By Leo Chang
North Korea today is not the North Korea of 1994 when President Bill Clinton seriously considered a preemptive strike against the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Back then North Korea did not possess any nuclear weapons.
Now North Korea possesses the knowledge of nuclear weapons technology and any US cyberattacks can only slow the process of weapons development but not stop it. Most likely the North's ability to reconstitute nuclear weapons technology is there for good -- and it is proceeding with ICBM experiments too.
David Sanger ran an interesting article, "Trump Inherits a Secret Cyberwar against North Korean Missiles" (New York Times, March 4, 2017). In 2014, the Obama administration ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea's missile program. "Soon a large number of the North's military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea."
Upon close examination, however, "Pentagon's disruption effort, based on interviews with officials of the Obama and Trump administrations, found that the United States still does not have the ability to effectively counter the North Korean missile program."
Despite Trump's saying "It won't happen!," North Korea will continue to develop its nuclear weapons technology. Trump may consider direct missile strikes on the launch sites as did Obama, but there is little chance of hitting every target.
Iran found out about the US and Israeli-led sabotage of its nuclear program using the "Stuxnet" worm, and effectively countered it (as well as cyberattacking Saudi Arabia's oil field computers). Iran was a comparatively easy target, though. Sanger notes that in North Korea, missiles are fired from multiple launch sites around the country and moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries.
Bruce Cummings tells us that for decades the North has built some 15,000 underground facilities of a national security nature. In the mountainous terrain, sometimes a mile deep, are hidden nuclear weapons facilities as well as conventional weapons such as long-range canons. See "Advocates Urge Trump to De-escalate with North Korea, Not Ratchet Up Threats & Military Aggression" (Democracy Now! April 17, 2017) with guests Bruce Cummings, and Christine Hong.)
North Korea seems to have figured out how to deal with cyberattacks. In April and September last year North Korea had successes with R-27 engines and exploded nuclear weapons with more than twice the destructive force of the Hiroshima bomb.
A report on cyber vulnerabilities by the Defense Science Board, commissioned by the Pentagon during the Obama administration, warmed that "North Korea might acquire the ability to cripple the American power grid and it could never be allowed to 'hold vital U.S. strike systems at risk'.""
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