Hyten: Reaction to North’s ICBM is priority

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Hyten: Reaction to North’s ICBM is priority

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Gen. John E. Hyten

It is a top priority to address the possibility of North Korea striking the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile, said the incoming commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, calling this his “biggest concern.”

When asked during a confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday if North Korea is developing the ability to strike the United States, Hyten, who has served as commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command since 2014, responded, “I believe that they are developing that capability.”

He added, “There was news of a test of a new, very large rocket engine, a rocket engine that [North Korea] said would be capable of going to the geosynchronous orbit in space. If it has that capability, it has the capability to reach the United States. So I’m very concerned about that.”

North Korea on Tuesday announced it had successfully ground tested a new high-powered engine designed for a geostationary satellite at Sohae Space Center in North Pyongan Province, seen as its latest move to enhance its ballistic missile technology.

Should this prove to be true, the North will have come closer to being able to mounta miniaturized nuclear warhead and deliver it on an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that could potentially reach the United States.

Hyten went on to name Russia as “the most dangerous threat,” followed by China as a close second.

“But the most likely threats and the most concerning are North Korea and then Iran,” he added, “because North Korea is very unpredictable.”

While North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs may still be behind other countries, he pointed out, “When we started building those capabilities, we had failure after failure... but we ended up getting there.”

He continued, “Once they have those capabilities, what are they going to do with them? That’s my biggest concern, and if I am confirmed as commander of Stratcom, that will be at the top of my list to figure out how we best respond to that threat at hand.”

When asked how soon it would be until North Korea’s ICBM could strike mainland United States, Hyten responded that while he could not put a date on it, this capability was “not a matter of if but when,” adding, “We need to start preparing for that.”

As for the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, system in South Korea, Hyten said, “From my military perspective, the Thaad missile battery does not change the strategic deterrence equation because … it doesn’t impact the ability of the strategic force to effectively operate.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Hyten is to succeed Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney as the Stratcom commander.

Observers have pointed out that there is a high likelihood that following its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, North Korea may conduct an ICBM test-firing next month around the anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10, usually a time when the regime flaunts its military power.

U.S. President Barack Obama during his address to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday warned Pyongyang that it will face consequences for its nuclear ambitions.

In his last speech to the General Assembly as U.S. president, during which he looked back on the progress made in his eight years in office, he said, “The stark contrast between, say, the success of the Republic of Korea and the wasteland of North Korea shows that central, planned control of the economy is a dead end.”

He added, “And history shows that strongmen are then left with two paths - permanent crackdown, which sparks strife at home, or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war.”

He then called for nuclear nonproliferation, adding, “We cannot escape the prospect of nuclear war unless we all commit to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and pursuing a world without them.”

To this he used the example of Washington’s diplomatic efforts with Iran and the historic deal reached in April 2015, which limited Tehran’s nuclear program.

“When Iran agrees to accept constraints on its nuclear program, that enhances global security and enhances Iran’s ability to work with other nations,” he said, noting that when North Korea tests another nuclear bomb “that endangers all of us.”

Obama continued, “And any country that breaks this basic bargain must face consequences.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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