Japan’s government will reportedly state that North Korea is capable of miniaturising nuclear warheads in a forthcoming defence report, it has emerged.
Tokyo will upgrade its estimate of the regime’s nuclear capability, having said last year only that the technical feat was a possibility, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said on Wednesday, without citing sources.
The defence report will maintain Japan’s contention that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes pose a “serious and imminent threat” to its security after recent meetings between Donald Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, failed to make progress on denuclearisation.
The report is expected to receive cabinet approval in mid-September, the Yomiuri said.
North Korea has conducted six rounds of short-range missile launches in recent weeks, in an apparent attempt to pressure Washington into making concessions in any future talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
North Korea’s state KCNA news agency said the most recent launch, on Friday last week, was in protest at joint US-South Korea defence drills that the regime claims are a rehearsal for an invasion. The latest drills, named called 19-2 Dong Maeng, began on 5 August and ended on Tuesday.
KCNA said Kim had overseen the launch of the unspecified “new weapon” and expressed “great satisfaction” over his military’s “mysterious and amazing success rates” in recent testing activity. “It is our party’s goal … to possess invincible military capabilities no one dare provoke, and to keep bolstering them,” it quoted Kim as saying.
Earlier this year a report by the Rand Corporation, a California-based thinktank with close ties to the US military, said North Korea could possess as many as 100 nuclear warheads by 2020.
“North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles increases the possibility of their use against regional states, furthering instability across the region and beyond, thus affecting vital US interests,” the report said.
In 2017, a leaked US intelligence assessment concluded that North Korea had developed the technology to produce nuclear warheads small enough to fit inside missiles, theoretically giving it the ability to send nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs] to distant targets, including the US mainland.
North Korea’s short- and medium-range missiles can strike South Korea and Japan, including US military assets in those countries.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment said, according to the Washington Post.
In last year’s defence white paper, Japan said North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles posed an “unprecedented serious and imminent threat” to its security, adding that the security environment around Japan had become “increasingly severe”, despite dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.