Entire US Already Within
Range of North Korean Missiles
By Robert Stowe England
WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania Republican Representative Curt Weldon claims that the Central Intelligence Agency has determined that North Korea already has the capacity to launch from its homeland a low-weight warhead that could reach any part of the entire mainland United States -- from California eastward to Maine and southward to the Florida keys.
Weldon says the CIA finding is based, among others things, on its analysis of data generated by the August 31 launch by North Korea of the Taepo Dong 1 missile. The three-stage rocket was fired north of Japan. Its final stage failed to successfully launch a tiny satellite into orbit.
"The projections which the CIA have done, which are classified . . . actually show that when you project out the distance, that this particular North Korean rocket, with a light payload . . . could hit the mainland of the United States," Weldon says.
The Taepo Dong 1 could deliver "a chemical, biological or a small nuclear device," Weldon says, giving North Korea a cataclysmic new tool in its arsenal of terrorist weapons.
The missile is not very accurate, Weldon says, but this should give the U.S. little comfort.
"It's not the case of having pinpoint accuracy. It's being able to have the ability to launch a rocket and a payload that can hit our mainland that we can't defend against. It's a very crude capability, but they have it," says Weldon.
If Weldon's claims are true, under a doomsday scenario North Korea might be able to launch a surprise terrorist attack and deliver Hiroshima level casualties and destruction on a large American city, such as New York, according to national defense analysts.
The new assessment about North Korea's missile capability reclassifies the Taepo Dong 1, originally seen as a missile for theater or regional defense, into an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM, when a third-stage rocket is attached.
North Korea has claimed that the three-stage rocket was fired to launch a satellite and that it was not intended for military use. It has contradicted this explanation with warnings it might use its new missile capabilities to harm the U.S. and its allies.
A former mayor of Marcus Hook, Pa., Weldon is sponsoring a bill in Congress to declare that it is U.S. policy to deploy a limited national missile defense system. He is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Research and Development.
The White House disagrees with Weldon's claims about the North Korean missile threat. "Based on this one launch, that is not a correct assessment," says P. J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council. North Korea does not now have an intercontinental missile capability, Crowley says.
On background, however, a White House source concedes that North Korea is expected to eventually have the ability to launch an ICBM. "Once they demonstrated the capacity to put a third stage on the Taepo Dong I, as they did, one of the future policy assumptions is that they will essentially perfect that ability," the White House source says.
Starkly at odds with Weldon's claims, President Clinton claimed at a press conference Friday that North Korea and other nations developing missile programs would not have the capacity to launch missiles at the U.S. for ten to twenty years.
President Clinton's claim is also at odds with the findings of a Congressionally-authorized bipartisan panel, the Rumsfeld Commission. The commission concluded in a report last summer that North Korea and other nations with missiles programs could develop an ICBM capacity within five years of a decision to do so. The report also warned that the U.S. may have little or no warning that a nation may be developing an ICBM.
Interestingly, the Rumsfeld Commission also included a reference that now seems to corroborate some of Weldon's claims. "Lightweight versions of the [larger and heavier] Taepo Dong 2 -- [meaning the Taepo Dong 1] -- could fly as far as 10,000 km. (6,200 miles), placing at risk western U.S. territory in an arc extending northwest from Phoenix, Arizona to Madison, Wisconsin," the report stated
The Rumsfeld assessment about the potential of the Taepo Dong 1 places more than a third of the U.S. mainland within the range of the Taepo Dong 1 -- making Weldon's claims seem less of a stretch.
In retrospect, the Rumsfeld Commission's statement looks prescient, having been made more than a month before the launching of the Taepo Dong 1 by North Korea.
North Korea has not yet launched the Taepo Dong 2, although State Department briefer James Rubin suggested Feb. 3 that North Korea might launch the more powerful Taepo Dong 2 sometime this year. The Rumsfeld Commission has stated this missile could reach Hawaii and Alaska. It can also carry heavier and more powerful nuclear weapons.
A White House source, however, dismisses the potential for a Taepo Dong 2 launch this year. "We do not see any sign of a preparation for a second launch," says the source.
Despite White House rejection of his claims, Weldon is adamant that North Korea has an ICBM capability now.
"Yes," Weldon says, "based on the test they did on August 31, I think they have it now for a low-weight payload." The Taepo Dong 1 missile has the ability at the present time to reach "the entire United States," he says.
CIA Analysis Requested by Weldon
The classified CIA charts were prepared for Weldon at his request, and Weldon says he retains control of their release.
"I have made [the CIA charts] available to members of the committee," says Weldon. He plans to bring the charts "to the House floor when we debate the bill for all members to see."
The CIA would neither confirm nor deny the claim by Weldon that the Taepo Dong 1 can reach the entire mainland U.S. "I'm going to decline to comment other than to point to declassified statements available on the public record," says Anya Guilsher, a CIA press officer. "We can not comment on anything classified," she added.
On the record comments indicate that the CIA's views of North Korea's missile capabilities have moved closer to those of Congress, where a majority now apparently see North Korea's missiles as an near-term threat. Previously the CIA had estimated that North Korea and other nations would not have an intercontinental missile capability for 10 to 15 years. On Feb. 2 CIA Director George J. Tenet made statements that both add credence to and potentially qualify some of Weldon's claims. It contains caveats that North Korea still needs to resolve "important technical issues" to have an ICBM capacity.
Tenet stated the following in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: "North Korea's three-stage Taepo-Dong 1, launched last August, demonstrated technology that, with the resolution of some important technical issues, would give North Korea the ability to deliver a very small payload to intercontinental ranges -- including parts of the United States -- although not very accurately."
The next day State Department briefer James Rubin made a similar point. "North Korea would need to resolve some important technical issues before being able to use the Taepo Dong 1 with a small third stage to deliver a very small payload to intercontinental ranges."
Development of a National Missile Defense
On January 21 Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced that the Pentagon will spend $6.6 billion over the next six years to develop and possibly deploy a limited national missile defense system.
The Administration has taken a long and circuitous path to reach its decision to back missile defense -- while backpedaling from it a little since then.
Cohen cited the North Korean firing of the Taepo Dong 1 missile five months earlier as a key reason the Clinton Administration had changed its mind about missile defense. The North Korean missile indicates, Cohen said, "the United States in fact will face a rogue nation missile threat to our homeland against which we will have to defend the American people."
The U.S. intelligence community was caught off guard by the Taepo Dong 1 launch last year. They were not aware North Korea could attach a third rocket from the Taepo Dong 1 and make a successful launch. Previously the missile had been seen as a theater nuclear weapon that could attack Japan, Taiwan and U.S. forces in Northeast Asia.
National security analysts are not sure whether to accept Weldon's claims on face value or not, although some are prepared to give them some credence.
"It does seems plausible North Korea can hit the U.S." with the Taepo Dong 1 missile, says Ivan Eland, Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Eland is partly convinced because official U.S. intelligence sources have so often been wrong in the past and have understated the capabilities of the North Koreans and other U.S. adversaries. "The intelligence community was really shocked" that the Taepo Dong 1 carried a third stage, Eland says.
Eland also agrees with Weldon that a small nuclear device could be carried on the Taepo Dong 1. He says that North Korea or Iran might develop the ability to launch a small nuclear device by 2005, provided they could obtain the nuclear device with the help of other nations or other third parties.
The fact that Weldon is an ardent advocate for missile defense, however, raises the issue of whether or not he may have overstated the conclusions from the CIA data he has, some national security analysts say.
North Korean Terrorist Attack?
Weldon does not expect North Korea to actually use the Taepo Dong 1 in a terrorist attack on the U.S. He also does not rule it out. The hope, Weldon says, is that the fear of nuclear retaliation will prevent a North Korean terrorist attack.
"They have to understand that if they attempt to use it against us, it will result in a massive retaliatory action that would be very negative to the people of North Korea," Weldon says.
There is concern that North Korea will act irrationally. "This is not exactly the most stable government in the world. So, we have to prepare for the worst," says Weldon. "The fact that they would even think about using it, is something that needs to alarm us, and needs us to require an appropriate response," Weldon says. That appropriate response is the development and deployment of a national missile defense, he says.
National security analysts also do not rule out the possibility that North Korea would use its missiles and weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. and its allies, although most consider it unlikely.
"What are the chances they would use it? It depends on how you interpret the situation," says Glenn Baek, a specialist in Northeast Asian and Korean peninsula security affairs and politics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "You could interpret it as Apocalypse Now," Baek says. "My personal opinion is that North Korea has the capacity to use the missile against the U.S. but doesn't intend to use it," Baek says.
North Korea is likely to use its missiles "only when their back is against the wall or in reaction to a pre-emptive U.S. and South Korean attack," Baek says.
Weldon agrees with CIA Director Tenet's claim that North Korean's missiles are not very accurate and might hit Dallas when they are aimed at Chicago.
The Destructive Potential of North Korean Missiles
National security analysts, however, think that North Korean missiles would be much more accurate than Weldon suggests by his example. While they are probably not accurate enough to pinpoint a single, small military site -- such as an underground nuclear bomb silo -- "they could probably hit an American city, probably with biological and chemical weapons," says Eland at Cato.
A missile attack with chemical or biological weapons might not produce a Hiroshima level of casualties, Eland says, because the nerve gas or toxic biological bugs might be incinerated in the process. "If they can put on a nuclear warhead, even a small one, then you're talking about a real problem," says Eland. Such bombs could cause enormous damage even if they missed their bull's eye by several miles, he says.
Eland says the chances of any long-range missile attack from North Korea are reduced by the fact the North Koreans know that the U.S. can detect missile launches and identify where they came from. They know it would lead to massive retaliation.
Any state that would launch a terrorist attack by long-range missile might have moved "beyond being irrational to being stupid," Eland says. A terrorist act would more likely come from a truck bomb or some other method that delivers the weapon without identifying its source, Eland contends.
Weldon dismisses claims that terrorists would prefer truck bombs, as in the World Trade Center bombing, or might launch a weapon from a barge, as many opponents of missile defense have argued. "I agree that both of those are threats and the Congress has, in fact, put more money into those threats than the White House asked for in each of the past four years," says Weldon.
Even so, Weldon says, "the delivery system of choice by rogue nations is the missile."
"When Saddam Hussein sent that Scud missile into our barracks in Saudi Arabia [during the Gulf War], it was on a Scud missile and it killed 28 young Americans that we couldn't defend. That is the weapon of choice. He didn't send a truck bomb into those barracks. He didn't send a truck bomb into Israel. He sent Scud missiles," Weldon says.
"We're seeing all of our adversaries now developing medium and long-range capabilities," Weldon says, naming Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
North Korean Nukes?
Missiles are not the only American worry. U.S. officials continue to be concerned about whether or not North Korea is producing plutonium to make nuclear warheads in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which froze production of additional plutonium at a facility in Yongbyon.
The fear is that North Korea may have moved its weapons program underground to a large facility now under construction at Kumchang-ni.
In the wake of the launch of the Taepo Dong 1, U.S. officials have opened talks with North Korea to obtain permission to inspect the underground facility to be sure it is not housing a covert weapons program, according to a U.S. official.
U.S. statements about North Korea's missile and weapons programs were attacked as "an unpardonable encroachment upon the sovereign rights and dignity of our republic" in a sharply-worded editorial last September in the official newspaper of the North Korean Communist Party, Nodong Sinmum.
The editorial insisted that North Korea had not tested an ICBM but had launched a satellite on August 31. It also said North Korea was not building an underground plutonium production facility, and that the facility had an "economic" purpose. The editorial accused the U.S. of spreading erroneous rumors about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs to justify its military maneuvers in the area and its militarization of space.
The editorial concluded with a warning: "Whether the launch of our artificial satellite is used for military purposes or not entirely depends on the attitude of the United States and other hostile forces."
Some national security analysts are concerned that without a swift agreement that would allow the U.S. to inspect the underground facility, the Agreed Framework could collapse. "This would place the peninsula on the brink of war, reminiscent of the nuclear crisis five years ago," says Baek at CSIS.
The U.S. cannot not lose this battle of clashing wills with the North Koreans, Baek says. If North Korea becomes a nuclear power, "it would create a massive arms race throughout the region. South Korea and Japan might develop nuclear weapons. China might bolster their own capabilities," says Baek.
North Korean-U.S. Talks
Despite its rhetoric, North Korea has been engaged in a flurry of discussions with the U.S. about its underground facility at Kumchang-ni, according to a U.S. official. The issue was first raised last August in talks between the U.S. and North Korea on missile proliferation, the official says. The first talks were held in November in Pyongyang.
The talks are being held between Charles Kartman, U.S. Special Envoy for Korean Peace talks, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwam, according to the official.
Talks continued in December at meetings in Washington and New York, and again at meetings in Geneva in January. "They are currently taking place in New York," says an official, where they began in late February.
Missile talks between the U.S. and North Korea do not seem to be faring as well as the talks about North Korea's underground facility. The talks have not been rescheduled since a round of talks were held in New York in October between Robert Eihhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and a North Korean delegation that included Han Chang On, the Director of U.S. Affairs in the North Korean foreign ministry, along with members of North Korea's United Nations delegation.
"We've discussed dates for the next round of talks, but the timing has not yet come to closure," says a State Department official. The talks, which began in 1996 in Berlin, were followed by a second round in 1997, also in Berlin.
Baek at CSIS sees little prospect that the U.S. will convince North Korea to give up its missile develop program or stop it from transferring its missile technology to other states.
Weldon's Russian Initiative
Last Friday the President once again affirmed at a press conference his determination to uphold the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the former Soviet Union. This presents a barrier to the eventual deployment of even a limited national missile defense system.
Weldon, however, is hopeful that Russia can be persuaded to accept the decision of the U.S. to deploy a limited missile defense as something that does not violate the ABM Treaty.
Weldon is well-placed to make his case for a limited U.S. missile defense with Russian authorities. A Russian studies major at West Chester State College in Pennsylvania, Weldon heads up a U.S. Congress-Duma Study Group that he initiated several years ago. He has traveled to Russia 17 times.
Weldon, who once worked as a volunteer fireman, is traveling to Moscow this week to try to put out a potential fire of protest against moves in the U.S. to set up a limited missile defense. Weldon plans to meet with Duma deputies and other unnamed Russian officials.
"I want to make sure Russia understands that we're not doing this because we see Russia as a threat," Weldon says. He will tell Russian officials that North Korean missiles also pose a threat to Russia.
Convincing Russia that U.S. intentions are honorable will not be easy, Weldon admits, because the Russians have never been properly approached by U.S. officials about the issue. "Unfortunately the debate in this country in the past has been too polarized," Weldon says.
"Those who support missile defense don't take the time to reach out in a positive, pro-active way to Russia, and those who are against missile defense basically just scare the Russians and say arms control treaties almost solve the problem. Neither of them are correct," Weldon says.
Congress Close to Adopting Missile Defense
Weldon's bill is expected to come to the floor of the House next week, and a similar bill sponsored by Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) could come up for a vote in the full Senate this week, according to Capitol Hill sources.
The Weldon and Cochran bills are similar, although the Senate bill has additional text that calls for deployment as soon as "technologically possible."
President Clinton is threatening to veto Cochran's bill, but has so far not criticized Weldon's bill, which emerged from the House Armed Services Committee last month with a lop-sided 50 to 3 vote.
A Senate source claims that last year's filibuster, which prevented a vote on a similar measure, would likely not occur this year because of growing Democratic support.
The Cochran bill, which has 52 co-sponsors, emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee last month with the support of Connecticut Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman and the abstention of Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu. This is the first time such a bill has had Democratic support in the committee in the four years Republicans have been introducing them.
Republicans are confidant the Cochran bill will pass the full Senate this week. "The question is no longer whether we have enough votes to end a filibuster. The question now is whether we have enough votes to over-ride a Presidential veto," says a Republican source.
Weldon sees no real difference between the Senate and House bills, despite the extra clause to deploy when "technologically possible."
"Well, you can't deploy a system anyway until it is technologically feasible. So, they both say the same thing -- it's now our policy to deploy national missile defense," says Weldon.
"We don't set a date certain. We don't say what technology. But, they are identical, in fact, in what they say. There is no difference between the two. There is no weaker or stronger version," Weldon says.
Missile defense is gaining ground because it has become less partisan, according to Bruce Blair, senior fellow and nuclear security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "There's a good deal more reasoned analysis in the debate than was true in the past."
In addition, Blair notes, the emerging threat from North Korea, Iran and other countries is "a less technologically complicated threat," making the prospects for building a successful defense less scientifically controversial.
Even so, Blair thinks it would be irresponsible to deploy a missile defense until the U.S. has exhausted all other avenues for preventing proliferation, including diplomatic avenues. It should not be deployed either until it is technologically feasible and able to withstand countermeasures. Also, he says, the threat should be real. "I'm not sure we're there yet," he says.
Eland at Cato also cautions Congress against rushing to deploy a system before it is operationally effective. "It is a challenging technology," he says. If a system is rushed to deployment and fails, it could actually delay the effective date a missile defense is in place.
Eland favors a limited missile defense but thinks Congress should approach the issue in a technologically and financially responsible way.
"I certainly don't want the Strategic Defense Initiative to come back. It's a black hole for funding," Eland says.
A rush to develop and deploy may also leave Congress and the Pentagon with less leverage over the contractor for keeping down costs, Eland says.
Clinton and Missile Defense
The Clinton Administration consistently opposed developing a limited missile defense system until last summer. An official national intelligence estimate prepared a few years ago by the CIA claimed the ability of states like North Korea to develop and deploy ICBM's was 10 to 15 years away.
The CIA projection did not go over well in Congress.
"Based on my classified briefings I said [at the time] that the report had been politicized. And that it really didn't look at the possibility of proliferation affecting nations who could build capabilities very quickly," Weldon recalls.
Congressional doubts led to two independent reviews. "One, we asked the [General Accounting Office] to do an analysis of the CIA report. They agreed that it was faulty," Weldon says.
Then Congress authorized a bipartisan blue ribbon panel to look at the emerging security threats from around the world. Headed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the commission unanimously delivered a report last July that indicated that the emerging missile threat form rogue states was more imminent than previously claimed by the CIA.
"Both Democrat and Republican appointees agreed that the threat is here now," says Weldon.
The Rumsfeld Commission concluded that a nation "with a well-developed Scud-based ballistic missile infrastructure would be able to achieve first flight of a long range missile, up to and including intercontinental ballistic missile range . . . within about five years of deciding to do so."
The commission also concluded that "the U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment."
The dire warnings in the Rumsfeld Commission were dramatically confirmed soon afterward when Iran launched its Shahab 3 missile. The following month North Korea launched the Taepo Dong 1.
Since Cohen's announcement that the U.S. would develop a limited missile defense, North Korea has broadcast belligerent condemnations of the policy. In a radio broadcast from the Central Broadcasting Station in Pyongyang, a report stated: "The so-called threat, raved about by the United States, comes not from us. Rather, it is from the United States against us," the broadcast report stated, according to BBC Worldwide Monitoring.
The radio broadcast report also accused the U.S. of preparing for a second Korean war to secure control of the Asia-Pacific region. It warned: "The U.S. imperialist war maniacs should remember that the only consequence is the road to destruction and should act with discretion."
Such heated attacks may backfire for North Korea and win more votes for a missile defense in Congress.