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Expert: Missile test was 'political, not military'

International security expert Jim Walsh
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The U.S. says North Korea may have tested a missile.
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(CNN) -- North Korea apparently tested a short-range missile Sunday, the Bush administration said, further raising concerns about the Korean Peninsula's nuclear standoff.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield spoke Sunday about a string of recent developments with Jim Walsh, an international security expert from Harvard University.

WHITFIELD: This missile was fired ... into the Sea of Japan. Is that the farthest that a short-range missile can go?

WALSH: A short-range missile can extend beyond 100 kilometers, about 62 miles. This was -- remember, North Korea has produced a wide variety of different missiles, mostly variants of the Scud missile. You'll remember that [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein had Scud missiles.

This may have been a cruise missile. It may have been a short-range ballistic missile. I think we are still waiting to find out the data from the U.S. intelligence community about what specifically happened, but the most important thing here is that this was a political act, not a military act.

Viewers should not be confused and think that somehow this missile is the kind of missile that can carry a nuclear warhead or a [weapon of mass destruction] warhead ...

There was a lot of talk earlier in the week because of testimony raising the issue of whether North Korea could put a warhead on a missile. This is not that kind of missile, so people should be careful to draw a distinction between the two.

WHITFIELD: What kind of missiles are we talking about then, if not short-range?

WALSH: The missiles that [Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency] was referring to [in congressional testimony Thursday] was the long-range, two-stage and maybe even three-stage missiles that North Korea may be working on.

It is important to emphasize, however, that there's a lot of misreporting about that event earlier in the week. They have never successfully tested a long-range missile, and in the missile business, if you don't have a successful test, you don't have a missile.

WHITFIELD: Isn't that the concern, that they just might have a nuclear test at some point in the near future?

WALSH: That is a second story. And I know this is so confusing. There are two separate issues here. One is, do they have a nuclear weapon? And to have a nuclear weapon, you really have to have a test for that nuclear weapon. They've never tested nuclear weapons.

Secondly, and separately, there's the issue of a missile that might carry that warhead. And there again, you have to test the missile.

And then finally, the hardest thing of all is to build a warhead small enough that you can put it on that missile, and then you have to test a third time to make sure the whole package works. And we are very, very far from that point, I would say.

WHITFIELD: North Korea says it will not participate in any kind of six-party talks. ... The White House is being urged to have some sort of direct talks with North Korea. Which one is more plausible to happen?

WALSH: There's been a lot of call for direct talks. This event, I think, that we saw, this missile test, was an attempt to put pressure on the United States, to try to get them to come and talk to the North Koreans.

This week has been marked by a lot of name-calling. President Bush called the leader of North Korea "a tyrant." North Korea responded in kind. My own view is that name-calling is not a nonproliferation policy. We do have to do more here.

I expect, though, that the six-party talk process, that the U.S. administration, the Bush administration, is going to stick to that, at least through June, probably past June.

And if anything, they're going to be moving in another direction. They're probably going to try to up the ante and try to put more pressure on North Korea, and we are going to have to wait and see whether that works. It hasn't worked for the past four years. Maybe it will work in the future, but I think that's where they're headed right now.

WHITFIELD: What's the method of any of these nations learning of a missile test out of North Korea? Apparently, Japanese officials had to learn it from U.S. officials, and it would seem it would be the other way around, given the proximity.

WALSH: You would think that, but the U.S. has many more satellites, has many more intelligence -- national technical means, machines and other apparatus that can take measurements and figure out that something has happened.

The Japanese are getting in the satellite business, and I think somewhere down the road they will be able to collect their own data, but they are not quite there yet.

And you are wise to point to Japan, Fredricka, because this is -- this missile test is most likely to have the biggest political impact, not in the U.S., not in South Korea, but in Japan. It's going to make the Japanese nervous, and it's going to put pressure on the Japanese prime minister.

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