So Sadly AloneIt 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...