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.
As they do not know much about North Korea's 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.
The officials agreed to discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity
because of its political sensitivity.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
speaks at a joint news conference with Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel
Angel in Washington June 19, 2006. [Reuters]
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he could not say whether the unproven
multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile defense system might be used in the event
of a North Korean missile launch. That system, which includes a handful of
missiles that could be fired from Alaska and California, has had a spotty record
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 North
Even if there were no attempt to shoot down a North Korean missile, it would
be tracked by early warning satellites and radars, including radars based on
ships near Japan and ground-based radars in Alaska and California.
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
Signs of North Korean preparations to launch a long-range ballistic missile,
possibly with sufficient range to reach U.S. territory, have grown in recent
weeks, although it is unclear whether the missile has been fully fueled. U.S.
officials said Monday the missile was apparently fully assembled and fueled, but
others have since expressed some uncertainty.
Bush administration officials have urged the North Koreans publicly
and privately not to conduct the missile test, which would end a
moratorium in place since 1999. That ban was adopted after Japan and other
nations expressed outrage over an August 1998 launch in which a North
Korean missile flew over northern Japan.
At the time of the 1998 launch, the United States had no means of shooting
down a long-range missile in flight. Since then, the Pentagon has developed a
rudimentary system that it says is capable of defending against a limited number
of missiles in an emergency ¡ª with a North Korean attack particularly in mind.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress'
investigative arm, says the Pentagon has spent $91 billion on missile defense
over the past two decades.