North Korean technicians are reportedly in the final stages of fueling a long-range ballistic missile that some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States. The last time North Korea tested such a missile, in 1998, it sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.According to Bruce Russett, in his popular textbook, World Politics: The Menu for Choice, preventive action in international relations is often called for when an adversary is "at the doorstep" in the development of new military capability. The classic case of preventive action is Israel's airstrike against Iraq's Osiraq nuclear facility in 1981. Russett notes, of course, that preventive military action is controversial, and perhaps made much more so by the Bush administration's adoption of a full-blown foreign policy doctrine of "preemption" (which in fact advocates preventive actions against imminent threats to U.S. national security). As for the recommendations of Carter and Perry, Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior editor at Commentary Magazine, points out the new "hawkisness" of the former government officials. He suggests in today's Los Angeles Times that had the two called for strikes against North Korean facilities back in 1994, we might not be facing this threat today.
A year later North Korea agreed to a moratorium on further launches, which it upheld -- until now. But there is a critical difference between now and 1998. Today North Korea openly boasts of its nuclear deterrent, has obtained six to eight bombs' worth of plutonium since 2003 and is plunging ahead to make more in its Yongbyon reactor. The six-party talks aimed at containing North Korea's weapons of mass destruction have collapsed.
Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not. The Bush administration has unwisely ballyhooed the doctrine of "preemption," which all previous presidents have sustained as an option rather than a dogma. It has applied the doctrine to Iraq, where the intelligence pointed to a threat from weapons of mass destruction that was much smaller than the risk North Korea poses. (The actual threat from Saddam Hussein was, we now know, even smaller than believed at the time of the invasion.) But intervening before mortal threats to U.S. security can develop is surely a prudent policy.
Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. The blast would be similar to the one that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But the effect on the Taepodong would be devastating. The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed, and its attempt to retrogress to Cold War threats thwarted. There would be no damage to North Korea outside the immediate vicinity of the missile gantry.
Friday, June 23, 2006
"At the Doorstep": Should the U.S. Launch a Preventive Strike on Pyongyang's Missiles?
Ashton Carter and William Perry, two former Clinton administration defense officials, called for a preventive strike against North Korea's Taepodong missiles in an essay from yesterday's Washington Post. Here's what they say:
Posted by Donald Douglas at 6:25 AM