North Korea Expected to Field New, Higher-Threat Missile Soon
Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division participate in an exercise this year in South Korea. North Korea's newest missiles threaten South Korean civilians, as well as U.S. forces stationed there.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 9, 2007) - U.S. officials are "deeply concerned" that North Korea is close to fielding a new short-range missile that could ultimately end up on the international arms market, an outgoing senior defense official said here July 6.

Richard Lawless, who retired June 30 after almost five years as deputy assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs, told Pentagon reporters the new missile would destabilize the Korean Peninsula and the region.

"As this system approaches operational status and is deployed in large numbers, you have for the first time in the North Korean inventory a solid-fuel, highly mobile, highly accurate system whose only purpose, given its range, is to strike the Republic of Korea," he said.

Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, expressed similar concerns last week at the National Press Club.

Gen. Bell called North Korea's nuclear weapons program "extremely provocative, threatening and dangerous." He pointed to North Korea's recent firing of three surface-to-surface missiles, its third test firing of short-range missiles since May 25, an indication that the program is moving forward fast.

"This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored," Gen. Bell said.

Mr. Lawless said the United States is "talking to the North Korean government very actively about this" issue. "We have a problem with this new system because it is much more accurate and much more survivable than the huge Scud missile force already targeted on the Republic of Korea," he said.

But an even bigger concern, Mr. Lawless said, is that North Korea could end up exporting the missiles around the world.

"The North Koreans don't build anything they're not willing to sell to somebody else for the right price," he said. "So if that system is proven and deployable, I would assume it would also go on sale on the international arms market. And wherever it goes, it will have that same capacity (and) that same capability: solid fuel, highly mobile, highly accurate to 120 to 140 kilometers."

Mr. Lawless said the missile tests demonstrate that North Korea has no intention of allowing the Six-Party Talks to curb its capabilities expansion. The talks, which include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are aimed at a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Through the talks, North Korea agreed in February to shut down some of its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and more normalized relations with the United States and Japan.

"All other five members of that six-party group (are) watching very carefully how the North Koreans execute and whether they execute in sequence and on schedule," Mr. Lawless said.

A lot is riding on how North Korea complies with its commitment, he said.

"Immediately in front of us, we have a situation where the North Koreans are responsible for shutting down and then allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify the shutdown of some very specific facilities," he said. "If they do that on time, as promised according to the sequence schedule, that will be an indicator to the United States government that we have somebody that we can deal with."

But past experience casts doubt on that outcome, he acknowledged.

"If, on the other hand, games continue to be played - if there is basically a bait-and-switch approach, which has characterized previous interactions with the North Koreans -- I think we will have to reconsider," he said.

(Donna Miles writes for the American Forces Press Service.)

Page last updated Mon July 9th, 2007 at 09:09