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Missile Diplomacy
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 7/13/06

North Korea observed America’s Forth of July holiday with a fireworks display of its own. Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s ruling madman, responded to repeated warnings from Washington and its allies by firing a small barrage of missiles including a Taedong-II said to be capable of reaching Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the west coast states. The latter blew up shortly after liftoff, its intended destination unknown.

Why would North Korea, an economic disaster, its Stalinist government unable to feed its people or conceal from the world their wretched living conditions, directly provoke the world’s top two economic giants including the only superpower? Simply because it can. Its “Dear Leader” may be consumed with ego and determination to hold onto power at any cost but he is not a fool. He knows that the United States is fully committed militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and that Japan as yet poses no military challenge, which could quickly change if a North Korean missile happens to end up on Japanese real estate. Nor is Kim suicidal. He knows that an attack on the United States, Japan or U.S. forces in South Korea would result in his assured destruction. But he can with impunity stick his finger in the giant’s eye, knowing that the response will consist of long-winded demands for U.N. sanctions which will be vetoed by his reliable allies, China and Russia.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Dear Leader has little to offer his people besides a strong military which he built by virtually starving them and denying them any kind of prosperity. He attempts to divert their attention from their miserable conditions by saber rattling and bombast directed against the U. S. and its allies. But the stark contrast in living conditions between north and south demonstrate the successes of capitalism and democracy and the failures of his government. His long suffering subjects increasingly recognize that the living is easier down south and he is driven to even more desperate attempts at diversion.

South Korea prefers to use the carrot instead of the stick in attempting to modify the behavior of its belligerent neighbor. Who can blame it? It fears that a precipitous collapse in the north would trigger widespread migration into the south and that integration under such conditions would results in huge economic stresses on the Seoul government such as West Germany incurred incident to the unification of Germany.

China, too, is concerned over the prospects of more impoverished North Korean fleeing across its northeast border and has a selfish interest in maintaining the status quo as its patron and ally. Russia, to a lesser degree, has similar interests, so Kim can likely continue to rely on their vetoes against any effective U.N. action if, indeed, it were capable of any.

But North Korea is more than just a minor irritant to the U.S. and its allies. Much of the threat it poses derives from its role as a weapons supplier to nations unfriendly to the United States including Iran and Syria. SS-N-6 ballistic missiles in Iran obtained from North Korea pose a direct threat to Israel, a threat too grave to ignore. Unfortunately, President Bush’s options are limited by a military that has been too downsized to take on another major contingency while we are still engaged in the Middle East and by the uncertain prospects of public support for another major military action. His response, therefore, has been confined to appeals for economic sanctions and almost pleading calls for global unity. But in this crisis, as in crises of the past, global unity will prove to be elusive and the U.N. will again demonstrate its uselessness.

Ronald Reagan was instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union by his actions and perseverance in expanding our armed forces and pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively called “Star Wars” by its detractors, against the almost hysterical objections of Moscow and our own domestic doves. The Soviets, of course, had good reason to oppose it. They knew that they could never match American resources and technology under a determined president and they simply quit trying and folded.

Our missile defense system today is far from perfect but it is progressing. Five of nine test shots were successful, admittedly under carefully controlled circumstances which are normal at this stage of development. Detractors continue to voice concerns over cost and say the system would be overwhelmed by massive missile attacks. But recall the system was first intended as a defense against a limited attack by rogue nations. North Korea and Iran fit that description. We know, and they should, that American technology will be up to the challenge. My experiences in command of guided missile ships convince me of that. Today’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers, such as the USS Mustin, recently home ported in Japan, are integral parts of the missile defense system. Their mobility permits them to patrol anywhere on the high seas giving them the ability to detect and engage hostile missiles in the more vulnerable early stage of their trajectory. We have 22 Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers and will eventually have 62 Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyers.

The enduring lesson of the Reagan era that needs to be recalled at times like these is that security is best assured not by total reliance on diplomacy and sanctions but also by maintaining military strength sufficient to give the president multiple options. Our military forces must be sized to meet any realistic threats, not just one or two of the likeliest. We may not have the luxury of engaging them one or two at a time. CRO

copyright 2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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