How concerned should Washington be over North Korea's long range nuclear capabilities?
Within a relatively short span of time, that nation has both announced plans to launch a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States, and to conduct another test of its nuclear weapons which were previously tested in 2011, 2009, and 2006. Pyongyang’s efforts have raised additional concerns due to its close ties and significant cooperation with Iran in strategic weapons development. The prime force behind Pakistan’s nuclear armaments, A.Q. Khan, has also been linked to North Korea's effort. Khan also provided the same design for a Chinese-built small nuclear warhead to Iran.
Pyongyang has made it clear that these actions are part of a consistent effort to enhance that nation’s long-range nuclear capabilities, and that the United States is the target of its efforts. It refers to America as its “sworn enemy” and at other times as its “arch enemy.” North Korea's National Defense Commission has emphasized that its disagreements with America need to be settled by force.
It’s not just the “Hermit Kingdom’s” bellicose attitude towards the USA or South Korea that concerns international observers. Recently, the RAND Corporation noted that:
“The potential combination of WMDs with North Korean missiles, coupled with North Korea's history of proliferation, raises concerns not only within the region but also globally and has a significant impact on related political decisions.”
The mounting of nuclear tipped missiles onto mobile launchers, which appears to have occurred, makes targeting these devices difficult to achieve in a timely or efficient manner if it appeared that an actual strike against either the U.S., South Korea, or any other entity might take place.
The United Nations Security Council has extended its sanctions due to North Korea's aggressive attitude.
It is important to understand China’s role in North Korea’s belligerence. Although publicly Beijing has voiced disapproval, the reality is that is has the financial and diplomatic influence over the Pyongyang regime to quickly bring that nation’s weapons development program to a swift halt.
China stands to gain much from having North Korea armed with nuclear ICBMs, for several reasons. Diplomatically, it deflects world attention from Beijing’s own rapidly growing military prowess, while allowing China to appear as if it is doing the world a favor by restraining a more antagonistic neighbor. Far more importantly, a single North Korean missile could deliver an electro magnetic pulse (EMP) that could devastate both military and civilian capabilities of any nation that opposes China—without Beijing’s fingerprints on the trigger.
The Obama administration remains unsupportive of funding anti-ballistic missile and other efforts that could deter a North Korean type EMP or other nuclear assaults on the United States. Indeed, it was while on a trip to the Korean peninsula that the President famously whispered to Russia’s Medvedev that the White House would be “more flexible” towards Moscow’s anti-US missile shield stance after the November elections. The U.S. only maintains an extremely limited capability of dealing with the type of assault Pyongyang can unleash.