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June 22, 2006
Then What?

Clinton-era Defense Secretary William Perry offered an interesting option for the North Korea missile standoff -- commit an act of war:

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.

I've mused on this all day, as this advice from Perry and Ashton Carter has received much debate throughout the media and blogosphere. Talk radio and television panel shows have argued the merits. However, after listening to all of the arguments, I have to say that Perry leaves me unconvinced.

First of all, he misunderstands the nature of pre-emption. When Bush talked of pre-emption, he meant pre-emptive war. Perry's essay seems to assume that pre-emption stops at an attack, but that's a very unrealistic view of warfare and diplomacy. The difference can be shown between the strategies used by the Clinton and Bush administrations in Iraq: Clinton tossed a few missiles and did not solve the problem, where Bush invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein.

When one tosses a cruise missile at another sovereign nation, one had better be prepared for war. Iraq at the time did not react as such because Saddam did not want to lose, and lose badly, as he did in 2003. However, Kim Jong-Il would likely react to a cruise missile by launching an attack on South Korea and perhaps firing a few more missiles at Japan. Are we prepared to deal with that consequence? Do we want to fight a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula? That is the probable consequence of Perry's advice.

Unfortunately, we don't have many good options to get the missile off the pad, other than diplomacy and brinksmanship. We do, however, still hold an ace card: China. While China has no real interest in reining in the North Korean "menace" as long as it ties up the US military in the Pacific Rim, they have a high interest in keeping Japan from going nuclear in its national defense. We need to make clear to Hu Jintao that any missile launch by Kim will result in Japan's immediate production of nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles for their own protection against the North Korean nutcase they continue to sponsor.

Escalation is an ugly option, but the North Koreans will have forced our hand. The Chinese will get the message and that Taepodong-2 missile will get disassembled in record time, if Beijing wants to avoid a nuclear-armed Tokyo. That at least can be done before we start a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula and a real exchange of nuclear weapons with a madman.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 22, 2006 6:34 PM

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» Stoopid Is As Stoopid Does from The Agonist
I just cannot resist (from the Nelson Report): To the amazement of all, and consternation of many, the formerly respected former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry today advocated a preemptive military attack on N. Korea’s alleged Taepodong-2, still on th [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2006 11:51 PM

» Strike & Destroy? from Hard Starboard
These guys worked for Bill Clinton? It was only a few days ago that one of their foreign policy-botching colleagues, Aunt Madeleine, blamed the latest NoKo missile crisis on Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now Perry and Carter are calling for a Tomahawk str... [Read More]

Tracked on June 23, 2006 11:52 AM


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