CIA IDs Rising Nuclear Powers

North Korea and Iran are likely to join established nuclear powers Russia and China as long-range missile threats to the United States over the next 15 years, the CIA said today.

These emerging missile forces "potentially can kill tens of thousands, or even millions, of Americans, depending on the type of warhead, the accuracy and the intended target," the intelligence agency said.

In an intelligence report with major implications for the Pentagon's efforts to develop defenses against ballistic missiles, the CIA said Iraq posed an additional -- though somewhat more distant -- threat. It said it was questionable whether Iraq could test a missile with enough range to reach the United States before 2015, although the likelihood depends heavily on how much foreign assistance Iraq gets.

The report characterized the prospect of North Korea acquiring a long-range missile by 2015 as "most likely," Iran's prospect was judged to be "probable" and Iraq was labeled a "possible" threat.

Russia has long posed a major nuclear threat to the United States, although Washington and Moscow are attempting to implement a second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to greatly reduce the size of their arsenals. Defense Secretary William Cohen is traveling to Moscow next week to discuss the prospects for going even further in nuclear weapons cuts, and to discuss future missile defenses.

"The Russian threat, although significantly reduced, will continue to be the most robust and lethal, considerably more so than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than that potentially posed by other nations," the CIA report said.

It said China, which now has about 20 long-range nuclear missiles, is likely to increase its arsenal by "a few tens" of missiles, including some with warheads "influenced" in part by U.S. technology gained through espionage.

The report is a summary of a classified National Intelligence Estimate, the first the CIA has done on ballistic missile threats since 1995. In an October 1998 update of its assessment, the CIA told Congress that the United States was facing a growing threat from the spread of ballistic missiles.