US to boost nuclear missile defence to counter North Korea

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel: North Korea … has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations…”

The US plans to bolster its missile defences on the west coast to counter the threat from North Korea, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced. He said the US would add 14 interceptors, which can shoot down missiles in flight, to 30 already in place in California and Alaska by 2017. But the final phase of the US European Missile Defence programme is being scrapped to partly fund the project. Due to begin in 2022, it would have sited interceptors in eastern Europe.

Mr Hagel cited a “series of irresponsible and reckless provocations” recently by North Korea. Pyongyang carried out a third nuclear test last month. A statement in North Korean state media last month also threatened the US with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. However, analysts say the regime is years away from producing a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the US. “The US has missile defences to protect us from limited ICBM [Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile] attacks,” Mr Hagel told Friday’s press conference. “But North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.”

The defence secretary said the US needed to “stay ahead of the threat”. He said the additional 14 interceptors would be deployed to Fort Greely in Alaska at a cost of about $1bn (£660m). As part of the strategy, the US will also deploy a radar-tracking station in Japan. The Pentagon will shift some of the funding away from the missile defence programme it has been setting up in Europe. Mr Hagel said US commitment remained “ironclad” to the European shield, and that missile batteries would be established in Poland and Romania by 2018. But he said the another part of the plan had been shelved.

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