North Korean Nukes and the Buried Lede From the Testimony of the JCS Chairman

Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, to consider his reappointment. Dunford said he’s not seen any shifts in North Korea’s military posture despite the reclusive nation’s threats to shoot down U.S. warplanes amid the “charged political environment” between Washington and Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, to consider his reappointment. Dunford said he’s not seen any shifts in North Korea’s military posture despite the reclusive nation’s threats to shoot down U.S. warplanes amid the “charged political environment” between Washington and Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, to consider his reappointment. Dunford said he’s not seen any shifts in North Korea’s military posture despite the reclusive nation’s threats to shoot down U.S. warplanes amid the “charged political environment” between Washington and Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford testifed before the Senate Armed Services Committee at the hearing for his reappointment to another term as chairman. Most of the press covered the really important stuff, like transgenders, the fact that he thinks the JCPOA has delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and his statement that North Korea has not moved their armed forces to a higher readiness level. In short, anything that might plausibly serve as a sign of highly patriotic and principled dissent by General Dunsford from positions taken by the administration.

In my view, the most important thing Dunford had to say was about North Korea because it tells us a lot about the policy options that Washington sees as viable

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) noted that U.S. Strategic Command commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten has said that “he views North Korea’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on an ICBM as a matter of when, not if.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency, Inhofe continued, “assesses that North Korea would be able to reliably range U.S. mainland with nuclear ICBMs by the end of 2018.”
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Dunford said those assessments reflected “the collective judgment” of the Department of Defense senior leadership.

“Whether it’s three months, six months or 18 months, it is soon,” he said. “And we ought to conduct ourselves as though it’s just a matter of time – and a matter of a very short time – before North Korea has that capability.”

What Dunford is saying is that the assessment of the intelligence community is that North Korea currently does not have a nuclear weapon that can be mounted on an ICBM or IRBM. In fact, his assessment of their engineering and manufacturing progress is exactly what I said in August.

The implication of this, of course, is that any military action against North Korea has to be taken in a very small and closing window of time if we want to ensure the conflict is a conventional one. We are in that brief twilight where non-proliferation strategies have failed but we are not yet confronted with attempting to deter North Korea from shooting a nuke at us if Kim’s mistress prepares him some bad kae golgi.