Can We Shoot Down North Korea's Missile?

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  • The best way to break the logjam with #NorthKorea is to blow Pyongyang’s “satellite” out of the sky. @michaelauslin

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  • The White House decreased its request for missile defense funding to $9.7 billion, a drop of $700 million.

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  • This is the kind of real-world scenario where we better not be betting without holding a flush. @michaelauslin

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That’s what I argue in my Wall Street Journal column today, namely, that the best way to break the logjam with North Korea, prove our commitment to our allies, and make stability more likely in East Asia, is to blow Pyongyang’s “satellite” out of the sky. Reminding Kim Jong Un that we have a stick to use when he brushes off our attempts at the carrot might just make him and his handlers think about their own survivability. 

Obviously, such a plan has risks, such as North Korea deciding to launch a war in response. But I think they’re too canny for that, since they know they would lose everything in such a scenario. I think shooting the missile down now not only won’t lead to war, but is a better approach to ensuring peace, given that we’ve tried repeatedly to negotiate with the North, and have been made fools of, each time.

Philip Ewing, of DOD Buzz, points out another possibility that I didn’t contemplate: that we could “swing and miss,” as he puts it. In other words, try to shoot down the missile and fail to do so. That would not only cause great embarrassment and be a propaganda coup for Pyongyang, but would cause a crisis in our entire missile-defense program. This is a serious concern, but it also is one that we should probably settle earlier rather than later, when we may be dependent on the system to save L.A. or Washington, D.C. 

This year, the White House requested $9.7 billion for missile defense, a drop of $700 million from 2011. This includes money for research, development, testing, and evaluation of Aegis missile-defense ships; maintaining radar systems; and missile systems like the SM-3 and land-based PAC-3 launchers and interceptors. We know we can shoot down missiles in tests, but not with 100 percent success rates. This is the kind of real-world scenario where we better not be betting without holding a flush. Our sea-launched SM-3 interceptors are excellent defensive weapons, but this may be the time to prove how well we can integrate the complex operation of launch detection, tracking, fixing the target, and intercepting, when we’re not the ones doing the launching and all we have to worry about is one target. If we can’t do it now, then the whole program will have to be reconsidered.

Michael Auslin is a resident scholar at AEI.

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