General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea, believes that North Korea may have nukes small enough to fit on the tip of a warhead. If North Korea does, or even could, marry its proven nuclear and missile programs, it would be an enormous change that would upend U.S. strategy in the region. The New York Times :
General Scaparrotti’s assessment seemed to suggest that the North had made progress since last year, when President Obama appeared to contradict a Defense Intelligence Agency finding about the country’s ability to put a warhead on a missile.At that time, the agency issued a report that it had “moderate confidence”that the North had mastered the technology of building a weapon that could fit into a missile warhead. That forced James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, to issue a statement that the agency’s position was not the consensus view of 15 other intelligence agencies. Mr. Obama agreed, saying, “You know, based on our current intelligence assessment, we do not think that they have that capacity.”On Friday, General Scaparrotti sided with the Defense Intelligence Agency. “I believe they have the capability to have miniaturized the device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have,” he told reporters.
As the Times points out, it is not clear whether Gen. Scaparrotti’s disagreement with Obama is based on new intelligence that has come to light in the past year, or whether he has assessed the old information, from his closer vantage point, in a different way.
In either case, the interested observer ought to revise up the known likelihood of the existence of Ballistic DPRK missiles. This is not good news; North Korea is fickle, desperate, and isolated. Even if it doesn’t plan to use its nukes, it very well might sell them to somebody who would. This is just one more sign that the world is not going to stand still while the U.S. takes a sabbatical.