2006-06-19

The Use of Force

Kevin Drum, one of my favorites, has been dealing with serious issues, as usual. Currently he's trying to come to some understanding of where the mythic monolith of "liberals" stand on when it is appropriate to use military force. Well, it just so happens that we have an ongoing real world situation in which to apply our standards for the use of military intervention. North Korea has a long-range, nuclear-payload-capable rocket fueled and sitting on the pad awaiting launch, and the world is wondering what we're going to do about it.

Here's a nifty graphic of the Design Heritage of the missile itself:

The Taepodong-2 Missile is the crowning achievement of P'yongyang's missile program, with an estimated maximum range of over 9000 miles. For those of you counting at home, that's capable of showering D.C. or Miami with a happy confetti-payload and still have excess capacity. Hell, it's enough to hit Bogota!

Rush Limbaugh is on the record thinking that "we've pretty much got to try to shoot it down" if they launch it, but that's hardly a surprise coming from the anti-diplomatic base of the Republican Party. Literally anything else would be appeasement, after all. If Korea's missile is launched, and we intercept it, I think Bush will get a bigger bump than the lousy 1-point he got out of Zarqawi's death.

Condi Rice is getting in on the act, warning the North Koreans against "provocative acts." You may remember the last "provocative act" in '98 when North Korea launched this same missile right over Japan-proper. Of course, at that time they didn't have the nuclear warheads to put at the tip of the missile, but for two countries that have historically just been in love with each other, it's not exactly a subtle message for North Korea to have sent. In contrast to the '98 experience, now we have two Aegis-class destroyers in the area who will serve as early confirmation of the launch and would help coordinate the attempt at interception.

So, sure, there's lots of reasons for us to attempt engagement. But I think the overriding (and yet) underlying issue is, "Do we think we can actually shoot the missile down if we try? " I'm not sure our military experts are convinced it would be a successful demonstration - and can you imagine the PR nightmare if we tried to shoot it down and failed? The anti-ballistic missile defense system has not exactly had a stellar track record when our targets aren't bearing homing transponders at which our interceptors can aim. And by "not stellar," I mean abysmal. I don't think we've ever hit anything under real world conditions.

I'll put my money on someone, somewhere, somehow inducing the North Koreans to forgo the test. If I'm wrong about that, I guess that we don't attempt an interception.

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