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March 16th, 2013
The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. is Expanding Missile Defenses on Pacific Coast,” describes a military move that seems to make sense at first glance but in reality is little more than a publicity stunt.
Anti-missile defenses have never proved to be very reliable — it’s like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet — and only 8 out of 15 U.S. tests have hit their target. Meanwhile, on the other hand, North Korea is nowhere near being able to mount a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile and have it hit its target.
So then why the rushed move by the Pentagon? One could say it was for deterrence, but surely North Korea must know it would be totally destroyed if it managed to detonate a nuclear weapon on U.S. soil.
However, Kim Jong-un is a young, untested leader trying to curry favor with his military constituency, and he is thus concerned with saving face in all international relationships. So while our deployment of interceptors may have little military significance, it can affect the way North Koreans perceive their situation vis-a-vis the United States.
Therefore, this decision may have psychological consequences in terms of the willingness of Kim Jong-un to attack South Korea, where the U.S. has also maintained large numbers of troops. And that could easily result in a tragedy that this move is designed to prevent.
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