North Korea Claims Advancements in Nuclear Warheads
Pyongyang says it has successfully made nuclear warheads for ballistic missiles
March 8, 2016 7:07 p.m. ET
SEOUL-North Korea said it has successfully made nuclear warheads for ballistic missiles, a claim which, if true, would represent a clear threat to the U.S.
Military officials and analysts outside North Korea have debated for years the isolated nation’s ability to make nuclear explosives small enough to mount on missiles. The opacity of its nuclear program makes it difficult to determine progress in its stated objective.
In a report from Pyongyang’s state news agency on Wednesday, North Korea said leader Kim Jong Un was briefed by scientists about advances in nuclear missile technology.
“The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them, he noted, adding this can be called true nuclear deterrent,” the Korean Central News Agency paraphrased Mr. Kim as saying.
The report also said the warheads were able to generate a thermonuclear reaction, making a more powerful form of explosion if a hydrogen-based weapon is used. North Korea said its latest nuclear bomb on Jan. 6 was a hydrogen-based explosive, although outside experts said the relatively small size of the explosion made it unlikely that it was caused by a typical hydrogen bomb.
There was no way to verify the claims made in the latest report, which follow other threatening statements made by North Korea in recent days as it has responded to international condemnation and sanctions over its latest nuclear and rocket tests.
North Korea has a historical track record of using its state media to make bold claims about its military power.
Mr. Kim recently called for the nation’s nuclear weapons to be ready for immediate use, and the nation’s top military body said it was prepared to take a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland and South Korea.
Such aggressive rhetoric is also common during military drills in South Korea at this time of year, which Pyongyang routinely describes as a rehearsal for invasion.
U.S. military officials say North Korea likely has the ability to mount a nuclear explosive on a ballistic missile that could threaten the American mainland but also note that it hasn’t demonstrated such a capability.
Alongside making a nuclear warhead small enough for a ballistic missile, North Korea would face a series of other technical challenges, including creating a vehicle to protect the warhead from extreme heat and shocks during transit and being able to successfully detonate it on target.
The U.S. and other nations viewed North Korea’s Feb. 7 launch of a long-range rocket as a test of ballistic missile technology. That rocket put a satellite into space. Following the launch, the United Nations, the U.S. and other nations imposed tough new sanctions on Pyongyang.
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