The U.S. government believes North Korea has the power to launch a nuclear weapon against it and in such an event, Washington is ready to defend itself, a senior U.S. military official told Reuters Wednesday. The reclusive East Asian country is reportedly attempting to boost its nuclear capabilities as it continues to direct threats toward the United States.
Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told Reuters that he believed Pyongyang had nuclear weapons that could also be miniaturized to fit on a rocket and reach U.S. soil. North Korea made the claims of owning such weaponry in May and has threatened to attack the U.S. several times in retaliation to Washington's anti-regime stance and its joint military drills with South Korea.
"We assess that they have the capability to reach the homeland with a nuclear weapon from a rocket," Gortney said, according to Reuters. Although he pointed out that predicting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s behavior was a tough job, he said: "We’re ready for him, and we’re ready 24 hours a day if he should be dumb enough to shoot something at us."
"I'm pretty confident that we're going to knock down the numbers that are going to be shot," Gortney added.
Gortney also said that the U.S. military was investing money into modernizing its missile defense system, adding new sensors and radars to improve the identification of possible missile launches, and cutting costs of its defense against such strikes, Reuters reported. However, he warned that a budget cut or a failure to pass a budget for the 2016 fiscal year could risk the plan.
In March, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said that North Korea could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2015. Following the warning, North Korea fired four short-range missiles into its ocean as a test-fire in April and also conducted an underwater test-fire for a newly developed strategic ballistic missile from a submarine in May.
Last month, Pyongyang said it was building a new satellite and was preparing it for a launch. It said its rocket launches were part of a legitimate space program that would help put satellites into orbit.
On Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it has been witnessing an increased amount of activity in North Korea’s main nuclear site and asked the country to abide by international obligations under the United Nations resolutions and agreements. However, on the same day, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers' Party of Korea, published a special essay by Kim, who called on the country to ramp up its nuclear capabilities.
Kim reportedly said that North Korea "should produce more powerful cutting-edge arms of our kind and tirelessly strengthen self-defense nuclear deterrence while rigorously making war-fighting preparations involving the entire population."