WASHINGTON – North Korea likely has a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, according to a new assessment by the Pentagon’s intelligence arm that comes amid growing alarm over Pyongyang’s warmongering.
The conclusion by the Defense Intelligence Agency said the weapon would have low reliability, but the disclosure during a congressional hearing Thursday is likely to raise fresh concerns about North Korea’s capabilities and intentions.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., read what he said was an unclassified section of the DIA report while questioning Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a session of the House Armed Services Committee.
Lamborn said DIA had concluded with moderate confidence that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however, the reliability will be low.
The reference to reliability presumably reflected concerns about the accuracy of the ballistic missiles in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the technical difficulties of miniaturizing nuclear devices.
Still, nuclear weapons experts said the assessment is the most specific attributed to the U.S. government on North Korea’s ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon that could reach U.S. troops deployed in the region.
This is the clearest, most direct statement that North Korea has a miniaturized warhead, said Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. But he said the finding is consistent with a series of statements that have been made in the past by U.S. officials.
In his first remarks since the new tensions on the Korean Peninsula, President Obama called on North Korea on Thursday to end its belligerence.
Obama also pledged to take all necessary steps to protect the United States from any North Korean aggression.
U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday that they believe North Korea’s rhetoric represents an effort by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, to show he is firmly in control, and should not be construed as a genuine appetite for war.
They cautioned, however, that U.S. officials have limited evidence to assess his thinking.