COULD NORTH KOREA HIT ITS NEIGHBORS WITH NUKES?
The Indian Express, April 6, 2013
Washington: North Korea is widely recognised as being years away from perfecting the technology to back up its bold threats of a pre-emptive strike on the United States. But some nuclear experts say it might have the know-how to fire a nuclear-tipped missile at South Korea and Japan, which host U.S. military bases.
No one can tell with any certainty how much technological progress North Korea has made, aside from perhaps a few people close to its secretive leadership. And it is highly unlikely that Pyongyang would launch such an attack, because the retaliation would be devastating.
The North's third nuclear test on Feb. 12, which prompted the toughest U.N. Security Council sanctions yet against Pyongyang, is presumed to have advanced its ability to miniaturize a nuclear device. And experts say it's easier to design a nuclear warhead that works on a shorter-range missile than one for an intercontinental missile that could target the U.S.
The assessment of David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security think tank is that North Korea has the capability to mount a warhead on its Nodong missile, which has a range of 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) and could hit South Korea and most of Japan. But he cautioned in his analysis, published after the latest nuclear test, that it is an uncertain estimate, and the warhead's reliability remains unclear.
Albright contends that the experience of Pakistan could serve as precedent. Pakistan bought the Nodong from North Korea after its first flight test in 1993, then adapted and produced it for its own use. Pakistan, which conducted its first nuclear test in 1998, is said to have taken less than 10 years to miniaturize a warhead before that test, Albright said.
North Korea also obtained technology from the trafficking network of A.Q. Khan, a disgraced pioneer of Pakistan's nuclear program, acquiring centrifuges for enriching uranium. According to the Congressional Research Service, Khan may also have supplied a Chinese-origin nuclear weapon design he provided to Libya and Iran, which could have helped the North in developing a warhead for a ballistic missile.
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