Asia Pacific

Gates Warns of North Korea Missile Threat to U.S.

Pool photo by Larry Downing
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with President Hu Jintao of China in Beijing on Tuesday.

Published: January 11, 2011

BEIJING — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned on Thursday that North Korea was within five years of being able to target the continental United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile, and said that, combined with its expanding nuclear program, the country “is becoming a direct threat to the United States.”

Mr. Gates is a former director of the C.I.A., and his statement, officials said, reflected both a new assessment by American intelligence officials and his own concern that Washington had consistently underestimated the pace at which the North was developing nuclear and missile technologies.

It is unclear how recent the new assessment may be, but Mr. Gates’ remarks, made just an hour after he met with Hu Jintao, China’s president, may have been partly intended to persuade China that the Obama administration no longer regards the North as a concern only in the region. The administration has increasingly put pressure on China to try to persuade North Korea, a longstanding China ally, to give up its nuclear weapons program.

“The Chinese are always talking about their “core interests” and threats they may have to respond to,” said one American official deeply involved in North Korea strategy. “They needed to hear that we have a few, too.”

In comments to reporters during a visit to Beijing, Mr. Gates said he was worried that within the relatively short time frame North Korea would simultaneously continue to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, a combination he said had increased the need for pressure on Pyongyang, particularly if there is another provocation on South Korea by the North like the deadly artillery shelling of a South Korean island in November.

“We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency in proceeding down the track of negotiations,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates said he nonetheless expected North Korea’s ability to be limited, and that the country would only be able to develop within five years a small number of intercontinental ballistic missiles. “I don’t think it’s an immediate threat,” Mr. Gates said.

But his remarks were the first to put a timeframe on when the North, which has conducted two nuclear tests, including one that fizzled, might be able to launch a nuclear-capable missile that could cross the Pacific. That has been a much-debated point for more than a decade, and the subject of a lengthy study on missile threats conducted by Donald M. Rumsfeld before he became President Bush’s first defense secretary.

Mr. Gates made his comments to reporters on the same day that China, in a show of force for the United States, apparently conducted the first test flight of its new stealth fighter jet. The 15-minute flight occurred just hours before Mr. Gates met with President Hu to talk about improving relations between the Chinese and American militaries and ways to reduce tensions during a nascent arms buildup between the two countries.

Mr. Gates’ new assessment on North Korea is a significant shift for the Obama administration, which until now has viewed Pyongyang first and formost as a proliferation threat, fearing that it might sell its existing missiles and nuclear devices to other countries, like Iran. North Korea has a long history of missile trade with Iran, Syria and Pakistan, among other nations, and is believed to have provided the technology for Syria to build a nuclear reactor. The reactor was destroyed in a September 2007 air raid by Israel.

But Mr. Gates changed that emphasis, by focusing on the North capability to aim its small arsenal at the United States. Already there is an anti-missile unit based at Fort Greely, Alaska, armed with interceptor missiles designed to stop a small attack, presumably launched by North Korea, before it hits the United States.

Implicit in Mr. Gates’ five-year assessment was the possibility that the North could soon solve one of its biggest technological hurdles: manufacturing a warhead small enough to fit atop a missile.

Exploding a nuclear device underground, which North Korea did in 2006 and again in 2009, is comparatively simple. Manufacturing a warhead that is light, small and reliable is a far more complex art.

Nuclear inspectors who were inside North Korea periodically until 2009 have never publicly reported seeing work done on warhead. But they would be unlikely to be shown such efforts, even though the North quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty eight years ago.

It is unclear whether the North obtained designs for a warhead from another desperately poor country - especially Pakistan, which sold uranium enrichment equipment to the North. Designing such a warhead from scratch is difficult, as Iran has learned.

Predicting missile capabilities is notoriously difficult. Documents released last year by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, revealed sharp disagreements between American and Russian experts on Iran’s missile technology.

Michael Wines contributed reporting.

Eternal Triangle

January 12, 2011

he US demand that China "do something" about North Korea which is trotted out with stupefying monotony at every opportunity and which projects an uncharacteristic posture of helplessness on the part of the world's sole super power suggests that this demand is a cover for something deeper and which cannot be acknowledged.

What might that be?

The trend of US imperialism can be summarized as the removal of the major obstacles to its expansion. These are:

This trend and the growth of China suggest that the long range goal of US foreign policy is the destruction of the Communist Party of China (CPC). A satisfactory end point of this strategy would be to have the leadership positions in the CPC occupied by an opportunistic, corruptible, and Mafia-like clique.

A strategy for reaching this end point is to repeatedly confront the CPC with crises which tend to exacerbate the split between the CPC's opportunistic and principled elements.

China's acceptance of a measure of responsibility for the Korean "crisis" by becoming the sponsor of the six-party negotiations, with a vested interest in their success, is an indication of an early success of the US tactic. The next milestone in this long process of defeating the principled wing of the CPC would be China's participation in the isolation of the DPRK.

The list of "issues of interest" for China enumerated in the appended paragraph which appeared in the China People's Daily will be taken by the US as possible trades for achieving this milestone.

Important support for this interpretation is the US lack of interest in defusing the Korean peninsula "crisis". The summary South Korean dismissal of the January 5, 2011 DPRK peace initiative is an example.

If this interpretation of US strategy is correct, China's relationship with the DPRK is a measure of the progress of the US policy of removing the Chinese obstacle to US global hegemony.


China, U.S. should have 'eye' in long-range focus


15:57, January 10, 2011

We have to recognize as a matter of course that some obstacles and even serious disparities existing in the Sino-US military relationship. For instance,

and so on. These issues have seriously impeded the smooth growth of Sino-US military ties.