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June 20, 2006

Kim Jong Il's Countdown Clock is Ticking

As Kim Jong Il appears prepared to launch a missile, ostensibly as a test, the Pentagon says it's ready.

The United States has moved its ground-based interceptor missile defense system from test mode to operational amid concerns over an expected North Korean missile launch, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed a Washington Times report that the Pentagon has activated the system, which has been in the developmental stage for years.

"It's good to be ready," the official said.

Well, depends on what you mean by "ready". There have been some encouraging tests, but very few of them. Then again, this is just one missile, which should make things a little bit easier to be "ready" for.

Still, if North Korea had a nuclear payload on this missile, what should we do about it? Even if it's just a dud, but this test moves them forward technologically towards a Taepodong-3, which could hit all of the continental US, what should we be doing? Or should be sitting back and just watching it?

The doctrine of pre-emption, those who are for it and those who are against it, faces a big test right now. Even though the Taepodong-2 that is being fueled could hit Alaska, Hawaii and parts of California, I don't really think this is going to be aimed at any of those places. And yet, it has the capability. We have a few options available to us:

Destroy it on the ground: We could launch a strike against the missile even before it launches. Robbing them of the entire test would ensure they got nothing out of it.

This comes with a potentially big PR hit, most likely, ironically, from Jimmy Carter who trusted the North Koreans enough to bribe them with food so they wouldn't build the nukes they say they now have.

Intercept it in the air: As the anonymous source suggests, the Pentagon is "ready" to do this if need be.

On the upside, if it works it would potentially demoralize the North Korean military and push out any potential aggression on their part until perhaps they felt they could deal with interception. On the downside, it may tip our defensive hand to those taking notes. Also on the downside, the intercept may fail, which would be more of a blow to us than if the missile were allowed to just land in the ocean.

Do nothing: We could just watch it, and hope it isn't an attack. The North Koreans get valuable data to advance their own weapons program.

If it does hit something, I imagine the Left would be outraged at Kim for a while, until Cynthia McKinney suggested that Bush knew it was an attack all along, and John Murtha suggests leaving South Korea. If it doesn't hit anything, it it's truly a test, then it simply hastens the day when North Korea can put out a threat that covers 50 states instead of just 2.

It goes without saying that I'm glad I'm not the President. Not only is this an issue of national security, but it will be made a political football by his opposition when politics should be the last thing on their minds. As I said, I'm not fearful that this is anything more than just a test firing. But at the same time, it's a step--a big step--down a road. Which direction that step is depends on decisions made in the next 72 hours or so.

Posted by Doug at June 20, 2006 01:02 PM

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    Even though the Taepodong-2 that is being fueled...

According to many reports fueling is complete. Which means the missile is sitting there on the pad, with reactive rocket fuel eating its way of the fuel tank. If you are serious about launching a rocket, you fuel and go. If you are serious about destroying a rocket, making the pad unusable and more than likely killing off a large number of your ground crew you fuel and sit.

I'm not saying KJI is sane, but I am saying he's not stupid. We're being played.

BTW, here's a not very optimistic view of what we have produced so far in the effort to create an anti-ballistic missile system.

Posted by: Jon Gallagher at June 21, 2006 07:41 PM