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“We have to take that threat seriously, even though neither nation yet has a mature capability,” he said at the Atlantic Council’s Center on International Security on Wednesday.
He stressed that a developed missile defense strategy should be seen as the top priority and best option to protect the US from suck attacks.
“The enemy knows there will be a significant price to pay with a missile launch against the United States,” Winnefeld said in remarks carried by the American Forces Press Service.
“This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime.”
Although he acknowledged that North Korea had not yet tested a missile that could reach US shores, Winnefeld maintained that Pyongyang was closer than any American enemy to producing such a weapon.
The Vice-Chairman also said that the US is stressing the creation of regional ballistic missile defense systems, particularly in cooperation with allies such as South Korea and Japan.
“We’re encouraging our allies and partners to acquire their own missile defenses and to strengthen regional missile defense cooperation that will result in better performance than individual countries acting alone,” he said.
But on Thursday, South Korean officials said they had no knowledge of a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) which indicated that the Pentagon was surveying territory in the Korean Peninsula to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
The South Korean Yonhap news agency quoted defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok as saying that Seoul was “unaware” of the US initiative.
The WSJ said that Washington had not yet made a final decision on the deployment of THAAD.