WASHINGTON — Nuclear-armed North Korea already has hundreds of ballistic missiles that can target its neighbors in Northeast Asia but will need foreign technology to upgrade its arsenal and pose a more direct threat to the United States, U.S. researchers said Tuesday.
Those are the latest findings of a research program investigating what secretive North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability will be by 2020.
Unlike Iran, the current focus of international nuclear diplomacy, North Korea has conducted atomic test explosions. Its blood-curdling rhetoric and periodic missile tests have set the region on edge and there’s no sign of negotiations restarting to coax it into disarming.
For now, the emphasis is on sanctions and military preparedness. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Japan and South Korea this week amid speculation the U.S. wants to place a missile defense system in South Korea against North Korean ballistic missiles, which Seoul is reluctant about as it would alienate China. The U.S. has already deployed anti-missile radar in Japan.