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Iran, North Korea, China Emerging as Threats

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2006 – After terrorism, the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction is the second major threat to the safety of the U.S. and its allies, and Iran and North Korea are both emerging as potential dangers in that area, a top U.S. official told a Senate committee here today.

"The time when a few states had monopolies over weapons of mass destruction is fading," said John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

"Technologies, often dual-use, move freely in our globalized economy, as do the scientific personnel who design them," he said. "The potential dangers of weapons of mass destruction proliferation are so grave that we must do everything possible to discover and disrupt it."

Many nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency share concerns about Iran's nuclear program, Negroponte said. Iran conducted a clandestine uranium-enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of an IAEA safeguards agreement, he said, and despite its claims to the contrary, officials think that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Iran probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon or the materials to make one, but the danger that it will acquire the materials is a reason for immediate concern, he said.

"The integration of nuclear weapons into Iran's ballistic systems would be destabilizing beyond the Middle East," he said.

Officials believe that Iran maintains offensive chemical and biological weapons capabilities in various stages of development, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at the hearing. Also, Iran is developing ballistic missiles with the capability to strike Tel Aviv, Israel, and even central Europe, he said.

North Korea also threatens international security, but unlike Iran, North Korea claims to already have nuclear weapons, Negroponte said. U.S. officials believe this claim is true, because North Korean leaders see nuclear weapons as the best way to deter superior forces and to ensure regime security, and as a lever for economic gain and a source of prestige, he said.

Maples said that because of strong security, national and economic motivations for possessing nuclear weapons, officials are uncertain whether the North Korean government can be persuaded to fully relinquish its program.

As China upgrades its military and gains political influence, it too is emerging as a threat to U.S. national security, Negroponte said. China has seen consistently high economic growth rates, which have fueled a military modernization program and increased the country's force capabilities, he said.

China has been reaching out to its neighboring countries to make economic and political connections, Negroponte said. Also, the Chinese military is acquiring modern weapons and hardware, improving doctrine, reforming training, and making improvements in critical support functions, he said.

However, despite the improvements, China still faces a challenge in keeping unemployment and rural discontent down and maintaining increasing living standards, Negroponte said. To do this, China must solve difficult economic and legal problems, improve the education system, reduce environmental degradation, and improve governance by combating corruption, he said.

"Indeed, China's rise may be hobbled by systemic problems and the Communist Party's resistance to the demands for political participation that economic growth generates," he said. "Beijing's determination to repress real or perceived challenges - from dispossessed peasants to religious organizations - could lead to serious instability at home and less effective policies abroad."

Other issues will continue to affect national security, such as improving technology and weakly governed states throughout the world, Maples said, but the government remains vigilant to protecting the U.S. homeland, allies and interests abroad.

"Our nation is engaged in a long war against terrorism and violent extremism, and we are faced with a multitude of threats that can affect our national security," he said. "The defense intelligence professionals will continue to provide the necessary information critical to our warfighters, defense planners and national security policy makers."

Contact Author

John D. Negroponte
Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, USA

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