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True or False: Can North Korean Missiles Carry Nuclear Warheads?

True or False: Can North Korean Missiles Carry Nuclear Warheads?

Posted April. 29, 2005 23:35,   


On April 28, Rowell Jacoby, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea’s nuclear missiles are estimated to be able to reach the northwestern part of the United States mainland.

His testimony is expected to stir a controversy, as it means that North Korea possesses the capability to load nuclear warheads onto missiles by miniaturizing them into a warhead weighing less than 500kg.

The South Korean government has so far maintained that “though the North is capable of launching conventional missiles that can hit the US mainland, it has not been able to miniaturize nuclear warheads.”

“U.S. intelligence authorities believe North Korea has the ability (to deploy nuclear missiles that can hit the US mainland), though such an ability is considered theoretical as the North has yet to succeed in making a nuclear experiment,” stated Jacoby at the hearing.

He went on to explain that North Korea’s “second-phase missiles” are theoretically able to reach the northwestern part of the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska and even the State of Washington, and its “third-phase missiles” could be aimed at most of the U.S. mainland. Second-phase missiles are propelled by igniting extra fuel when the initial ignition fuel is totally exhausted.

Asked whether second-phase missiles are, “though theoretically, already operational,” he replied that they are “estimated to be within that capability level.”

When Jacoby’s remarks created a stir, the Defense Intelligence Agency tried to cool off the controversy, issuing an official statement that “Mr. Jacoby made a mistake in saying so.” Their point was that the director was simply mentioning a theoretical possibility, which was no different from what they had disclosed last February.”

On April 29, however, the Washington Post reported that some Senate officials said they had “recently read an intelligence evaluation report which is quite identical with Jacoby’s testimony on that day.” The newspaper also quoted another Senate official who claimed to have read a report giving evidence of North Korea’s capability to miniaturize nuclear warheads.

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com