The U.S. military commander in South Korea made a chilling pronouncement last week: that, in his opinion, North Korea has the technological capacity to build nuclear missiles. We already know that the DPRK has nuclear technology, and that it has a missile program. But Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti shed new light on the potential combination of the two efforts, in a notable departure from the intelligence consensus (which President Obama endorsed) on how far along North Korea had gotten in miniaturizing its nukes. Now, some major players are lending credence to Scaparotti’s assertion: China and South Korea. Defense Tech reports:
China and South Korea joined Friday in warning of North Korea’s advances in nuclear technology that the U.S. commander in South Korea has said could include the miniaturization of a weapon for a missile warhead.After talks in Beijing, the nuclear envoys of China and South Korea agreed to cooperate in efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.“We exchanged deep concern about North Korea’s advances of nuclear and missile capabilities and, with a sense of urgency, agreed to continue to make close cooperation to curb such advances,” Hwang Joon-kook, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, told reporters.
Defense Tech notes that many nuclear analysts believe that it’s highly unlikely that Pyongyang has working nuclear missiles right now, since we have not detected tests of North Korean nuclear missiles coupled and it takes extensive tests to get such technology right. But even if they merely have the untested capacity, that’s more than enough to scare North Korea’s neighbors, and indeed, the world. In addition, North Korea is a starving and desperate state, and it’s hardly above selling weapons to the world’s most dangerous groups.South Korea, the U.S., and Japan are in a different position than China, which has been North Korea’s longtime patron in the region, if one that is increasingly regarding its client as an allied liability instead of an asset. So when even Beijing gets nervous about what’s going on in Pyongyang, it’s time to pay attention.