What to Do About North Korean Missile Test?
James Robbins has an interesting idea of how the U.S. could respond to the promised DPRK test of their long range Taepodong-2 missile:
If the North Koreans follow tradition, they will test their new long range missile by firing it through the air space of another country, probably Japan, maybe the U.S. too if they can reach Alaska. Sounds like a great opportunity to test our missile -defense technology. North Korea has no right to test weapons over other countries, so they won’t have a leg to stand on legally. And it would be a great statement of our resolve to stand up to their aggressive behavior. Finally, it would be a high-profile way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our missile-defense systems.
It would be as close to a real-world conditions test as we’re likely to get, it would allow us to see what we’re getting for our money, and advocates of missile defense could use the North Korean test as fodder to maintain support for the program. Even if it failed, that would be a prime opportunity to demagogue the issue and argue that we need to focus more heavily on missile defense because the next missile might not be a test.
I think “Even if” is a rather generous qualifier to “it failed.” I’d go with “Its almost certain failure….” Still, he’s right about the propaganda value in the event of a neutral failure.
Such a move could backfire horribly, however. Both a “successful” and a failed attempt to shoot down the DPRK missile could wind up killing people. One only has to remember back to the 1991 Gulf War, when American Patriot missiles shot down Iraqi scuds but quite likely killed many more people than saved by sending huge pieces of shrapnel into innocent population centers. It’s far from inconceivable that could happen in this case. And, of course, missile tests often reveal that the missile is not ready for prime time, as demonstrated by the missile not hitting its intended target. Presumably, this threat could be substantially mitigated by targetting the Korean missile while it’s still over the ocean. It could not be totally eliminated, however.