Philip MaxonGates and North Korean ICBMs

Last month Secretary Gates made the comment that North Korea was within five years of being able to hit the United States with an ICBM.¬† Over at Joel Wit’s wonderful 38 North Blog, David Wright and myself have complementary pieces regarding North Korea’s ICBM capabilities.

My piece, “Official Estimates of the Taepo Dong 2”, examines the over 15 year history of U.S. government estimates regarding North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

David’s piece, “Secretary Gates and the North Korean Missile Threat”, examines actual North Korean capabilities and possible future developments.

Check them out and let me know what you think.

As a side note, I had the honor of writing on the Wonk as a result of working for Jeffrey while he was at New America. When he departed New America, I stayed on and focused on terrorism and India-Pakistan issues with the Counter-terrorism team. Now, I’m looking elsewhere to stay in the field of nuclear weapons policy and nonproliferation. If you know of positions¬† or opportunities around DC, let me know. Thanks readers.


  1. Anon (History)

    Wikileaks had a cable on this: I paste the text as the URL is shut down from time to time


    • Anon (History)

      Uh……………….it *was* a frickin’ quote — not the full text.

      Admittedly a long quote.

      What is the policy on the length of quote allowed?

  2. David Watson (History)

    That’s an interesting cable – I’ve read the bits about the BM-25 in newspapers, but its an inteersting read about North Korea and Iran’s development history.

    What’s really interesting is how little confirmed or shared facts there are, even about launches – see the differeing opinions on what North Korea launched in July 2009.

    Russia’s opinions on the BM025 are now out of date – The missile exists at least to the extent that North Korea has shown at least 8 of them with bespoke TELs off in their recent parade. And the analysis on here about the Unha 2 launch suggests that a BM-25 formed the second stage – which, along with the first stage, performed within North Korea’s prior outlined paramaters (as they fell within their exclusion zones).

    Since only the third stage failed with the Unha-2, clearly they almost have an operational satellite launch vehicle, which could be modified into a primitive ICBM in a number of years – but they can only achieve either with an enthusiastic testing programme, which they show no signs of undertaking.

  3. David Watson (History)

    Actually, going back to the disagreement over the July 2009 tests – America saying they were No-Dongs and Russia saying they weren’t even Scuds – How do we know what missiles North Korea tests at all? Assuming they test at a fairly short range, presumably they could even have tested a BM-25 then or in 2006?

    Or is there another way other than range to judge what missiles they test? (I would presume – perhaps falsely – that North Korea would cover up their missiles until just before launch to avoid satellite photos.)

    • John Schilling (History)

      The intensity of the plume, as seen by e.g. a DSP satellite’s infrared sensors, is a pretty good indication of how much thrust a missile’s engine is producing. That plus range and burn time ought to narrow things down a bit – at least to the point of distinguishing a BM25 from a Scud.

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