- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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,"
- 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
- 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
- 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,"
- 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
- "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
- 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
- "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
- The fear is that North Korea may have
moved its weapons program underground to a large facility now under construction
- 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
- 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
- "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
- 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
- Weldon sees no real difference between
the Senate and House bills, despite the extra clause to deploy when "technologically
- "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,"
- "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
- 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
- "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
- 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.