Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute has a suggestion worth heeding regarding the impending North Korean missile launch (supposedly to loft a satellite into orbit): He advises that the U.S., working with our allies South Korea and Japan, should shoot down the missile. With the Aegis ship-borne ballistic-missile defense system in place, the U.S. surely has the means to do so. And with North Korea’s launch being in violation of UN resolutions as well as Pyongyang’s own commitments made as recently as February 20, the U.S. has ample right to do so.
Auslin is convincing in arguing that this will not start a war with the North but will signal a renewed seriousness in American-led counter-proliferation efforts. This is especially important to do because North Korea has a young, untested leader: now is the time to mold his behavior and show that he will not be allowed to get away with murder, both literally and metaphorically, as his father did so often in his dealings with the West. This would be a salutary lesson not only for the North Korean regime but also for other rogue states around the world, most notably Iran.
The New York Times editorializes today (in a piece actually labeled “Editorial,” I should note) that the United States has too many nukes, because the Cold War is over. I have no objection to the Times voicing its support for reducing our supply of Things That Go Boom–the Times’s predictability is oddly comforting–but I have a couple of questions about their reasoning. Here is the Times:
For strategic and budgetary reasons, [Obama and his nuclear experts] need to further reduce the number of deployed weapons and the number kept in reserve. If this country can wean itself from its own dependence, it will be safer and will have more credibility in its efforts to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others.
That is the argument: We must not be dependent on our own nuclear weapons. But the rest of the editorial doesn’t seem to back this up. It argues we will be safer with fewer tactical nukes because it will reduce the chance of an unplanned exchange of weapons we never intend to use anyway. But it doesn’t explain why our dependence on our own weapons is a problem. This is the type of phrasing commonly used to suggest one of two things: either that reducing our own dependence makes us more likely to strike a conciliatory tone with our enemies, or that we would be more likely to depend on others. The editorialists do not tell us on which other country’s nukes we should rely, rather than our own. And the other countries mentioned in the editorial–Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China–have all adopted tougher lines when we have sought that conciliatory tone.