Reality of North Korea Nuclear Threat Demonstrates Need for Missile Defense

Conn Carroll /

Two modified Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IV interceptors are launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency test to intercept a short-range ballistic missile target June 5, 2008 in the Pacific Ocean west of Kauai, Hawaii. The missile, one of two launched, intercepted the target approximately 12 miles high on the Pacific Missile Range Facility. This was the second of two successful intercepts of the sea-based terminal capability and the fourteenth overall successful test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program.

According to a report in The New York Times, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Tuesday that North Korea is becoming “a direct threat to the United States” and was within five years of developing a missile with the potential of hitting Alaska or the West Coast. The Times adds: “Mr. Gates’ new assessment on North Korea is a significant shift for the Obama administration, which until now has viewed Pyongyang as a proliferation threat, fearing that it might sell its existing missiles and nuclear devices to other countries, like Iran.”

This is a welcome admission by the Obama administration. Heritage Foundation Northeast Asia Senior Research Fellow Bruce Klingner wrote just last week:

In November 2010, Pyongyang disclosed a previously covert uranium enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear site. Previously, Yongbyon only housed a plutonium nuclear facility. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory, was shown an extensive array of 2,000 centrifuges producing low-enriched uranium. The U.S. scientist commented that he was stunned by the size and sophistication of the facility, which exceeded all predictions of North Korean progress on a uranium program.

Critics charged that the U.S. intelligence assess­ments were partisan fabrications of the Bush Administration, but Hecker’s direct observations of the uranium enrichment facility provide irrefut­able evidence of Pyongyang’s continuing efforts to develop parallel uranium and plutonium paths to a nuclear arsenal.

Klingner recommends the U.S. should: