If North Korea tests a ballistic missile that the U.S. determines is a threat to itself or allies, American national security officials will use interceptors to shoot it down, the secretary of defense revealed Sunday.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stressed that North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a “serious threat” to U.S. national security.
The U.S. would shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile “if it were coming towards our territory or the territory of our friends and allies,” Carter explained during an appearance of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
North Korea has been rapidly expanding its ballistic missile capabilities. The North tested an unprecedented number of missiles last year.
“We have reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim said in his New Year’s Day address, adding that “research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing.”
“The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere,” the Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) said Sunday, quoting an unidentified foreign ministry spokesperson.
“We try to stay ahead of that and we are staying ahead of that with our missile defenses, … so that we’re sure we can defend ourselves” Carter said.
“The United States is capable of defending against a North Korean ballistic missile attack. Our recent success in returning to test the upgraded version of the ground-based interceptor will keep us on a good trajectory to improve our defensive capability against limited ballistic missile threats, such as that from North Korea,” explained Justin Higgins, press office director at the State Department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau.
“We are continuing to upgrade our ballistic missile defense capability,” he added.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that North Korea has made “qualitative” advancements in their missile development programs. Last year, North Korea conducted two long-range rocket engine tests. Experts believe that the satellite launch in February 2016 was a test of long-range missile technology in disguise.
North Korea claimed after its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9 that it could mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The Department of State, however, believes that the North does not yet have this type of ability.
Pyongyang aspires to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. and has stated numerous times that it will not abandon its weapons development programs.
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