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The Real Threat From North Korea

Map of North Korea.
by Anthony H. Cordesman
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Jul 06, 2006
The same North Korean ICBM efforts that throw a rock at Alaska can throw a large nuclear warhead at every ally the United States has in Northeast Asia. Japan and South Korea are not only close allies, they are critical trading partners.

The risk of a war in this part of the world would inevitably threaten Chinese involvement in some form, and possible bloc trade with much of China for an extended period even if China did not become involved. Our troops and our bases in most of Asia would be at hazard as well.

Americans need to stop thinking parochially and selfishly and start thinking strategically. North Korea does not have to be able to hit the United States with meaningful nuclear threats to do much to deter or damage the United States.

Reintroducing large U.S. reinforcements into South Korea in the face of nuclear threats or attacks on a regional level is not something the United States can dismiss, or that Japan or South Korea can easily call for in the face of potential nuclear attack.

Threats of nuclear strikes on allied targets in the face of conventional use of US stealth and long-range strategic air and missile power present similar problems.

Preemptive North Korean strikes on key U.S. and allied bases would be semi-suicidal but would also be possible if the North Korean regime felt it was pushed to extremes.

North Korea also does not develop its MRBM/IRBM range missiles in a vacuum. It is a close partner with Iran and has sold missiles to Syria. There is no way as yet to know what the latest round of tests means for technology transfer to other states -- if anything -- but it could affect two major sources of trouble in the Middle East, and there are some indications of North Korean technology transfer to Pakistan.

Add in the fact, that North Korea has massive combat ready forces on the border with South Korea, long-range artillery that can hit at some 30-40 percent of South Korea's economy, massive stocks of chemical weapons, and large numbers of short range missiles and rockets that may have chemical warheads, and the regional threat rises substantially higher.

The continental United States may well have at least half a decade to wait and see. Our Asian allies don't, our Middle East allies don't, and our military forces and economic interests don't. The systems we call "Scuds" and "No Dongs" may well be extremely dangerous now, and they almost certainly will be in a year or so. No one had to shoot Achilles in the head.

One other point. When it comes to political posturing, the Bush administration deserves a bit of credit on its own. Talking about activating an unproven ballistic missile defense, whose booster seems to have serious reliability problems, to deal with a test it probably was almost certain would never hit the United States was posturing on its own.

While not quite at the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction level, the Bush administration also needs to provide far more evidence there was a real threat and that it was not simply seeking publicity, and to distract attention from Iraq.

The Bush administration also probably has a good longer-term case for missile defenses, and certainly has one at the theater level. But the fact is that if we fired today's test bed systems, they might well malfunction just as badly as the North Korean test did. The future may well be very different, but the incapable shooting at the incapable is not a particularly good way to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair of strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. This article is extracted from his new CSIS paper "North Korea's Missile Tests: Saber Rattling or Rocket's Red Glare?". United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
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US Says There Will Be No Snap Resolution Over North Korea Crisis
Washington (AFP) Jul 06, 2006
The White House warned Thursday against expecting a "snap resolution" of the North Korean missile crisis, or a speedy agreement among the United States and its partners on a precise way forward.

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