The top U.S. military commander in South Korea suggested that Pyongyang has the technological capacity to build miniaturized nuclear warhead that could fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile. The Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel broadly shared the officer’s concerns.
“I believe have the capability to have miniaturized a device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told reporters on Friday during a briefing at the Pentagon. “We have not seen it tested. And I don’t think as a commander we can afford the luxury of believing perhaps they haven’t gotten there.”
Scaparrotti said that he believes that the North Korean not only has the capability to build a miniaturized nuclear weapon, but also the missiles to deliver those weapons. Specifically, Scaparrotti said he was referring to a missile called the KN-08. “I think they have a launcher that will carry it at this point,” he said.
Scarparrotti added that the North Koreans likely do not actually have a working nuclear weapon mated to a missile just yet—merely that Pyongyang has the technological wherewithal to build such a capability.
“I don’t know that they do,” Scarparrotti said. “What I’m saying is, is that I think given their technological capabilities, the time that they been working on this, that they probably have the capabilities to put this together. I don’t believe that they have. I don’t know that they have at this point.”
Scarparrotti said that while he does not know where the technology might have come, North Korea has a “proliferation relationship” with Pakistan and Iran.
Kirby said that the Pentagon leadership largely concurred with the senior commander’s assessment. That is despite the fact that—by Kirby’s own admission–there is no evidence to backup the assertion. Kirby said that North Korea is still some ways away from developing nuclear weapons that can fit onto a missile, however.
“We have no reason here in the Pentagon to doubt Gen. Scarparrotti’s view’s on this,” Kirby said. “As the General said, he has no facts or evidence to confirm that,” he added.