin--to
when a missile defense of even a limited capability was finally deployed in 2004 during the
George W. Bush administration, was time we could have used to better develop a national
missile defense and take other actions to deal with these threats such as hardening the electrical
To anticipate the threat correctly one would have had to work on a national missile defense far in
advance of the North Korean threat materializing. Defenses cannot be built overnight. But
because we had zero defenses in place in 2001, the incoming Bush administration accelerated
efforts to build a national missile defense without the certainty of knowing exactly when a North
Korean or Iranian missile threat would materialize.
Ironically the late 1995 NIE's conclusions were in fact contradicted by earlier testimony that
same year to Congress from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as well as the outgoing
Director of National Intelligence. But the subsequent NIE appeared to have the better argument.
Earlier that year, for example, on 10 January 1995, the DIA Director, General James Clapper,
testified that North Korean missiles were capable then of striking Hawaii and Alaska but were
five years away from threatening the continental United States.
Outgoing CIA Director Woolsey at the same Senate hearing also told the Congress that "we are
moving from an era of single-stage shorter range rockets to missiles with thousands of kilometers
of range" that while not "intercontinental yet...the path is clear" toward eventually threatening
the United States.
It was not until later that Congressman Curt Weldon, a senior member of the House Armed
Services Committee, discovered the CIA NIE had "cooked the books". The NIE had assumed
that North Korea would get no outside help in their ballistic missile efforts and that the definition
of the United States territory that might be threatened by North Korean missiles excluded Hawaii
and Alaska and territories of the United States.
Once discovered, this distorted analysis of missile threats to the United States compelled
Congress to create the bi-partisan Rumsfeld Commission to carefully and accurately study
missile threats to the United States. On July 15, 1998 the Commission finished its work and
unanimously concluded that missile threats to the United States and its allies could arise with
little warning especially from states such as North Korea and Iran, in addition to the already
existing threats from Russia and China.
The arms control enthusiasts in the American media immediately condemned the report as far-
fetched. (FN19) But on August 31, 1998, the North Korean government launched a three-stage
Taepo Dong rocket with a range estimated to be 2000 kilometers. According to subsequent news
reports, "The U.S. intelligence community admits to being surprised by North Korea's advances
in missile-staging technology and its use of a solid-rocket motor for the missile's third stage"
In addition and unknown to the press at the time, the Rumsfeld Commission had sent a side letter
in October 1998 to the Congress concluding that the "Intelligence Community's ability to provide
timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding".
The letter further warned that "Emerging capabilities in a larger number of hostile states;
increased availability of relevant data, technologies and expertise to those states; and, more
sophisticated resort to cover, deception and denial by them, made threats from both ballistic
missiles and weapons of mass destruction increasingly problematical."
The letter went on to warn the Congress that over the past years less attention was being paid to
"the motivations of those who seek to acquire such capabilities; the leverage the capability might
impart to the buyer in local, regional or global affairs; the doctrine that the buyer might develop
to guide the deployment and employment of the capability; the technical state, pace and potential
growth paths for ballistic missile and WMD programs in countries of concern; the likelihood that
buyers are cooperating among themselves to enhance their respective capabilities'; and the
effects of foreign deception and denial activities on the ability of the US to monitor and assess
That next year on February 2, 1999, and only a few months after the October Rumsfeld side
letter was delivered to Congress, the CIA testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee
that, "with some technical improvements, North Korea would be able to use the Taepo Dong-1 to
deliver small payloads to parts of Alaska and Hawaii [and] if it had a third stage like the Taepo
Dong-1 would be able to deliver large payloads to the continental United States".
This sharp turn-about by the intelligence community might seem surprising but the Rumsfeld
Commission October 1998 letter described the intelligence communities failure to get things
right. The letter noted: "On more than one occasion the Commission dutifully sat through briefs
only to find later we had not received accurate or complete information on the ballistic missile
and WMD capabilities of countries of concern. At the end of one, two-hour briefing and after the
briefers had left, a mid-level manager informed us that most of what we had heard was
On January 6, 2016 North Korea again exploded a nuclear device and a
month later on February 7th, 2016 launched a satellite aboard a missile
with a range of upwards of 13,000 kilometers.
The conventional response to what some saw as Pyongyang's reckless
behavior was that nothing had significantly changed from previous
Mirren Gidda in Newsweek
that same week, under the headline "What
We Know About North Korea's Hydrogen Bomb", reflected such
assurances by writing "International experts doubt that North Korea has
manufactured nuclear weapons small enough to fit on a missile".
But this commonplace assertion by Newsweek was simply untrue.
For almost a decade, the testimony of top American intelligence officials
has been the North Korean nuclear missile threat is real.
For example, in 2008, the CIA's top East Asia analyst publicly stated
that North Korea had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads for
delivery on its Nodong medium-range missile.
In 2009, European intelligence agencies at NATO headquarters said that
North Korea's Nodong missiles were armed with nuclear warheads.
In 2011, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General
Ronald Burgess, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee
that North Korea has weaponized its nuclear device into warheads for
arming ballistic missiles.
Then in early 2015, former top national security officials from the
administrations of Presidents Reagan and Clinton warned that the North
Korea threat was quite specific, and capable of delivering by satellite a
small nuclear warhead to make an EMP attack against the United States.
Shortly thereafter, on April 7, 2015, at a Pentagon press conference,
Admiral William Gortney, Commander of North American Aerospace
Defense (NORAD), responsible for protecting the U.S. from long-range
missiles, warned that the intelligence community assessed that North
Korea's KN-08 mobile ICBM could strike the U.S. with a nuclear
And on October 8, 2015, Gortney, again warned the Atlantic Council: "I
agree with the intelligence community that we assess that they [the
North Koreans] have the ability, they have the weapons, and they have
the ability to miniaturize those weapons, and they have the ability to put
them on a rocket that can range the [U.S.] homeland."
But even when acknowledging North Korea has such missile capabilities
as we have outlined above, popular reaction has been to minimize the
security threats the missiles represent, claiming it isn't accurate enough
or the attached warhead is too small, or the technology demonstrated is
not sufficiently worrisome.
For example, the New York Times
echoed this nonchalant view claiming,
"Although North Korea can learn much about the technology to build
ballistic missiles from satellite launches, putting a satellite into orbit
does not guarantee an ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on an
intercontinental ballistic missile."
The New York Times further noted North Korea had never tested a
ballistic-missile version of its Unha-series rockets. [And] after four
nuclear tests by the North, Western analysts were still unsure whether
the country had "mastered the technology to build a warhead small
enough to mount on a long-range missile" or "survive the intense heat
while re-entering the atmosphere, as well as a guidance system capable
of delivering a warhead close to a target."
Apparently unknown by theNew York Times
is that a satellite launched
warhead in an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) mode exploded some 30-70
kilometers above the United States or Japan or South Korea doesn't need
a guidance system nor is accuracy any great issue.
Even if the warhead yield appeared to be small, the apparent small yield
of the North Korean warhead could have been what is known as a
"boosted fission weapon" which such experts as former Secretary of the
Air Force and Reagan's National Security Adviser Tom Reed believes.
Remember the U.S. and other intelligence services have not detected
uranium or plutonium (A-Bomb fuels) in any of the North Korea tests,
but have detected tritium (H-Bomb fuel) in at least one. A boosted
weapon could explain this anomaly. And could be part of an effort to
deploy a super EMP bomb which two Congressional mandated
commission reports warned could drive the US economy back to the
early 19th century if used to take down our electrical grid.
But the more serious story is that as Tom Reed and others have warned,
most recently Doug Feith in the Wall Street Journal
of February 26,
2016 in "China's proliferation Rap Sheet", the North Korean tests
cannot be looked at in isolation.
First North Korea cooperates with Iran, Pakistan and China on nuclear
and missile technology.
Second, China is complicit in this cooperation as well as itself boosting
cooperation between Pakistan-another nuclear armed power-and
North Korea in the years those two militaries were trading nuclear for
Third, given that these multiple rogue nuclear powers are working with
each other, the sophistication of nuclear threats from any individual state
may be greater than is generally believed.
And fourth, any one of these states could be working as an agent of the
other or of one of their allied terrorist groups which then expands the
scope of their capabilities and nuclear threats to the United States and
our Republic of Korea and Japan allies.
There are indeed powerful elements in China and elsewhere that seek to
eliminate American military power from the Pacific. They see North
Korean demonstrated missile and nuclear power as a lever with which to
achieve that end.
However, as ICAS symposiums over the past year have increasingly
revealed, this strategy is not fully appreciated by American security
The only good news, however, is that the strategy may backfire.
It appears the Republic of Korea will move to cooperate with the United
States in deploying a THAAD missile defense system while also
supporting greater sanctions against Pyongyang.
Unfortunately, simultaneously, the bad news is the overall United States
missile defense budget may be cut by many hundreds of millions,
undercutting efforts to improve and expand our own continental
defenses even as we seek to bolster those of our brother and sisters in the
Republic of Korea.
This page last updated February 26, 2016 jdb