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June 22, 2006

Former Clinton officials call for strike on North Korea's missile program

Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry argue that North Korea cannot be allowed to test its new long-range ballistic missile. Experts estimate that the missile could deliver a nuclear warhead to United States.

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. [WaPo]

Remind me again why we attacked Iraq, a country with no WMDs, and ignored North Korea?

Update: Robert Koehler offers some compelling reasons not to strike North Korea over its nukes, and Francis has more.


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» U.S. weighs shootdown of N. Korea missile from Political News and Blog Aggregator
The Bush administration is weighing responses to a possible North Korean missile test that include a [Read More]

» "A Few Bloody Weeks." from The Agonist
Last night I highlighted this op-ed by Asia wonks Ashton Carter and William J. Perry. My first reading was pretty breathless, I admit. But then I sat down and re-read it. So many of the assumptions they make in the op-ed seem so wildly off base to me that [Read More]


Iraq was an expansionist country led by a maniac in the most dangerous region of the world. We thought that there were WMD, as did the intelligence services of every country that counts.

That's your reminder.

And we didn't ignore North Korea. Just as Pres Clinton did, Pres Bush negotiated with them, and or tried to. If majikthise endorses a missile strike against Kim Jong Il, say so clearly, and I'm sure it will be acted on.

We thought that there were WMD, as did the intelligence services of every country that counts

Nope. There was plenty of doubt about Iraq's possession of WMD (other than forgotten leftovers from before 1991), within the CIA and the intelligence services of other countries. The inspectors on the ground concluded that Iraq did not have an active WMD program. The intelligence was tilted by the administration to artificially remove doubts and caveats, and to emphasize the questionable evidence for WMD programs. Smearing the CIA analysts by attributing to them opinions they did not hold is cheap political hackery.

Why not attack N Korea? This is why (from )

It’s probably also worth noting that there are probably a few South Korean officials who fear the Americans might actually respond to a test by delivering a world of hurt on the North via B-2 or F-117, and do I really have to explain why somebody within North Korean artillery range and a one-hour drive from a goodly percentage of the Korean People’s Army might not necessarily view that as a fortuitous turn of events?

FTR, I'm not arguing that we should strike North Korea. I haven't formed an opinion about what should be done about North Korea's nuclear program. I just thought the column was interesting fodder for discussion.

--I'm not arguing that we should strike North Korea--

OK, I've called off the strike. But the planes remain on standby.

PS additional comments chez moi -

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.

You don't often see the case for absolute US global hegemony stated quite so baldly by "moderates." It's quite refreshing, in a queasy kinda way.

Man, is that statement biased against "moderates" It all but says "moderates want to see you incinerated in nuclear fire."

As for North Korea:

We can't attack. They're perpetually holding a gun to South Korea's head. The best case: we blow up the missile, nothing else happens, and we look like bullies and agressors by attacking North Korea when they hadn't even proceeded with a technical exercise. The worse cases: it sparks an artillery strike against Seoul in retaliation.

A missile intercept may be the right course of action. Though it'll draw some international fire too, it will be much less deserved. It also neatly underscores the military impotence of North Korea's nuclear arsenal vis a vis the US (as opposed to the South Koreans). The taepodong missiles take days to fill up and are pretty evident on a satellite; in an actual crisis, airstrikes would interrupt them before they ever got a chance.

Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

General "Buck" Turgidson

"A missile intercept may be the right course of action"

in a slapsticky, Keystone Kops kind of way, of course. See for an informed discussion of what's going on here, including reasons to really question whether Perry has any idea what he's talking about, not to mention some reasons it would be incredibly funny if we tried to intercept.


Very useful and informative link, dan. Thanks.

Basic rule: we shouldn't DO ANYTHING about ANYTHING while Bush and his crew are in power. The US government should sit quietly in a corner until 2009. Then we can deal with North Korea and all the other problems we ignored or made worse the last 8 years.

North Korea has a perfect defensive situation vis-a-vis the United States. They have an almost non-existent offensive capability. Imagine that they have several nukes (we think they might have six or so). Now, the Taepodong 2, IF (and we don't even think they're doing this yet) they add a third stage, would threaten the United States and most of Europe, but North Korea is not yet considered able to mount a nuclear warhead on one. I imagine they will achieve this in decades to come, but not for some time yet.

Let's say they do achieve it; so? They have no naval armada with which to (scoff!) invade us, and their air force, the last I knew, was still working with MiG-21s a couple of decades old. So they can have no pretenses to invasion, and nor can anyone else; and though they might cause a frightening amount of destruction to us, they could neither conquer nor destroy us. Yet to test a missile with the range of the Taepodong 2 is obviously to desire a sabre to rattle against Europe or the United States.

What they would have, then, is this: a regular armed forces of 1,082,000 men and women, and 4.7 million--yes, you read that right--4.7 million reservists, most of whom are well-trained in very violent martial arts. (Source: The Economist Pocket World in Figures, 2005 edition)

South Korea, on the other hand, meets their armed forces with 686,000 regulars and 4.5 million reservists, similarly trained. South Korea's forces are more advanced technologically.

So, for what will North Korea's arsenal be used? Not for offensive war against the US, of course, but to get us out of their neighborhood. Unfortunately, with a million-man army and nuclear weapons, like China, India and Russia, North Korea is one of the major players in this region. South Korea, for better or for worse, has been attempting to reconcile with North Korea. North Korea, as a Stalinist state, views any meddling in the area's politics by the USA as a hot provocation. The USA, for its part, has both a blase and a ham-handed approach to diplomacy. Really, we are very disengaged from diplomacy, let alone from an integrated approach to international relations using diplomacy, economic leverage and cooperation, and the military. Our military seems to be the only lever that our current administration recognizes, and unfortunately, we have physically exhausted that military in Iraq. Kim Jong Il, impoverished and isolated though they are, would not respond to diplomatic and economic overtures from us anyway, even if our administration valued diplomacy. Therefore, since we're at the moment incapable of providing coherent, sensible solutions in this volatile region, and since they won't be received, and since our military is incapable of pacifying a million-person armed forces in their own country, the best thing to do is to quietly remove ourselves from the process for the time being. North Korea will advance their technology in alarming ways, it's true, but they'll do so anyway.

Update: we're scrapping the idea of taking out the missile:

The link to the msn story I just posted states that we're nixing the idea of destroying the missile on the ground, but it also points out that if we use the Star Wars system and it fails, then it'll send "counterproductive" messages to North Korea.

So we've spent 91 billion dollars on Star Wars, but we can't use it. Jesus Christ, how idiotic: rather than test Star Wars against a missile that we _know_ won't be nuclear-armed, and probably won't even be aimed at us, it's better to just wait until a live-fire test, when an all-out nuclear holocaust is launched against us.

Would someone please tell me why that's not the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my whole life? I know I'm missing something.

Best case … we look like bullies and agressors

Uh, we are bullies and aggressors.

"So we've spent 91 billion dollars on Star Wars, but we can't use it. Jesus Christ, how idiotic: rather than test Star Wars against a missile that we _know_ won't be nuclear-armed, and probably won't even be aimed at us, it's better to just wait until a live-fire test, when an all-out nuclear holocaust is launched against us."


I've become really interested in arms control arguments over the last few years, so I can answer--but let me emphasize from the start that I think this is a stupid and dangerous theory. That said, it's interesting, and the things that are really dangerous about it aren't obvious unless you think about it the way interceptor fans think about it:

the argument isn't that we'll test missile defense when somebody launches "an all-out nuclear holocaust" upon us. NMD is not designed to counter, or even significantly deter, a massive nuclear attack a la Soviets-in-the-80s. The idea of NMD is that the nuclear players we have to worry about are small states with the capacity to develop very small nuclear forces. Suppose North Korea winds up with the capacity to launch 5 functional nuclear missiles at the U.S. We're pretty much stymied, at that point, from invading or otherwise seriously pissing off North Korea, because they can then have pretty good odds of destroying L.A. or something like it, and we'd never risk an attack that could entail that. The idea of NMD, then, is that a country capable of deploying a handful of nukes will have no idea how many of them might be able to get through in a launch; accordingly, small players will be less likely to want to acquire nuclear weapons, and less likely to deploy them in a crisis (or more accurately, more aware that at a certain point they can't deter U.S. actions). From that perspective, testing NMD to ensure it works is actually, arguably, a bad idea; if it's a mysterious force that no one knows the value of, it still retains some deterrant ability; if we establish conclusively, though, that it's got, say, 80% effectiveness, N.K. knows with 15 missiles it can deter us every bit as well, and 15 ICBMs aren't that much more expensive than 5.

As I say, I think this is a stupid, dangerous theory, for a lot of reasons. I'll list a couple:
1) truth is, NMD could never come anywhere near 80% accuracy, as anyone who's looked at it can tell. It would be a miracle if we could get 10% effectiveness (which is why I think it would be hysterical if we tried to shoot their missile down, assuming they aimed it at us). Thus NMD is unlikely to have any real deterrant value at all. That said, the trick isn't to convince the North Koreans of the effectiveness of missile defense, it's to convince the North Koreans that _our leadership_ believes in the effectiveness of missile defense.

2) the real effect is to force moderate-sized players to go from a defensive nuclear posture to an offensive one. This is one of ACW's big obsessions, if you look through his archives you should be able to find something. For example, our big nuclear rival right now is China. Right now they've got a relatively moderate nuclear force designed to respond to a U.S. first strike; we won't attack mainland China if they can fling a couple nukes at us and be confident at least a few of them will get through. The more we hype NMD, though, the more they have to think about building a first-strike capability to maintain an effective deterrant, and as long as your posture forces your rival to contemplate a first strike capable force, you've exponentially increased global instability

3) NMD makes peripheral systems very tempting targets. The best way to counter NMD is to first take down some of our tracking satellites, which it turns out would be really easy. So that creates a new space race

4) insert all the obvious stuff about the fact that it makes it more likely that we'd be attacked unconventionally, which of course is what we should all be most afraid of.

Just to clarify, my post over at was not about why the United States shouldn't attack North Korea's missile launch facility, but rather to explain why South Korea might not necessarily want to see something like that happen. Truth be told, I'm not too excited about the prospects of such an attack, and not just because I live in Seoul. It simply seems unnecessary, and is just another example of the United States paying the political costs of solving problems local powers are too lazy to solve on their own (mostly because when push comes to shove, they know Uncle Sam will do it for them). The Bush administration has been doing good so far by ignoring Pyongyang---bombing them will only make the North Koreans feel more important, and that's what they want. As far as the "gun to South Korea's head," it's a gun that's actually pointed toward two heads, South Korea's and North Korea's. Pyongyang cannot bombard Seoul without starting a war that will end with North Korea joining Carthage and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on the former state list. Fortunately, to the best of our knowledge, the North Koreans aren't suicidal---they're just gangsters. What that means is that as long as a missile strike isn't seen as a threat to their regime, the North Koreans would be left with little choice other than to eat it, brood, and quietly contemplate ways of getting even without blowing up the entire neighborhood, which won't be easy.

--Uh, we are bullies and aggressors.--

In your wee mind, of course we are!

Dan, thank you very much. I was being sort of flippant, of course, but I'm glad that there's at least some logic behind it. It looked as if we had simply not planned to have our bluff called, and had been caught with our pants down (i.e., had to cover up the lousy efficiency rate of the mechanism).

Such a poker game might be a good idea, except that we're such transparent poker players. We want to keep secret how effective the thing is, but we have analysts announcing that we'd lose face if we tried it and it didn't work (which is presumably on people's minds because we've become aware, over the past ten years, of higher failure rates for our weapons systems). It reminds me of when, last year, we announced that we were going to turn India into a 21st-century military power, "with a full understanding of all that entails," i.e., we're well aware that that makes them a better rival to China. Don't say it! Just do it.

Marmot, thank you too. North Korea isn't suicidal, and are gangsters, but they are also very paranoid. I mean, this Kim Jong Il has "short man complex," and not just personally, but on behalf of his country. Have you ever known a man with short man complex? They're postal! "What do you mean by that!" I mean, you've never seen a guy get pugnacious and puff up his chest more than such a person. When Kim Jong Il fulminates against the US and Bush, I feel he's not just cannily working the (captive) crowd in a calculated, would-be populist way, like Saddam Hussein used to do; he's really pissed off. He really seems to view himself as a soldier for his ideology.

While I agree that Bush & co. would make a vast mess out of this, allowing North Korea to bully people with nuclear weapons will actually encourage other aggressive nations to build nuclear weapons (or buy them from the North Koreans) and use them for the same reasons.

I was gainst the invasion of Iraq because I was firly sure Blix was correct, and there were no WMDs.

If there had been real WMDs they would have sold them to a terrorist group, and they would have been used. This is what will probably happen with Iran.

I wouldn't be surprised if that happened with Iran. Iran, unlike Iraq, have been serious exporters of terrorism, across the Middle East and North Africa. Hezbollah might almost be looked at as an arm of the Iranian military (perhaps a sabotage unit, attached to intelligence?). Unfortunately, we have but a finite number (though a large number) of troops, and when we hit back at Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we simply couldn't afford to then go after people who didn't threaten us, as most credible sources knew Iraq didn't at the time. But like a kid who's just gotten his allowance, we coveted the whole comic-book store. We shouldn't have bought the Iraq comic, since it was a two-part comic with Iran, and we couldn't afford them both. But we made our choice, and it was Iraq. We simply don't have the manpower to go from here into Iran and/or North Korea.

With regard to North Korea, as with Communist China earlier, we must look at the nature of the countries. Yes, Communism had as its stated goal the conquest of the world. But of all the communist countries, Russia was I think the only one with a history of expansionism or colonialism, and that was only a gradual expansionism, over land, followed by hibernation to lick its wounds when it was beaten back. So, true to form, Soviet Russia's bear expanded gradually, over land, and retreated to hibernate after the Cold War ended. Has China ever been expansionist? _Very_ gradually, and again, just on its own borders. The only such aim it has is to reintegrate Taiwan (and this is also something we're treaty- and honor-bound to address, though again, we've spent our human capital and won't be able to help much if it comes down). And Korea? What's their history as a nation? What are their characteristics?

They're isolationist. They've been fucked with, as they see it, by Japan, by the United States, and by China sometimes. But at heart, they're isolationist. They're not building these weapons for offensive use in an all-out war against the US, or even for local conquest (apart, perhaps, from the reunification of the peninsula). They're building them to pop the United States one, because they're pissed off at being fucked with.

(To pop us one, that is, whether they use them or not. Just having them is like saying "fuck you!")

From that perspective, testing NMD to ensure it works is actually, arguably, a bad idea; if it's a mysterious force that no one knows the value of, it still retains some deterrant ability;

If you had asked me in the summer of 2001 what would happen if someone tried to attack Washington DC with airplanes, I'd have said, "Oh, I bet the USA has some underground missiles or something surrounding the major sites to shoot anything like that down." We now know, of course, that they don't. Also despite these urban legends, someone tried to attack Washington DC with airplanes.

The mysterious status of our missile defense capability has not stopped North Korea from developing nuclear weapons (if not missiles). Regardless of how impenetrable our missile defense system is perceived to be, I suspect that sooner or later, someone will try to detonate a nuclear weapon within the USA, whether via a missile, a suitcase, or airplane. These leads me to believe that the deterrent value of NMD is probably minimal, at best. At the same time, as an engineer, the prospect of being guaranteed lifetime employment by working on a government project like NMD which no politician will ever have the guts to eliminate is fairly compelling.

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