Here’s a follow up on Dave’s post below.
The North Koreans acquired 12 old Soviet subs, Foxtrot and Golf classes. For those living in Seattle, the Russian submarine at Pier 48 is a Foxtrot. As far as I can tell, none of the Foxtrot class has ever been fitted with ballistic missiles, which means that the problem child is the Golf II submarines. The Golf II does have ballistic missile launch capability, which is presumably where the North Koreans got their technology. The reports are as of yet unclear on whether the North Koreans are actually operating any Golf IIs, or if they’re simply cannibalizing them for the missile technology. If these submarines are operational, or if they managed to convert any other submarines, then the North Koreans can sit a sub fifteen miles off the U.S. coast and launch at least three nuclear missiles at any city within range, which is probably about 1500 miles. Here’s a graphic with the current range of Scud and Taepo Dong missiles. You can see that this profoundly increases North Korean capabilities; even basing the R-27 missile on land would be an improvement on what the North Koreans currently have. In case you’re wondering, a ballistic missile defense system would almost certainly prove very ineffective against missiles launched at short ranges.
In 1962, the United States almost went to war when the Soviet Union attempted to deploy ballistic missiles to Cuba. Historians haven’t yet decided whether this would have been a good idea. This development on the part of North Korea is a MUCH more significant shift of capabilities, especially if the North Koreans can deploy nukes on subs.
The actions of the Bush administration have been worse than nothing. They failed to prevent the North Koreans from increasing their nuclear capacity at Yongbyon, and they have failed to develop a new strategy for engaging with North Korea. They took military action off the table by invading Iraq. This alone should be enough reason for any hawk, much less a dove, to rage against the current White House. But, of course, it gets worse. As Dave and others have noted, the submarines were supplied to North Korea by one of the President’s good buddies.
Isn’t that just great. Any chance that the mainstream media will pick up on any of this, or is it too complicated for their poor little brains to comprehend?
Update: Fester has a nice discussion of the capabilities of the subs involved, and also of missile submarine operational tactics. I think he’s right in suggesting that the North Koreans are after a second strike capability. He may be right about the inability of the Golf IIs to survive a trans-Pacific passage; I’m less certain about that. At this point, we don’t really know what kind of platform the North Koreans have in mind, and a weapon aimed at targets of relatively high value (West Coast cities) has more of an impact than one aimed a lower value targets.