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How real is the ‘rogue’ threat?

As President Bush continues to trumpet the threat posed by missiles from so-called “rogue” nations, no missile currently deployed by any of them has the range to strike any of the 50 U.S. states.
/ Source: NBC News

As President Bush, forging ahead with a plan to build a national missile shield, continues to trumpet the threat posed by missiles from so-called “rogue” nations, no missile currently deployed by countries hostile to the United States has the range to strike any of the 50 U.S. states. And only one missile system currently being developed by a foreign nation would have such a capability in the near future, according to intelligence and expert analysis.

OF THE FIVE “rogue” states usually mentioned in discussions of missile programs — Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Pakistan — only North Korea has what can be called an advanced missile development program.

North Korea’s Taepo-Dong 2 missile, still under development, would have the range to strike the United States — but likely only at Alaska’s thinly populated western edge, or under the most optimistic assessments, the city of Anchorage. While it would be the first missile strike on U.S. soil, it would do little damage to U.S. strategic interests and would almost certainly be met by a devastating U.S. counterstrike, and that would do little damage to U.S. strategic interests, say U.S. officials.

Only two of the five “rogue” nations — North Korea and Pakistan — have nuclear weapons, and only Pakistan is believed to have successfully built nuclear warheads for its missiles. While U.S. intelligence believes North Korea has built one or two nuclear weapons, there is no evidence that it has built missile warheads, say U.S. intelligence sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.


The five countries’ missile development programs are hindered by other limitations, say U.S. officials and independent experts:

None has fielded a missile with a solid rocket engine or even tested such an engine in flight. Each uses liquid fuel engines, which require hours and in some cases days to load and fire. A solid rocket engine can be lighted and fired within in minutes.

None of the states have extensive missile-launch facilities or even missile-development facilities. North Korea’s facility on the Sea of Japan is limited to a single, unprotected launch pad and nearby assembly building, connected by a dirt road.

None have the industrial capability to build even moderately large numbers of missiles.

InsertArt(1101836)North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2, the most advanced missile in development by any of the “rogue” states, has yet to be fired from the Koreans’ rudimentary missile-test facility.

Under the most optimistic assessments, the missile would have a range of 3,600 miles when fielded, U.S. intelligence officials say. At that 3,600-mile range, it could strike as far east as Anchorage. If its range is at the low end of estimates — 2,400 miles — it could strike only the westernmost islands of Alaska’s sparsely populated Aleutian chain.

The Taepo-Dong 2, named for the city where it is built, would need a range of more than 4,800 miles to strike the U.S. mainland, and somewhat less to hit Hawaii.

“North Korea has a very modest facility ... more of a missile proving ground, like White Sands out of 1946, not Vandenberg [Air Force Base] or the Kennedy Space Center,” said Tim Brown, senior analyst for The White Sands Proving Ground was established in New Mexico at the tail end of World War II by the U.S. military to test new weapons’ systems.


No other nation on the “rogue” list has fielded a missile with a range greater than 900 miles, according to U.S. officials. Pakistan has the Ghauri missile, which it bought from North Korea and renamed for a Muslim king who invaded Pakistan’s archrival India. Iran has yet to test any missile with a range greater than 600 miles.

Libya has only Scud-B missiles with ranges of 180 miles, and Iraq is limited by U.N. sanctions to missiles with ranges no greater than 90 miles. Although Baghdad is believed to have hid Scud missiles from weapons inspectors, none have ranges greater than 540 miles. Development programs in each of those states is aimed at incremental increases in range, officials say.

InsertArt(1101838)Two of the missiles — the Pakistani Ghauri and the Iranian Shehab — are derivatives of North Korea’s No-Dong missiles, which Pyongyang has sold and transported by both ship and cargo aircraft to buyer nations.

“One question is how reliable these systems would be,” said Globalsecurity’s Brown. “Putting a crude rudimentary system in operation without doing a lot of testing is risky. Military generals want a lot of testing. The question is, is this a serious military program or a terrorist program where you wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of testing?”

The United States fears that North Korea could ultimately sell the longer range missiles it has under development as well. Still, because of geography, even if the Pakistanis or Iranians bought a North Korean missile and wanted to aim at the United States instead of one of their neighbors, neither is close enough to to strike even Alaska.

Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News.