The Bush administration is weighing responses to a possible North Korean missile test that include attempting to shoot it down in flight over the Pacific, defense officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Because North Korea is secretive about its missile operations, U.S. officials say they must consider the possibility that an anticipated test would turn out to be something else, such as a space launch or even an attack. Thus, the Pentagon is considering the possibility of attempting an interception, two defense officials said, even though it would be unprecedented and is not considered the likeliest scenario.
Although shooting down a North Korean missile is a possibility, the Pentagon also must consider factors that would argue against such a response, including the risk of shooting and missing and of escalating tensions further with the communist nation.
Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a U.S. shootdown of a North Korean missile on a test flight or a space launch would draw "very strong international reaction" against the United States. He saw only a small chance that the U.S. would attempt a shootdown.
Baker Spring, a Heritage Foundation analyst and strong advocate of U.S. missile defenses, said he believes that "in theoretical terms" the U.S. system is a capable of defeating a North Korean missile. And he thinks that if the North Koreans launched on a flight pattern that appeared threatening to the United States, the administration "would be well within its rights" under international law to shoot down the missile.
Mr. Spring's "theoretical terms" are likely the same set of terms that have Kyra Sedgwick abruptly deciding that Kevin Bacon is a loser and dedicating the rest of her life to me. The biggest risk here isn't that an attempted shootdown would provoke anger from other nations; laughter and ridicule
are far more likely responses.