The world’s intelligence agencies and defense experts are quietly acknowledging that North Korea has become a fully fledged nuclear power with the capacity to wipe out entire cities in Japan and South Korea, the Times of London reported.
The new reality has emerged in off-hand remarks and in single sentences buried in lengthy reports. Increasing numbers of authoritative experts — from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the U.S. Defense Secretary — are admitting that North Korea has miniaturized nuclear warheads to the extent that they can be launched on medium-range missiles, according to intelligence briefings.
This puts it ahead of Iran in the race for nuclear attack capability and seriously alters the balance of power between North Korea’s large but poorly equipped military and the South Korean and U.S. forces ranged against it. “North Korea has nuclear weapons, which is a matter of fact,” the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said this week. “I don’t like to accept any country as a nuclear weapon state we have to face reality.”
North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test in 2006 but until recently foreign governments believed that such nuclear devices were useless as weapons because they were too unwieldy to be mounted on a missile.
With 13,000 artillery pieces buried close to the border between the two Koreas, and chemical and biological warheads, it was always understood that the North could inflict significant conventional damage on Seoul, the South Korean capital. Military planners had calculated, however, that it could not strike outside the peninsula.
Now North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, has the potential to kill millions in Japan as well as the South, and to lay waste U.S. bases and airfields in both countries. It will force military strategists to rethink plans for war in Korea and significantly increase the potential costs of any intervention in a future Korean war. The shift from acknowledging North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program to recognizing it as a fully fledged nuclear power is highly controversial. South Korea, in particular, resists the reclassification because it could give the North greater leverage in negotiations.