Robert D. Walpole,
National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear
North Korea's Taepo Dong Launch and
on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Strategic and International Studies
8 December 1998
Good morning. I welcome the opportunity to be here today to talk about
the recent North Korean Taepo Dong launch, and more broadly the ballistic
missile threat to the United States. Assessing and defining the threat to
our homeland and to our interests worldwide is one of the most important
intelligence missions in the post-Cold War world. At the outset, I want to
underscore that the Intelligence Community considers foreign assistance to
be fundamental to that threat, not merely an incidental aspect of the
problem. The threat is real, serious, and growing. In fact, Congress has
mandated that we provide annual Community reports on the threat. But the
threat is also dynamic. Since our March 1998 annual report to Congress on
foreign missile developments, the Pakistani Ghauri, Iranian Shahab 3, and
North Korean Taepo Dong 1 missiles/launch vehicles have all been tested.
In light of the latter, we published a classified update memorandum in
October on the North Korean Taepo Dong missiles and some potential
implications for the future.
Taepo Dong 1 Launch. Let me begin with the August 31 Taepo
Dong-1 satellite launch attempt. While the system's third stage failed,
the launch confirmed Intelligence Community concerns the past several
years regarding North Korea's efforts to acquire an ICBM capability; the
launch also demonstrated some unanticipated developments.
We have been following North Korea's ICBM progress since the early
1990s, most notably, its efforts to develop what we called the Taepo Dong
1 medium-range missile and the Taepo Dong 2 ICBM, both of which we had
assessed were two-stage missiles. The fact that we have been following
these efforts for many years is significant:
- First, it indicates that North Korea has taken about ten years since
it made the decision to acquire an ICBM capability to conduct a flight
test, and deployment has not yet begun. Projections of missile
development and deployment need to be country- and program- specific; we
cannot follow a single template for the world.
- Second, it means that we have been reporting on and making
projections about these developments for years. In some cases, our
projections overestimated North Korean capabilities; for example, some
projected that the Taepo Dong-2 would have flown by now. In any event,
our reports over the years relate to questions about current and future
Intelligence Community abilities to warn about ICBM programs and
The August launch used what we had called the Taepo Dong-1 medium-range
missile, but it had an unanticipated third stage. Although the North
Koreans failed to place their satellite into orbit, they tested some
important aspects of ICBM development and flight, such as multiple stage
separation, roughly on the timetable we expected, but using a vehicle
configuration we had not anticipated.
The existence of the third stage concerns us. First, we had not
included it in our earlier projections; neither had outside experts
looking at our intelligence. Second, it and potentially larger third
stages have significant implications for the Taepo Dong-2. Third, it
raises many proliferation concerns. We are continuing to conduct more
analysis on it, trying to identify more about it, including its
capabilities and why it failed.
Our update memorandum assesses the North Korean capabilities
demonstrated by this launch and the threat implications of the Taepo Dong
missiles. The memorandum notes, for example, that the first and second
stages performed to North Korean expectations, providing what amounts to a
successful flight test of a two-stage Taepo Dong 1 medium-range missile.
With an ability to deliver several hundred-kilogram payloads about two
thousand kilometers, the system poses a threat to US allies and interests
in the region.
We also assess that after the North Koreans resolve some important
technical issues, including assessing why the third stage failed, they
would be able to use the three-stage configuration as a ballistic missile,
albeit with great inaccuracy, to deliver small payloads to ICBM ranges;
that is, ranges in excess of 5,500 km—the smaller the payload, the longer
Taking note of that relationship between payloads and ranges, the
update looks at the implications of lighter payloads for the Taepo Dong-2,
which we had assessed in the mid-1990s could deliver larger
payloads—several hundred to a thousand kilograms—4,000 to 6,000
kilometers. At the upper end of that range, the Taepo Dong-2 could reach
mainland Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands with these heavy payloads. Simple
physics tells us the lighter payloads could go further. The update
memorandum also looks at the implications of the third stage on the Taepo
Dong-2; with the stage demonstrated in August, the Taepo Dong-2, again
with significant inaccuracy, could probably reach the rest of the United
States, depending on the size of its payload.
We also discussed proliferation and transfer implications of the
missiles to countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq (if unrestrained).
Finally, the update discusses our assessments of these countries'
biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs.
We have learned that we need to be much more explicit in our warnings
about missile developments—not just indicating that a country has an ICBM
program, that it could flight test and deploy an ICBM in given years, all
of which are important messages. We also need to include clearer language
and more details about how we might and might not be able to warn about
other specific milestones in an ICBM development effort, judgments that
will likely vary by country. We have determined that concepts like
“deployment” vary by country; in some cases, for example, deployment may
not require dedicated, long-term missile basing facilities.
The Taepo Dong launch demonstrated—in a way that words alone
cannot—only one of the emerging threats facing the US interests. Our March
1998 annual report was prepared as our first response to a request by
Congress for a yearly update of that threat assessment. Under the DCI's
direction, the 1998 report responded to criticisms levied at a 1995
National Intelligence Estimate. It also incorporated the recommendations
of outside experts who reviewed the 1995 estimate. As a result, the 1998
report addresses concerns regarding how we discuss foreign assistance,
alternatives to increasing a missile's range, and approaches to circumvent
development. Work is already underway on the 1999 report, and we are
looking differently at how we characterize uncertainties, alternative
scenarios, and warnings as a result of our interaction with outside
experts since the March report was published. With the continued
involvement of outside experts, I expect successive reports to be better,
addressing additional questions as they are asked.
Our 1998 Report. This morning I would also like to outline the
March 1998 report; discuss areas where the substantive conclusions might
agree or disagree with those of other experts; and discuss what we are
doing differently for our 1999 report. While I wish you all could read our
March 1998 report, which gives a full appreciation for our views and
concerns about this growing threat, it remains classified, and therefore
cannot be released to the public. But, I can give you a feel for what the
Let me first make four points on our methodology.
- One: we do not expect countries to follow any specific pattern for
ICBM development. In fact, the United States, the former Soviet Union,
and China all took different approaches. We frequently caution ourselves
against any mirror-imaging. Just because a country took a certain amount
of time—long or short—to develop and deploy an ICBM does not mean
another country will.
- Two: we recognize that foreign countries can hide many activities
from us. These countries are generally increasing their security
measures and are learning from each other and from open reporting of our
capabilities. Hence, while I am able to share somewhat with you today, I
will not go beyond limits that will help them hide even more from us.
- Three: with limited data, we are forced somewhat to use input and
output methodologies to evaluate the threat. In addition, the
Intelligence Community must attach likelihood judgments to its
projections; thus, we project scenarios we judge to be most likely and
include other scenarios with likelihood judgments attached. Let me
repeat, we agree with others that many scenarios are possible, with
varying degrees of likelihood. Indeed, we have looked at many of these
rapid-development scenarios, including outright sales, which could get a
country from a decision to “deployment” in a matter of months, weeks, or
even days, depending on one's scenario.
- Four: we do not consider the ‘absence of evidence' to be ‘the
evidence of absence.' Quite the contrary, intelligence analysts
routinely face gaps and make analytical judgments to project plausible
scenarios. Working with limited evidence and making judgments is central
to our job, as long as we underscore when we have little or no evidence.
Analysts did so in the case of the critical threats some of the missiles
pose. We also have noted that successful missile tests would give
countries an emergency launch capability with any missiles in their
inventory, even without evidence of deployment.
In the report, we underscore the significant role foreign assistance
has played and continues to play—indeed throughout the report are several
major discussions of technology transfer. For example, the report begins
with several pages discussing the extent of foreign assistance from
numerous suppliers to even more recipients. It also notes how foreign
assistance has helped specific missile programs, such as assistance with
Iran's Shahab 3 missile. The report underlines the immediate threat posed
by medium-range missiles, our continuing concern about existing and
emerging ICBMs, and the increasing danger that comes from the
proliferation activities of countries that possess or are developing such
systems. We and the Rumsfeld Commission—using the available evidence,
group debate, and outside expert review—came to some different conclusions
about some of the timelines for ICBM development. Nevertheless, where
evidence is limited and the stakes are high, we all need to keep
challenging our assumptions—a role we will perform on this issue at least
I'll now summarize the body of the report, which focuses on the threat
Theater-range missiles already in hostile hands pose an immediate and
increasing threat to US interests, military forces, and allies. More
countries are acquiring ballistic missiles with ranges up to 1,000 km, and
more importantly, with ranges between 1,000 km and 3,000 km. As Iran's
flight test of its Shahab 3 medium-range missile demonstrates, this is not
hypothetical; it is a reality that has to be dealt with now. With a range
of 1,300 km, the Shahab 3 significantly alters the military equation in
the Middle East by giving Tehran the capability to strike targets in
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and most of Turkey. The Pakistani Ghauri, also
tested this year, allows targeting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf,
in addition to increasing Pakistan's coverage of India.
Foreign assistance is fundamental to the growing theater missile
threat. As we describe in the 1998 report, for example, Iran received
important foreign assistance in developing its Shahab 3. Moreover,
countries are seeking the capability to build these missiles independently
of foreign suppliers. The growth in the sharing of technology among the
aspiring missile powers is also of concern.
While we project that Russia's strategic forces will shrink, they
continue to be modernized and will remain formidable. China has about 20
CSS-4 ICBMs, in addition to shorter-range missiles. Most of the CSS-4s are
targeted against the United States, and modernization efforts will likely
increase the number of Chinese warheads aimed at the United States. Our
report further noted that we judge that an unauthorized or accidental
launch of a Russian or Chinese strategic missile is highly unlikely, as
long as current security procedures and systems are in place. Russia
employs an extensive array of technical and procedural safeguards and
China keeps its missiles unfueled and without warheads mated.
Among those countries seeking longer-range missiles, the report noted
that North Korea is the most advanced, a judgment underscored by the
recent launch. The report noted that North Korea could flight test the
Taepo Dong-2 missile this year (with only a few weeks left of the year,
this is likely another overestimation on our part) and that it could be
deployed in a few years. Beyond the North Korean Taepo Dong-2, the March
report judged it unlikely, despite the extensive transfer of
theater missile technology, that other countries (except Russia and China
as just mentioned) will develop, produce, and deploy an ICBM
capable of reaching any pant of the United States over the next decade.
Of course, the key words here were develop, produce, and deploy.
As the report also noted, the purchase of a missile, either complete or as
components of a kit, is a different matter. In fact, we identified several
alternative scenarios for a country to acquire an ICBM capable of reaching
the United States sooner than 2010, without having to develop,
produce, and deploy one. These included buying an ICBM, a space launch
vehicle (SLV) to convert into an ICBM, or a complete production facility
for either. The report judged that the current policies of Russia and
China make sales-related scenarios unlikely, given potential political
repercussions, the creation of a self- inflicted threat, and China's own
military needs. Our report also pointed out that we cannot be certain that
this will remain true over the long term. Indeed, the further into the
future we project the politico-economic environment, the less certain we
would be that the 'value' of the sale would not outweigh these factors in
foreign thinking. And, as North Korea develops its Taepo Dong missiles,
sales become an increasing concern.
But ICBMs are not the only emerging missile threats to the United
States. A number of countries have the technological wherewithal to
develop the capability to launch ballistic (or cruise) missiles from a
forward-based platform, such as a surface ship. Forward-basing from
dedicated vessels or from freighters could pose a threat to the United
States in the near term—well before 2010.
Our abilities to warn about the above-mentioned threats and postulated
concerns vary. The 1998 report assessed that:
- We could provide five years warning before deployment that a
potentially hostile country was trying to develop and deploy an
ICBM capable of hitting the United Slates, unless that country
purchased an ICBM or SLV (including having another country develop the
system for them); had an indigenous SLV; or purchased a turnkey
production facility. The comments I made earlier about our reporting
over the years on North Korean ICBM development efforts underscore that
- We could not count on providing much warning of either the sale of
an ICBM or the sale and conversion of an SLV (conversion could occur in
as little as two years). Nevertheless, if a hostile country acquired an
SLV, we would warn that the country had an inherent ICBM capability. I
note, however, that both the United States and the Soviet Union used
systems we did not consider as ICBMs to place their first satellites
into orbit. The satellite we orbited weighed only 14 kg.
These two warning capabilities must be understood in tandem.
Unfortunately, the warning related to sales may dominate in the
near term. As North Korea proceeds with its Taepo Dong developments, we
assess that they will follow their current path and market them; at a
minimum, aspiring recipients will try to buy them.
- We probably would obtain indications of the construction of a
turnkey facility before it was completed, providing several years'
- If a country had an SLV, it could probably convert it into an ICBM
in a few years, significantly reducing warning time.
- Adapting missiles for launch from a commercial ship could be
accomplished covertly and probably with little or no warning.
Finally, our report noted that non-missile delivery of weapons
of mass destruction—biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological
weapons—poses a serious, immediate threat to US interests at home and
Outside Views of March 1998 Report. The tests of several
medium-range missiles since that report was published underscored our
theater concerns expressed in March. The three-stage Taepo Dong-1's
ability to deliver small payloads to intercontinental ranges underscored
our concerns about the possibility of a North Korean ICBM test this year.
Since our March report was published, the Rumsfeld Commission and others
have also commented upon the threat. There is broad agreement on several
- The threat is real and growing.
- Foreign assistance and proliferation are the fundamental reasons for
the growing threat.
- Foreign denial and deception and resource constraints are making our
job more difficult.
- There are plausible scenarios that could result in an increased
missile threat to the United States with little or no warning.
Since information is limited, we also have some areas of disagreement.
Our projections for North Korea, Iran, and Iraq differ from the 5-year
general statement made by the Rumsfeld Commission. We project each
country's programs individually, taking into account collaboration and
- Thus, we were able to illustrate our view that North Korea is ahead
of the others and could have an ICBM sooner, primarily because we
beleved that North Korea probably made the decision to acquire an ICBM
at least a decade ago.
- The recently tested Iranian Shahab 3 is based on the North Korean No
Dong and followed North Korea's test, even with foreign assistance, by
several years. Nevertheless, Iran will continue to seek longer range
missiles. If Iran follows a pattern similar to the Shahab 3 time frame,
it would take them many years to develop a 10,000 km range ICBM to reach
the United States. On the other hand, if they purchased an ICBM from
North Korea or elsewhere or followed the approach North Korea recently
demonstrated of placing a third stage on its boosters, it would be
quicker. If they bought an ICBM with a sufficient range and payload
capability, further development might be a moot point.
- When the Commission published its report in July, it considered Iraq
to be behind North Korea and Iran relative to ballistic missile
technology, assessing it would take Iraq 10 years from decision to
deployment for an ICBM. Two months later, the Commission revised that
judgment before the Senate Armed Services Committee, dropping the
timeline to 5 years along with North Korea and Iran. We consider Iraq to
have some advantages over other countries. Iraq was ahead of Iran before
the Gulf war, and it has not lost the technological expertise and
creativity. If sanctions were lifted, it would take them several years
to develop a 9,000 km range ICBM to reach the United States. As with
Iran, if Iraq purchased an ICBM, or followed the approach North Korea
recently demonstrated, it would be quicker. If they bought an ICBM with
a sufficient range and payload capability, further development might be
a moot point.
1999 Report. We are already working on the 1999 annual report
and are planning to include significant additional outside expertise and
- Private-sector contractors are helping us identify alternative
development paths that future ballistic missiles could take, including
specific technologies and potential hurdles involved. These efforts
include assessments of the effects of increased foreign assistance.
- We have scheduled a conference with the Center for Strategic and
International Studies to have academia and others postulate future
politico-economic environments that foster missile sales and increasing
- This summer, the Intelligence Community published a classified paper
that postulated ways a country could demonstrate an ICBM capability with
an SLV, and examined various ways it could convert its SLVs into ICBMs.
This work will also feed into the 1999 report as a generic look at some
- Finally, drafting is underway on a paper that examines how countries
could push Scud technology beyond perceived limits. Scientists and
nonscientists are involved. Sometimes, those already outside the box can
think outside the box more readily.
We also intend in the 1999 report—after discussing our projected
timelines for likely missile developments and deployments, as well as our
concerns for ICBM sales—to postulate and evaluate many alternative
scenarios, including those mentioned above. Finally, we will be much more
explicit and detailed in our discussions about warning. All these
evaluations will be made through the lens of potential denial and
deception efforts, to ensure that as our task gets more difficult, we
provide our policy makers with a clear representation of what we know,
what we don't know, what we can't know, and finally what we judge based on
evidence, the lack thereof, and expertise from inside and outside the
Conclusion. In conclusion, I'll state that we, the Rumsfeld
Commission, and some other outside experts agree that the missile threat
confronts the Intelligence Community with an array of complicated problems
that require innovative solutions. I would also emphasize how appreciative
we are of the Commission's work. I particularly like the fact that they
received approval to publish a relatively detailed unclassified report on
the threat. We gave the Commission access to all the available
intelligence information, regardless of classification.
Finally, the Commission made a number of excellent recommendations for
how we can improve collection and analysis on foreign missile
developments. Indeed, its report reinforces the DCI's call for a stronger
investment in analysis and more aggressive use of outside expertise.
Incorporating the Commission's ideas will strengthen our work. The missile
threat is a serious and complex issue, one of many others that the
Intelligence Community is working. We use many vehicles, including
estimates, briefings, and annual reports, to convey our analyses and
warnings to policy makers and Congress. We will continue to do so on this
and other issues.
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