Rumsfeld eyes ICBMs in terror war

Kristin Roberts | Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
28 August 2006 09:56

United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday warned North Korea may pose a threat as a weapons seller to terrorists and that the US would consider taking the nuclear warheads off intercontinental ballistic missiles so they could be used against terrorists.

Rumsfeld, in Alaska to visit a missile defence installation weeks after Pyongyang test-fired a long-range missile believed capable of reaching the United States, said North Korea is testing missiles to show the capabilities to potential buyers.

"They sell anything to anyone," he said.

"They sell our currency that they counterfeit. They're selling illegal drugs. They're selling basic missile technologies. There's not much they have that they wouldn't sell either to another country or possibly to a terrorist network."

In fact, Rumsfeld said North Korea is more a danger as a proliferator than a military force to challenge South Korea.

"I think the real threat that North Korea poses in the immediate future is more one of proliferation than a danger to South Korea," he told reporters.

The defence secretary also met with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday to discuss missile defence and cooperation on defence technologies, among other things.

Rumsfeld, after that closed-door meeting, said the Pentagon was considering a plan to replace the nuclear warheads on some intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional weapons, a move that would make the missiles less lethal and therefore more conceivable for politicians to use in preemptive strikes against terrorist groups.

The re-tipped missiles would offer the ability to accurately and quickly target such groups as the threat they pose grows due to their acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and other lethal weapons from proliferators, Rumsfeld said.

"We think that it's conceivable that five, 10 years from now there could be a target because of proliferation ... that would be able to be hit or deterred as the case may be by a conventional ICBM," Rumsfeld said.

Standing next to his Russian counterpart, Rumsfeld said he hoped Russia would consider the same plan.

But Ivanov said Russia had concerns and that there may be other solutions for preemptive strikes, such as the use of intermediate-range missiles, now prohibited by a treaty agreement.

Defence test
Rumsfeld also toured Fort Greely, home to one of America's missile defence installations, ahead of another test of the system's ability to intercept long-range missiles.

While the head of the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency has repeatedly said US defences could have shot down a North Korean missile, had it launched successfully in July, Rumsfeld would not make the same assertion. He said he would wait to see the missile defence system work instead of predicting success.

"I want to see it happen ... a full end-to-end process where we actually put all the pieces together. That just hasn't happened," he said.

The United States has spent more than $92-billion on its fledgling missile defence system. Tests continue, with another expected on Thursday.

President George Bush in 2002 announced the United States would begin operating the initial elements of a missile defence system by the end of 2004 to defend against a limited attack from a country like North Korea or Iran.

Since then, US missile defence spending has risen to nearly $10-billion a year, the Pentagon's single biggest annual outlay to develop a weapons system.

Intercept-test failures and technical glitches have delayed development, although commanders said it has a rudimentary capability against a limited attack if ground-based interceptors are put on alert.