“North Korea has been five years away for the last 15 years. They have been on the cusp of having a real missile program for quite some time,” Brown said.
Brown said that if North Korea can achieve its stated aim of putting a satellite in orbit, it could also launch a missile that hits the US West coast.
“At the same time they claim it is their right to launch a peaceful satellite, they also hold out this threat ‘don’t mess with us,’” he said.
Brown added that if the North did launch in a military way, the facility would be quickly bombed and its long-range program would no longer exist.
“This is a political weapon, not a military weapon,” he said. “By having this program they are able to negotiate from a stronger point than if they didn’t have it all. It is essentially a bargaining chip.”
Gates has urged North Korea to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help revive six-party aid-for-disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia.
The talks have been stalled for more than two years after the North declared the process dead in response to the UN Security Council’s imposition of a new round of sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests in 2009.