Defense Issues Weekly – week of April 26th, 2013
North Korea can strike the US
A recent article by the investigative journalist Eli Lake proves beyond all doubt that North Korea does have an ICBM capable of reaching the United States, as well as the technology to miniaturize warheads and put them on such missiles.
It has been, and still is, an article of faith among arms-controllers and advocates of defense cuts in the West that North Korea does not know how to miniaturize warheads and mate them to ballistic missiles and that it doesn’t have an ICBM. They have been persistently making such claims even though the North already has two different ICBM types capable of reaching the US and has delivered satellites into the Earth’s orbit twice: in 1998 and last December.
It is that second satellite launch that has tipped North Korea’s capabilities off. The US and South Korean navies retrieved parts of the missile that carried out that launch, including the frontal section, where the bus for the payload would reside. It confirmed that North Korea has mastered the technology of miniaturizing warheads and mating them to missiles. It follows the simple logic that if North Korea can deliver satellites to the orbit, it can also deliver nuclear warheads, since the technology to deliver both is the same.
South Korean Navy sailors stand guard in December near a part of debris believed to be a fuel container from a rocket launched by North Korea. (Shin Young-gun/AP); republished in http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/15/exclusive-u-s-recovered-north-korean-rocket-head.html
“When North Korean engineers launched a satellite into space December 12, it seemed like business as usual, with the familiar cycle of condemnations from the West and statements of defiance from the Hermit Kingdom. But that launch also led many U.S. intelligence analysts to assess that Pyongyang possessed the ability to miniaturize the components necessary to yield a nuclear explosion for a crude warhead that would sit atop a ballistic missile.
After the North Korean launch, U.S. Navy ships managed to recover the front section of the rocket used in it, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation. That part of the rocket in turn provided useful clues about North Korean warhead design, should the next payload be a warhead rather than a satellite.
The same basic engineering and science needed to launch a satellite into space is also used in the multistage rockets known as intercontinental ballistic missiles. The front of the satellite rocket, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation, gave tangible proof that North Korea was building the missile’s cone at dimensions for a nuclear warhead, durable enough to be placed on a long-range missile that could reenter the earth’s atmosphere from space.
“Having access to the missile front was a critical insight we had not had before,” one U.S. nonproliferation official tells The Daily Beast. “I have seen a lot of drawings, but we had not seen the piece of that missile at that time.” This official continues: “We looked at the wreckage from the launc,h and we put it together with other kinds of intelligence and came to this judgment that they had figured out the warhead piece.””
The discovery thus utterly disproves the claims of arms controllers and defense cuts advocates that North Korea can’t miniaturize warheads or mate them to missiles and that additional missile defenses are unnecessary.
No flexibility on missile defense, Rogers says
State Secretary John Kerry recently offered China and Russia a downgrading of US missile defenses in Asia in exchange for unspecified cooperation on bringing North Korea to order.
His offer, however, has been rebuked by House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), who has warned that the House will not authorize any such measures – or any cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent that are not done by treaty or an Act of Congress itself.
“Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, stated in a letter sent Tuesday to Kerry that he is concerned about the offer disclosed in statements this week by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Unfortunately, for the second time in as many weeks, Secretary Kerry has alluded to making deals with foreign countries regarding our missile defense,” Rogers said in a statement. “I suggest he consult with Congress about deals it won’t possibly support prior to offering concessions with countries that are not friends of ours.”
“He has forgotten pretty quickly since leaving Congress that it controls the purse strings,” the lawmaker said.
Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council that U.S. officials recently supplied “suggestions” for talks on missile defense and revealed plans for adding missile interceptors in Alaska and California and bolstered defenses in Asia.”
Rogers also decried the $500 mn cut in missile defense spending that the administration has proposed in its FY2014 budget submission.
Rogers, however, has not promised to oppose cuts made by Congress itself, or by treaty, even if such Congressional statutes and treaties do cut the nuclear deterrent and US missile defense systems down to inadequate levels.
The House and Senate committee reports of the annual defense authorization bill are due in June.
No more “no-first-strike pledge”
The most recent defense white paper issued by the Chinese government omits any mention of its old no-first-strike pledge.
Hisorically, China has pledged never to be the first to use nuclear weapons, and not to use them against non-nuclear states. However, this pledge now seems to be dead, as China has removed any mention of it from its latest defense white paper.
This follows an earlier statement by a hawkish, anti-American PLA general who has said that China’s no-first-strike pledge does not apply to the US, and statements by Chinese officials that China could use nuclear weapons – even preemptively – if the US defended Taiwan against a Chinese invasion.
The omission occurs in the context of China’s secret nuclear buildup, which has brought the Chinese nuclear arsenal up to a level of 1,800 to 3,000 warheads, depending on the source (retired Russian missile force general Viktor Yesin for the former and former DOD nuclear strategist Philip Karber for the latter figure). While the US intel community and Western arms control advocates still stubbornly claim that China has only 240-300 warheads, Yesin, Karber, and other analysts point out that China has already enough fissile material for 3,600 warheads, enough industrial capacity to produce such large amounts, and a network of 3,000 miles of tunnels for ballistic missiles (called “the Great Underground Wall”) which can only hide a large nuclear arsenal as 3,000 miles of tunnels would be way too much for a small arsenal.
During the Cold War, the US intel community underestimated the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal by 20,000 warheads.
Being secretive about military affairs is explicitly advised by Sun Tzu in his famous military treatise, The Art of War, which generations of Chinese military officers have studied and on which China’s current military buildup is based:
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. (…) Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” – ch. I, verses 17-18 and 21;
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – ch. VII, v. 19;
“Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands. (…) By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must be divided.” – ch. VI, v. 8-9 and 13.