North Korea World's
Biggest Missile
Technology Proliferator
By Pamela Hess
WASHINGTON (UPI) - North Korea has overtaken Russia as the world's largest proliferator of ballistic missile technology, Robert Walpole of the National Intelligence Council told a congressional panel Wednesday.
"A few years ago I would have said Russia, it would have been easy. But North Korea has been doing so much, it's a hard call," he told the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on international security, proliferation and federal services.
He called "abominable" the leak to the Washington Times that led to the paper reporting that North Korea had recently sold 12 missile engines to Iran that could be used for long-range rockets. He did not deny the report, however.
"Those engines are critical to a Taepo Dong or Shahab 3 program," he said.
Nevertheless, while proliferation continues, it has been "a number of years" since a sale of a complete missile took place.
Iran in July 1998 tested the Shahab-3, with a range of 1,300 kilometers. Launched from Iran the missile could reach deep into Turkey, a member of NATO whom the United States has long agreed to defend from enemy attack.
Walpole acknowledged Iran has had a "nuclear program" for a number of years.
"A lot of information is available in the open about how to put together a nuclear weapon," he said.
Cash-strapped North Korea, which surprise tested a three-stage Taepo Dong-1 rocket across Japan in August 1998, continues to develop its successor, the longer-range Taepo Dong-2. But as agreed, it is eschewing further flight tests, Walpole said. He was testifying on last September's national intelligence estimate of the ballistic missile threat.
"We believe non-flight testing aspects of the program are continuing," he said.
The Taepo Dong-2, with a range of anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 kilometers, could be flight tested "at any time" if North Korea decides to violate its accord with the United States struck more than a year ago. That North Korea would ever use the missile to attack U.S. territory seems unlikely, Walpole indicated.
"If North Korea launched, they probably view it as one of their last acts," he said.
Instead, and this seems to be a hallmark of all those states seeking to build long-range ballistic missiles, the weapon is seen not as a tool of war but one of deterrence and coercive diplomacy.
Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the chief concerns in the intelligence estimate, believe that having a long-range missile gives them leverage against the United States, which might otherwise intervene while they seek regional hegemony.
"If nothing else, it's a bargain driver," Walpole said. "Look at what North Korea has been able to achieve just with having a failed space launch and (the specter) of Taepo Dong-2."
North Korea has negotiated for large aid packages and seems poised to wrangle more to help it out of its economic crisis. For all the focus on missile technology, Walpole conceded the United States has more to worry about from truck bombs and cruise missiles.
"There are other ways to get us that are probably more likely at this point," he said.
Chemical and biological weapons, which pose the greatest threat to U.S. citizens and soldiers, can be delivered by trucks, ships, aircraft and cruise missiles more easily and cheaply than by long-range ballistic missiles.
Making it more likely that such warheads would find other ways to U.S. shores than on an ICBM is the fact that the Pentagon appears poised to recommend the deployment of a $18 billion to $26 billion national missile defense system that by 2005 would have a good chance of shooting down the one or two missiles an Iraq or Iran would be able to launch.
"The more likely means of delivering would not be defended against by a missile defense," he conceded.
Nevertheless, a missile defense system in no way guarantees the threat from ICBMs is a thing of the past. Countermeasures that would confuse the system like decoys, chaff and radar jammers are readily available and easily incorporated into missiles.
The United States could respond with counter-counter measures to defeat those defenses, he said.
"You end up having an arms race within an arms race."
Walpole warned that prognosticating 15 years into the future, as this estimate seeks to do, is fraught with difficulty as so much can change on the world stage. He offered as an example Iraq, which 15 years ago had "similar interests" to the United States in its war against Iran, but is now regarded as one of the major missile threats to the homeland. And the CIA was surprised by North Korea's test of a three-stage rocket, although it had accurately predicted the occurrence of the launch.
Making matters even more difficult is the fact that Iran, Iraq and other missile hopefuls do not follow the same development path the United States and Russia did, with observable and numerous flight tests. They have pushed their operations into underground laboratories and are less concerned about accuracy and reliability, making it difficult to get a handle on the size and capabilities of their weapons.
Because U.S. missiles had to destroy Soviet rockets in their silos to prevent multiple warheads from detonating, pinpoint accuracy was a requirement. Attacking populations with a chemical or nuclear warhead, or at least posing a credible threat to do so, needs much less precision.
"We have to get out of this mindset that everyone has to do it our way," Walpole warned.

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