U.S. intelligence agencies are not fully in agreement on how far North Korea has advanced in its effort to make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit atop a ballistic missile. In April, a U.S. congressman disclosed that the Defense Intelligence Agency believes with "moderate confidence" that the North could deliver a nuclear weapon by ballistic missile but with "low reliability." The DIA assessment did not mention the potential range of such a strike.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the top U.S. intelligence official, said shortly after the DIA assessment was made public that its conclusion was not shared by other intelligence agencies. Clapper said North Korea has made progress but has not "fully developed, tested or demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear-armed missile."
In its report Thursday, the Pentagon made no mention of the DIA report.
The Pentagon asserted that North Korea wants to leverage the perception that it poses a nuclear threat in order to counter technologically superior forces. South Korea, which does not have nuclear weapons, has a modern military that benefits greatly from a close alliance with the U.S. There are about 28,500 American troops based in the South.
The Pentagon report noted that North Korea has recently showcased its advances in missile technology, including an April 2012 parading of a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile that the Pentagon says has not been flight tested.
"These advances in ballistic missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology ... are in line with North Korea's stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland," the report said.
After a February 2013 nuclear test, North Korea made what the Pentagon called "authoritative public announcements" of its desire to field nuclear-armed missiles with sufficient range to attack targets in the United States.