Surprise! North Korea might have nuclear ballistic missiles after all!

Remember how Vice President Joe Biden, grinning and rolling his eyes like a madman, assured America during the 2012 vice-presidential debate that there was no reason to worry about Iranian nukes, because the intelligence community would know the very instant they were ready to deploy one?  Within a couple of days, Biden was hiding under his desk and claiming that very same intelligence community fabricated the phony “spontaneous video protest” narrative of the Benghazi terror attack, making fools of the entire Administration by giving them false talking points.

And now it turns out that all those assurances we’ve heard about how North Korea can’t put a nuclear warhead into a long-range missile might have become suddenly… inoperative, at the very moment tensions on the Korean peninsula hit a post-war high.

Eli Lake at the Daily Beast – one of the best reporters covering the Benghazi saga, which the rest of the media ignored almost as hard as they’ve pretended not to notice the Kermit Gosnell abortion-horror trial – writes that new Pentagon report “says North Korea likely has nuclear warheads.”

According to the report, ???DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low.??? That line was read aloud by Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, on Thursday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Lamborn was questioning Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who seemed taken aback and declined to answer the question, saying, ???I haven???t seen it and you said it???s not publicly released, so I choose not to comment on it.???

The conclusion from the DIA plays into a larger debate within the U.S. intelligence community about North Korea???s ability to launch a nuclear missile. While North Korea has conducted three underground nuclear tests since 2006, the U.S. has been divided for years on whether the country???s engineers can place a nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile. The DIA report now shows that the military???s most important intelligence agency believes, albeit with ???moderate confidence,??? that North Korea has mastered the technology.

To paraphrase the late, great Margaret Thatcher: this is no time to be “taken aback,” gentlemen.  And I wouldn’t draw much confidence from the “low reliability” estimate, because pinpoint accuracy is hardly necessary to slaughter a huge number of people with a nuclear warhead.  It’s kind of like how Joe Biden says you can deal with a home invader by blasting them through the front door with a shotgun – accuracy is not necessary.  But then later he said shotguns can’t penetrate drywall.

Our security is in the very best of hands, isn’t it?

Well, at least we’ve still got a lid on the Iranian situation, right, Mr. Lake?

The DIA???s conclusion also has implications for how the U.S. assesses progress on Iran???s nuclear program. North Korea has shared advanced missile technology with Iran, according to a February 2010 diplomatic cable disclosed the same year by WikiLeaks. North Korean engineers were also found at the Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel in 2007 known as al-Kibar, according to photos released by the U.S. government nearly a year after the strike.

Last month President Obama said during his trip to Israel that Iran would need a year to develop a nuclear weapon after it mastered the process of creating the highly enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear bomb. If Iran???s ally, North Korea, already has developed this technology it???s possible that Iran could make nuclear weapons in less time than Obama???s estimate.

Marvelous.  Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in South Korea, where Fox News reports he declared the North’s belligerent rhetoric “unacceptable.”  The latest unacceptable rhetoric is a feisty declaration that the Norks have “powerful striking means” on standby for launch.  The North appears ready to launch an illegal missile or two, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.  It will supposedly be a “test” of their missile technology, intended as a couple of Musudan-1 medium-range ballistic middle fingers to the Western world.  Hopefully no one will be “taken aback” by the results of this test.

If the missiles are not splashed into open water, we (or our South Korean or Japanese allies) will need to try intercepting it.  Even if successful, that might just push the NoKo psychopaths over the edge, as it would make them look very bad.  Fox News reports on the intelligence community’s current assessment of dictator Kim Jong Un’s state of mind:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee that he thinks Kim, who took control after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011, is trying to show the U.S., the world and his own people that he is “firmly in control in North Korea,” while attempting to maneuver the international community into concessions in future negotiations.

“I don’t think … he has much of an endgame other than to somehow elicit recognition” and to turn the nuclear threat into “negotiation and to accommodation and presumably for aid,” Clapper said.

Clapper said that the intelligence community believes the North would use nuclear weapons only to preserve the Kim regime but that analysts do not know how the regime defines that.

Well, if James Clapper says something, you can take it to the bank.  Except what he currently wants us to deposit in the bank is his lack of confidence about what Kim will do now that he’s backed into a corner, while running a plan with no endgame, whose triggers for cataclysmic escalation are unknown.

An interesting perspective on the situation comes from Andrei Lankov, professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul, who writes at Bloomberg News that perhaps the biggest threat to the Kim regime is a modest improvement in the “Walking Dead” standard of living for many North Koreans:

This slow improvement in the economic situation may actually be as dangerous for the regime as a famine. Without radical reforms, North Korea might continue to grow moderately, but it is not going to achieve growth rates like that of China or South Korea. The huge income gapbetween North Korea and its neighbors — the major potential source of political discontent at home — is sure to keep growing.

At the same time, less daily economic pressure means that citizens have more time to think, talk and socialize. Contrary to the common perception, people seldom start revolutions when they are really desperate: In such times, they are too busy fighting for physical survival. A minor, but insufficient, improvement in people???s lives is what authoritarian regimes should fear most.

An ongoing generational shift poses an especially dangerous challenge. North Koreans below the age of 35 have not been subjected to intense ideological indoctrination, and they have grown up in a world where everybody knows newspapers are not telling the complete and only truth. They don???t remember the times when the state was seen as a natural giver of all things; for many of them, the state and its officials are merely a swarm of parasites. They know that the North lags hopelessly behind the South. They also grew up in more relaxed times, when state terror was scaled down, and hence they are less afraid to speak about such dangerous topics. All these changes in mindset don???t bode well for the long-term stability of the regime. A reckoning might be years off, but it is almost inevitable.

In the modern era, such forces can trigger revolution from a repressed population very abruptly.  If Lankov is right, a war might be just what Kim needs to thin out the populace, push the standard of living back down, and stamp out dissent.  “Due to the peculiarities of North Korea???s domestic and international situation, neither a gradual and manageable transformation of the regime nor its perpetual survival appears to be a likely outcome,” Lankov judges.  “Sooner or later, it will go down in crisis – in all probability, suddenly and violently.”  Given where his belligerence has already put him, and the prospect of his regime inexorably declining in power, Kim might decide that sooner is better than later.