msnbc | March 16, 2013
>>> south korea says north korea fired a pair of short-range missiles into its waters this week. this comes on the heels of the defense secretary announcing yesterday the pentagon will beef up its defense systems after north korea 's recent nuclear threats. with me now on the set, gordon chang, author of "nuclear show showdo showdown, north korea takes on the world." this approach by the united states . what do you expect the reaction to be from north korea ?
>> i think north korea certainly is going to continue doing what it's doing, improving its long-range ballistic missiles , putting its missiles on mobile launchers, and detonating more nuclear devices. this is what north korea does. they want these weapons. they want to sell them to iran , and so i don't think we're going to see very much of a change.
>> here is what is a little disturbing. we have a couple years before all of these 14 extra -- the missile defense would be put into place. how close are we to actually having -- or having north korea with the capability of reaching our shores?
>> well, they can reach our shores now, alaska, hawaii, maybe the upper reaches of the west coast . i don't think so but some people say. with a warhead that's conventional only. but within five years and probably three, the north koreans will be able to airmail a nuke to almost any port in the united states .
>> is north korea capable of doing this on its own or does it have to have help doing this?
>> we know it's gotten some help. april 15th last year, the big military parade in pyongyang, we saw a new missile on mobile launchers. china sold them the mobile launchers. they're hard to find. that's why the administration changed their stance on missile defense . we can't find these mobile missile launchers . china's sale has substantially increased north korea 's ability to wage nuclear war .
>> wait a minute. when you said we had maybe three years until a nuclear missile could reach our shores, is that because of china giving them the missile launchers ? was that a missing component?
>> that was the longest range missile which we don't think china has actually helped them on, at least recently. but what we're worried about are the intermediate range missiles that china has certainly helped them on and we have a stake in this because we have troops in south korea , okinawa in japan, and guam which are within range of north korea 's mobile missiles.
>> okay. so would you say that north korea either has moved to or maintained its position of number one concern in this arena? we often talk about iran .
>> iran has technologies, but really because north korea has sold them. so if we can deal with north korea and solve the north korean problem, that starves the iranians of all of this technology for their missiles, which are essentially north korean missiles rebranded, repainted. and it's also true with their uranium enrichment technology which comes, some of it, from north korea .
>> you're saying that iran really can't be successful at developing nuclear missiles and it's programs without north korea . does that then at all give credence to iran 's claims that they developed nuclear power for energy?
>> well, the iranians aren't doing that because we've been catching them in all sorts of experiments that are only useful for a weapons program. north korea and iran have had this joint program on missiles and nukes for more than a decade and we've seen these transfers of technology. they're only useful for military purposes. and so clearly iran is not going for a civilian program. if they wanted a civilian program, they would have been doing many other different things and they'd be more willing to talk to the international community about what they're doing, not trying to hide their facilities.
>> here is a bottom line question, gordon . do you think north korea would actually launch a nuclear attack against the united states ? i mean --
>> no, no. and the reason they wouldn't do it is because we would know where it came from and we would retaliate immediately. the thing that people in washington are concerned about is not an airmailed nuke, but really a weapon that has been smuggled across the mexican border , brought in and assembled. that you know you can't necessarily trace who did it because although we know north korea 's plutonium isotopes, we don't know their uranium isotopes and we're not going to retaliate unless we are 100% sure. because retaliation as ronald reagan said is mass murder and the united states doesn't want to do that unless we're sure who the culprit is.
>> gordon chang, a very sobering conversation. thank you for being here, as always.
>> thank you, alex.