North Korea poses ‘ex­is­ten­tial’ threat, Coats in­forms Congress

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MATTHEW PENNINGTON

WASH­ING­TON — North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram poses a po­ten­tially “ex­is­ten­tial” threat to the United States, the na­tional in­tel­li­gence direc­tor said in a bleak ap­praisal to Congress on Thurs­day. He wouldn’t say how close Py­ongyang is to be­ing able to strike the U.S. main­land.

Dan Coats said the un­prece­dented nu­clear and mis­sile test­ing last year in­di­cates leader Kim Jong Un is in­tent on prov­ing North Korea’s ca­pa­bil­ity. The North’s pub­lic claims sug­gest it could con­duct its first flight of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile this year.

And Py­ongyang’s state­ments that it needs nu­clear weapons to sur­vive sug­gest Kim “does not in­tend to ne­go­ti­ate them away at any price,” Coats added at a Sen­ate in­tel­li­gence hear­ing on world­wide threats.

The heads of six U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies re­viewed a slew of na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges fac­ing the United States, warn­ing about de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity in Afghanistan, China’s ris­ing chal­lenge, and Rus­sian and other coun­tries’ use of cy­berspace to tar­get the U.S.

Sen­a­tors sought an as­sess­ment of when North Korea would be able to strike the U.S. with a nu­clear weapon. Coats de­clined to pro­vide such de­tails in an open hear­ing. Coats, how­ever, de­scribed the threat as po­ten­tially “ex­is­ten­tial.” North Korea’s mis­sile tests in 2016, in­clud­ing a space launch that put a satel­lite into or­bit, have short­ened its path­way to­ward a re­li­able in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­sile that could strike Amer­ica, he said, and the North has ex­panded the size and so­phis­ti­ca­tion of its bal­lis­tic mis­sile forces.

Lt. Gen. Vin­cent Ste­wart, the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency’s direc­tor, said North Korea was at the same time de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear de­vice and pro­cess­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial, aim­ing to minia­tur­ize a de­vice for a war­head to mount on such mis­siles.

“They are on that path and they are com­mit­ted to do­ing that,” he said.

In­tel­li­gence chiefs gave a som­bre ap­praisal of se­cu­rity in Afghanistan. Coats said the sit­u­a­tion will de­te­ri­o­rate and the Tal­iban will make gains, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. The per­for­mance of Afghan na­tional se­cu­rity forces will worsen due to weak mil­i­tary lead­er­ship, de­ser­tions and com­bat ca­su­al­ties, he pre­dicted.

If left unchecked, Ste­wart added, the “stale­mate” will de­te­ri­o­rate in the Tal­iban’s favour, risk­ing “all the gains” from U.S.-backed ef­forts there.

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