U.S. to add missile interceptors to counter North Korean saber-rattling


McClatchy Newspapers

Responding to a new level of belligerence from North Korea, the United States will place more missile interceptors in Alaska to respond to a nuclear threat that’s advancing faster than anticipated, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

His announcement comes as North Korea has ratcheted up its rhetoric, threatening to attack the U.S. and taking a more aggressive tone toward South Korea.

Fourteen new ground-based interceptors will be placed mostly in a reopened missile field at Fort Greely, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, and will bring the number of U.S. interceptors in the area to 44. Hagel said the $1 billion program should be ready by 2017.

The defense secretary said it was important to make the move now and “not to take any chances, to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency . . . to make sure we’re not reacting to (North Korea’s) timeline.”

The announcement came at a news briefing by Hagel, who was accompanied by other high-level Pentagon officials. They said the new interceptors would cover all American states and territories.

Besides North Korea’s increasingly warlike posture, development of its missile program has increased as well, defense officials said. Last April, a long-range missile test appeared to be an embarrassing failure. But in December, the communist country appeared to have a successful launch. Last month, it carried out what defense officials said appeared to be a successful underground nuclear test.

Adding to concerns, North Korea recently nullified a 1953 truce with South Korea and threatened a pre-emptive strike against the United States.

Defense officials said there was no evidence to support a North Korean general’s claims this week that the rogue nation has nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles ready to fire at the United States. But Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military officials now thought that the North Korean long-range missile “probably does have the range to hit the United States.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the move was “a much-needed measure of protection against the North Korean threat.”

But while “a step in the right direction,” Inhofe said, it “does not go far enough to address the threat from Iran.” He said it was time for President Barack Obama to develop interceptor sites on the East Coast, in addition to Alaska.

Stephen Long, an expert on North Korea at the University of Richmond, said Friday’s announcement overstated the North Korean threat. He said North Korean missiles hadn’t been shown to be able to reach U.S. shores and that there was no proof the country’s missile program had miniaturized a warhead necessary for an attack.

“The real chance that North Korea launches anything like a real attack on the United States is pretty much down to zero,” he said.

Email: mschofield@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @mattschodcnews

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Syrian rebels say Islamic State could be defeated

    When the shock troops of the Islamic State set out to conquer a city in Syria or Iraq, their first move has been to avoid a battle by spreading terror – using videos that show them savaging civilians and beheading captured soldiers.

A pro-Russian rebel watches as Ukrainian troops are evacuated from the rebel-held town of Starobesheve, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Ukrainian government forces have succumbed to a sequence of military failures and seen their holdings in the conflict-ridden east shrink in recent days as Russian-backed rebels continue their fast-paced offensive.

    Pro-Russia rebels confident after making gains

    As the survivor of a tank attack on a Ukrainian army truck was being carried into an ambulance, he was showered with verbal abuse by a rebel fighter.

  • Pakistani protesters head toward premier's house

    Pakistani police are firing tear gas at thousands of protesters led by a cricket-legend-turned politician and an anti-government cleric as they march toward the prime minister's home in the capital.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category