Citing North Korea’s continued effort to improve its not entirely effective long range missile program, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates predicted that not only would the nation have a “limited ability” to attack the continental United States within five years, but that they could use nuclear warheads when doing so.
Predictions of this sort are pretty common, and indeed two years ago the administration predicted that North Korea would have that capability in mid-2012. It seems US officials are forever more optimistic about North Korea’s ability to advance these programs than the North is, however.
The endless speculation centers around the Taepodong-2, a missile which has been in development since 1987. North Korea’s government has twice tested the missile, in 2006 and 2009, and it failed both times. US officials seem convinced enough of the missile’s viability, at least to the extent that it can be used to demand major funding of missile defense systems, which themselves don’t work particularly well, to shoot down the missiles on the off chance they ever get them working.
But Gates insists this proves North Korea poses a ‘direct threat’ to the US and that they must be “engaged” soon. Though he mentions negotiation the US has repeatedly rejected the notion of talks with the North Korean government.