Monday, June 19, 2006

Muscular Liberalism

Via Kevin Drum, I see that North Korea is preparing to test-launch a missle that is capable of reaching parts of Alaska. That same missle is also thought to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Kevin posits that this news is an excellent opportunity for muscular liberals (Peter Beinart, for instance, has been making a great deal of noise with his recent book--The Good Fight-- calling for liberals to take a firmer stand in foreign policy) to put their money where their mouth is by calling for some specific action against North Korea.

Kevin's suggestion, picking up on a theme from The National Review's James Robbins, is to use North Korea's launch as an opportunity for a live test of our much touted (but so far spectuacularly unsuccessful) missle defense system. What's to lose here? Either the bloody thing works, in which case we send a clear signal to rogue nations that developing nuclear ICBMs is a losing proposition or it doesn't, in which case we at least know that perhaps we ought maybe rethink spending billions of dollars putting a completely ineffectual missle shield in place.

Now I'm not sure to what extent Kevin really thinks it's a good idea to try shooting down a North Korean missle. After all, if the thing doesn't work (and there's good reason to think it won't, something that Kevin knows quite well--why else the double-dog-dare to try it?), then there are additional consequences to that failure. After all, a system that doesn't work may still prove a deterrent as long as no one is certain that it doesn't work. A botched attempt to shoot down the missle would, I fear, have pretty much the same effect on international opinion as Desert One, the botched attempt to rescuse hostages in Iran had back in 1980.

That said, I do think that there is something to Kevin's more general challenge. For those liberals who do advocate a more muscular stance in international affairs (a group that includes yours truly), this does seem an opportunity to take a public stand. So here goes.

North Korea is, I think, a clear threat to the United States. Nuclear weapons, together with the ability to launch them at the United States, coupled with a seriously unstable regime...well, now that's something that, I think, may actually rise to the level of aggression necessary to trigger some form of preemption. Yes, it may be that North Korea simply wants a shield that would allow it to make mischief in other ways while lessening the threat of American retaliation. And were the Koreans planning to conduct their test entirely within their own borders, that would be one thing. But--and here's the crucial part--the missle will leave Korean airspace. No nation has the right to fire missles at other parts of the world; it seems to me that firing (or planning to fire) a missle outside of one's borders is grounds for a military response.

If I thought that our missle defense system would work, then I'd be calling for shooting down the test launch. Since I think that the system is more likely to fail spectacularly, then I would support airstrikes on the Korean launch facility. I'd call for such a strike even more loudly were it not for the fact that the bulk of our soldiers are effectively tied down in Iraq. The United States still carries a big stick, but Iraq has shown the limits of our reach. I think that the stick is probably still big enough to swat down a North Korean missle without triggering a regional war in East Asia, though obviously I'd want to leave the final determination on that empirical question to the folks who know more about our capabilities and about the likely response of the North Koreans. But I'll go on the record here as saying that I am, in principle, in support of the use of force against North Korea should Pyongyang decide to continue with its launch.

So there.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mitchell Ullman said...

It's easy. Just give Little American... I mean Japan, the green light to turn North Korea into a bloody smear on the ass of China. The key is to promise China more export rights and to continue turning the other cheek when it comes to human rights.

I know, I know. But look at it this way: one fight at a time.

8:11 AM  
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