General Dunford : North Korea's Ability to Target U.S. with Nuclear-Tipped ICBM "A Very Short Time" Away

by PATRICK GOODENOUGH September 27, 2017

Whether it's three, six or eighteen months, North Korea's capability to reach the United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile is only "a matter of a very short time" away, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday.

Testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his reappointment to the top Pentagon post, Dunford was asked about recent military assessments of Kim Jong-un's ability to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) noted that U.S. Strategic Command commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten has said that "he views North Korea's ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on an ICBM as a matter of when, not if."

The Defense Intelligence Agency, Inhofe continued, "assesses that North Korea would be able to reliably range U.S. mainland with nuclear ICBMs by the end of 2018."

Dunford said those assessments reflected "the collective judgment" of the Department of Defense senior leadership.

"Whether it's three months, six months or 18 months, it is soon," he said. "And we ought to conduct ourselves as though it's just a matter of time - and a matter of a very short time - before North Korea has that capability."

Current tensions with Pyongyang featured prominently in Tuesday's hearing. Regime officials accuse the Trump administration of declaring war on North Korea, and have threatened to shoot down U.S. military aircraft even if flying in international airspace - as U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers did off North Korea's east coast at the weekend.

Also at the weekend, North Korean propaganda sites released a video clip depicting missiles striking U.S. bombers and an aircraft carrier.

And in response to President Trump's speech at the U.N. last week, the regime's foreign minister warned that it could test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. All of the previous six tests, between 2006 and early this month - were conducted underground.

Despite the tensions and threats, Dunford told the panel the U.S. has not detected changes in the North Korean military posture, something which he said was being watched "very carefully."

He also spoke to the U.S.' ability to defend the mainland as well as Hawaii and Guam in the face of the missile threat.

"As the capacity of the threat increases - that is the size, not just the lethality, not just the fact that North Korea can reach us, but the numbers of missiles that they possess that can reach us - then what we need to be concerned about is ensuring that our ballistic missile defense capability keeps pace with that threat," he said.

Asked about the risks entailed in a North Korean nuclear test in the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific, Dunford pointed to examples of accidental nuclear radiation - the 1986 accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine, and the earthquake-induced reactor leakage in Japan in 2011.

"Even with something that isn't anywhere near what the North Koreans are suggesting, we had significant health challenges for many, many years, and obviously a loss of life," he said.

"It would be an incredibly provocative thing for them to conduct a nuclear test in the Pacific as they have suggested," Dunford added. "I think the North Korean people would have to realize how serious that would be, not only for the United States but for the international community."

According to the private security consultancy Stratfor, the last time an atmospheric nuclear test was conducted anywhere was in 1980, when China did so in its remote western Xinjiang region.

"Such a test today would mark a violation of long-established bans on nuclear testing beyond just the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," it said.


Courtesy of     

Patrick covered government and politics in South Africa and the Middle East before joining in 1999. Since then he has launched foreign bureaus for in Jerusalem, London and the Pacific Rim. From October 2006 to July 2007, Patrick served as Managing Editor at the organization's world headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Now back in the Pacific Rim, as International Editor he reports on politics, international relations, security, terrorism, ethics and religion, and oversees reporting by's roster of international stringers.

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