Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, stated recently that should the president give the order, his forces would be ready to attempt to shoot down a North Korean missile expected to be test launched soon.
Pyongyang has claimed that North Korea is planning to launch a communications satellite, but some see this as a cover for testing a long-range offensive ballistic missile. The regime is using the satellite story as a way of skirting U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, which condemned North Korea's 2006 missile launches and demanded that the DPRK suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program. This same gambit was used a month ago by Iran when it launched a similar satellite using a booster based on North Korean technology.
Both North Korea and Iran claim that all countries have a right to conduct space research, and Admiral Keating indicated that the United States would not respond to a satellite launch. But there are few practical differences between lift systems developed for space exploration and those delivering warheads.
The first U.S. live nuclear missile test in 1958 used a Redstone rocket, the same booster that took Alan Shepard into space three years later. Thus holding fire only plays into the North Korean deception.
The real test is not of the missile but of President Obama. "The North Koreans have an instinct for poking us in the eye whenever they can," one U.S. government observer of North Korean affairs told us, "and they see a weakness." In this case the weakness is our "ambivalence towards meeting a military challenge with military force."
The North Koreans see Barack Obama as "an articulate Jimmy Carter," says our observer. During the 1994 crisis with North Korea over their nuclear program, President Clinton had already begun preparations for military action when the peripatetic Carter swooped into Pyongyang and emerged with a promise from Kim Jong Il to freeze nuclear production. This deal became enshrined in treaty later that year as the Agreed Framework, which gave North Korea the breathing space to continue its nuclear program with help from the network of Pakistani nuclear secrets peddler A.Q. Khan, ultimately achieving nuclear weapons capability in 2006.
President Obama has not as of this writing indicated that he will give Admiral Keating the go-ahead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called North Korea's actions "unhelpful," a favorite expression of Donald Rumsfeld's that sounded more threatening when he uttered it. But this is a perfect opportunity for the administration to test U.S. missile defense capabilities.
A North Korean missile launch will almost certainly violate Japanese airspace, as well as the aforementioned U.N. resolution, giving ample legal pretext for taking it down. The Airborne Laser system could be tested if it is ready, and seaborne missile defense systems could be deployed in international waters. "Everything that we need to be ready is ready," Admiral Keating said. If nothing else, taking out the North Korean missile would demonstrate American resolve in the face of communist provocation. Of course it would help if the administration was committed to the missile defense mission. Perhaps the continually increasing missile capabilities of various rogue states will help modify the administration's views.
Vice President Joe Biden stated during the presidential campaign that "it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy." Count this launch as one of the tests.
James S Robbins Editor Washington Times
Art - "NoKo No Go?"