U.S. experts say North Korea’s significant progress in miniaturizing a nuclear weapon is an undeniable threat to South Korea.
Senior military officials from the United States and South Korea said recently that Pyongyang is likely to have completed its quest to minimize a nuclear weapon to a size that could fit atop a ballistic missile.
Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, said in a phone interview that he viewed the North’s advancement as more of a threat to the South than to the United States, "because North Korea has been testing missiles that could certainly reach the South.”
North Korea has yet to test the re-entry ability of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), primarily designed for delivery of nuclear weapons over a long range. Without proven test results of successful re-entry into the atmosphere, Bennett said, the ICBMs possessed by the North cannot reach the U.S.
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said U.S. authorities are aware that North Korea has the capability to attach a nuclear warhead to its Rodong missile, a medium-range device with a range of about 1,300 kilometers.
Pyongyang is “continuing to work on an ICBM capable of carrying a warhead,” he added.
On Monday, South Korea’s defense chief, Han Min Koo, warned that the North’s capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon had "reached a considerable level" and that the South Korean military "should prepare accordingly.”
Han’s remarks followed a comment by the U.S. military commander in South Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, who told reporters at the Pentagon that "I believe they [North Korea] have the capability to have miniaturized the [nuclear] device at this point.”
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.