May 2015 – NORTH KOREA – North Korea claimed Wednesday it has been able to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit on a missile — a development that, if verified, would mark a major advance in its military capabilities and the threat it can pose to the world. Pyongyang has a habit of making exaggerated claims about its technical abilities, and Wednesday’s assertion comes amid widespread doubts about its reported test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile earlier this month. But Kim Jong Un’s regime is known to have been working on both its nuclear weapons program and missile technology, and analysts widely believe that it’s just a matter of time until they put the two together through “miniaturization.”
The North’s National Defense Commission, or NDC — its highest military authority, chaired by Kim — said that it was able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile, designed to be fired at the mainland United States. “It is long since [North Korea’s] nuclear striking means have entered the stage of producing smaller nukes and diversifying them,” a spokesman for the NDC said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea “has reached the stage of ensuring the highest precision and intelligence and best accuracy of not only medium- and short-range rockets, but long-range ones,” the KCNA report continued, according to a translation by the South’s Yonhap News Agency.
It added that this month’s purported submarine military test was part of a larger strategy of advancing its nuclear program as part of its “byungjin” policy, under which North Korea hopes to advance both its nuclear weapons capabilities and its economy. Pyongyang claimed it had sent a “world-level strategic weapon” soaring “into the sky from underwater.” State media ran photos of Kim aboard a boat holding binoculars as the rocket blasted out of the sea. But that purported test has been widely discredited. On Tuesday, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the North Koreans “have not gotten as far as their clever video editors and spinmeisters would have us believe.” “They are years away from developing this capability,” he told a forum in Washington.
Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., an expert on North Korea’s weapons programs and chief analytical officer at AllSource Analysis, a consulting firm, wrote that the test launch appeared to have been from a submerged barge, rather than from a submarine. The commentary was in a report for 38 North, a Web site devoted to North Korea. Like state newspapers, North Korean television also ran still photos, rather than video, of the test, leading analysts to speculate that the missile had flown for only a few seconds. Notably, one of the photos was not cropped as it was in the newspapers and showed a ship towing a barge. Still, experts put miniaturization of nuclear weapons as a distinct possibility. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests and regularly launches missiles of varying ranges, advancing their efforts with each test.
In a separate report for 38 North earlier this year, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said that it seemed “very plausible” to him that North Korea would be able to design nuclear weapons small enough to fit on a missile. “I’ll be the first person to say that we should not exaggerate the capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear forces, but underestimating them is every bit as bad,” Lewis wrote. “The North Koreans are developing military capabilities that we will, sooner or later, have to deal with.”
A 2013 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency said it had “moderate confidence” that Pyongyang had the ability to miniaturize its nuclear weapons and mount them on long-range missiles. U.S. military officials have offered similar assessments more recently, although the military does not consider weapons to be operational until they’ve been tested.
“Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland,” Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters at the Pentagon last month, referring to North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile. This echoed an earlier statement from General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea. “I believe they have the capability to miniaturize the device at this point and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have,” he said in October. –NH Register