Thursday, June 22, 2006

So Sadly Alone

It would be foolish for North Korea to doubt the seriousness of the US when it comes to its ICBM program. The Pentagon has already spent more money on a missile-defense system designed specifically to intercept a ballistic-missile attack from North Korea than it would have taken to buy them a light-water nuclear reactor. If I may quote a previous post on Situational Awareness:

Since 1985, about $90 billion has been spent on missile defense by the US under various programs, beginning with the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) through the Clinton administration's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and into today's Missile Defense Agency. But funding since fiscal year 2001, at $4.8 billion, has been stepped up quite a bit, with $7.8 billion in FY02, $7.4 billion in FY03, $7.7 billion in FY04, and $9 billion in FY05. Missile defense accounts for about 2% of the Defense Department budget, more than any other program.

Since the mid-1990s, US defense planners have seen an "urgent need" for a missile defense system to defend against an end-game ICBM launch from North Korea. With surprisingly little fanfare, considering, the US has deployed this capability with a fast-track program using prototype systems and minimum testing. This is a high-risk, high-cost approach to any military program, not to mention one that requires the flawless execution of a long and complex sequence of events in order to be successful. But there it is.

The other day I was sort of joking about how "cool" it would be for the US to use the occasion of a North Korean test launch to try out our Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system (see previous post). However, the US does not consider this to be a laughing matter. There are voices calling for a preemptive attack on the North Korean launch site in order to make sure the test launch does not occur. This is not mere belicosity. Preventing a launch would deny the North Koreans the knowledge of whether their prototype Taepo Dong-II missile design works or not. Denying the North Koreans this knowledge would increase the uncertainty in the minds of those who might contemplate an end-game missile attack on the US. As I said before, lashing out with unproven systems is much more risky than striking with proven ones.

While a US preemptive strike on North Korea's ICBM prototype certainly would have negative repercussions, consider the US investment in its missile defense program proof that stopping a test launch has the highest priority. Right now, US officials are stressing diplomacy. But the bombers are standing by.

UPDATE: Really. It's a big deal.

UPDATE 2: No, really...


At 10:23 AM, Blogger Eric Blair said...

The Russians and the Chinese created that problem, and I'm inclined to say let them solve it.

The Chinese in particular need to do something.


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