Sunday, July 09, 2006

Deterrence Smackdown: Mutual Assured Destruction Goes to Pyongyang

This post updates my Friday entry on the North Korean missile crisis. Be sure to check out Saturday's lead editorial for the Wall Street Journal, which lays out a brief history of North Korea's diplomatic double-talk. One implication of Pyongyang's nuclear history is that future negotiating violations are likely in the absence of credible consequences for continued violations. In Friday's Washington Post, Jon Wolfsthal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued that the U.S. ought to commit to a policy of nuclear deterrence toward North Korea should Pyongyang launch a strike against America or its security partners:

Over the long run, how can Americans be sure that some future "test" missile won't be fitted with a nuclear weapon and targeted on a US city? The short answer is they can't. But through a straightforward policy of deterrence we can eliminate any thought in North Korean minds that they can attack the United States and survive. President Bush should declare that any offensive missile fired at the United States or its allies in the region from North Korea would be an act of war requiring a swift and massive response. Such a clear, strong statement would reassure our allies and remove the incentive for North Korea to pursue its missile programs. Moreover, attaching the same consequences to any sales of long-range missiles to hostile states would eliminate the profit motive for North Korea . This is what Kennedy did when Russia deployed missiles to Cuba, and what Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan did during the height of the cold war. The result helped prevent the use of Soviet nuclear weapons during the cold war and deterred China from similar pursuits. But the current uneven and confused response by the United States has led to a weakening of deterrence in East Asia and has allowed the dangerous belief to take root in North Korean minds, that it can successfully pursue its aggressive strategy. Nothing could be more dangerous for stability in the region.
Given U.S. capabilities, a vocal statement by the U.S. to this effect would certainly be credible. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, the U.S. has attained strategic unipolarity in international security, and with America's nuclear dominance so overwhelming, the whole notion of mutual assured destruction has been called into question.

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