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HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 17) - A long-range missile launched from North Korea could reach Guam in about an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

But U.S. officials don't believe North Korea's military has the delivery system that would allow it to launch a missile accurately, said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo.

Experts on U.S.-Korean relations say it is unlikely North Korea would stage a missile attack against Guam or other parts of the United States.

Bordallo, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said she expects to meet with Department of Defense and State Department officials this week to further discuss a sea-based missile defense shield, which could protect Guam.

"I have been briefed by Pentagon and State officials. They assure me Guam is protected by the U.S. Strategic Command ... there is surveillance and we would be given sufficient warning," Bordallo said. "And they told me that defending Guam is no different from defending California. An attack on Guam would result in overwhelming retaliation."

The island has long been a strategic area for the U.S. military, but military activity has grown in recent weeks with the deployment of two dozen B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers to Guam as a precautionary measure against growing tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Bordallo last week said Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, has told her he sees a role for Guam: hosting intelligence and reconnaissance assets for use over North Korea, such as unmanned spy planes.

Defense officials have said North Korea possesses a missile capable of reaching as far as California. According to a Defense Department fact sheet, most long-range missiles can travel at speeds of more than 2,000 mph. Guam is about 2,000 miles south of North Korea.

The United States currently has no "layered defense" to protect against a missile attack, according to the Defense Department fact sheet. A layered defense shield means being able to intercept missiles during all phases of flight.

According to the fact sheet, "Intercepting a missile in its boost phase is the ideal solution for a ballistic missile defense. If the missile is carrying a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon, the debris will most likely fall on the country that launched the missile."

Richard Baker, an adjunct senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii and a former U.S. foreign service officer, said the United States is still trying to develop a missile defense shield.

"We don't have a missile defense system that can take the missiles out at the launch phase, and our Patriot (missiles) aren't enough to shoot them down in re-entry," Baker said. "But North Korea doesn't have that guidance (system)."

Chances of a North Korean pre-emptive strike on Guam are slim, Baker said.

"The North Koreans are unlikely to fire first. They may be living in their own world, but I don't think they're suicidal," Baker said. "I think there is no reason to expect an attack on Guam."

Choong Nam Kim, a former political affairs assistant to two South Korean presidents who now lives in Hawaii, said residents in Hawaii also are concerned about a potential missile strike by North Korea.

But he said such an attack is unlikely.

"I'm not sure that North Korea has long-range ballistic missiles, and I don't think they have the capability. Even if they have it, they know they are a very weak and isolated country. Their survival is at stake," Kim said.

Kim said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il cannot risk an attack.

"If North Korea strikes, they know they will be defeated," Kim said. "It would be the end of North Korea."

Baker said Guam and Hawaii residents should be concerned about developments in the Korean peninsula, but should not fear a missile attack.

"It's safe to say that after 9-11, no place is safe and we need to take that to heart, but we don't need to panic. Complacency is out, but don't panic," Baker said.

"Frankly speaking, it's still more dangerous to get into your car."

March 17, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com 

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