By Glenn Kessler and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Former defense secretary William J. Perry has called on President Bush to launch a preemptive strike against the long-range ballistic missile that U.S. intelligence analysts say North Korea is preparing to launch.
In an opinion article that appears in today's Washington Post, Perry and former assistant defense secretary Ashton B. Carter argue that if North Korea continues launch preparations, Bush should immediately declare that the United States will destroy the missile before it can be fired.
Perry and Carter suggest using a cruise missile launched from a submarine and carrying a high-explosive warhead. "The effect on the Taepodong would be devastating," they write, using the name of the Korean missile. "The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed."
As President Bill Clinton's defense secretary, Perry oversaw preparation for airstrikes on North Korean nuclear facilities in 1994, an attack that was never carried out. He has remained deeply involved in Korean policy issues and is widely respected in national-security circles, especially among senior military officers. He has been a critic of the Bush administration's approach to North Korea.
"We believe diplomacy might have precluded the current situation," Perry and Carter said. "But diplomacy has failed, and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature."
Perry and Carter say that such a strike "undoubtedly carries risk" but that there would be no damage to North Korea beyond the missile galley. They argue that the unproven U.S. missile-defense system might not be able to shoot down a missile.
Meanwhile, there were some signs that South Korea, where officials have expressed skepticism over U.S. intelligence regarding an imminent missile launch, might be willing to step up pressure on the North. Yesterday, Kim Dae Jung, the former South Korean president, postponed a much-lauded visit next week to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, because of the rising tensions.
"Because of the unforeseen situation, it has become difficult" for Kim to visit North Korea, Jeong Se Hyun, a former top aide to Kim, told reporters.
In addition, South Korea's unification minister, Lee Jong-Seok, was widely quoted in the country's press as suggesting that continued investment and humanitarian aid to North Korea might be curbed if Pyongyang conducts a missile test. In a meeting with opposition leaders from South Korea's Grand National Party, which has criticized the administration of President Roh Moo Hyun for being soft on North Korea, Lee was quoted by the Korea Times as saying Seoul "will not pretend as if nothing has happened in the event of North Korea test-firing a missile."
Also yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to Japan reiterated that "all options are on the table" with regard to North Korea.
Asked whether the United States would attempt to shoot down the North Korean missile if launched, J. Thomas Schieffer warned in an interview that "we have greater technical means of tracking it than we had in the past, and we have options that we have not had in the past."
Faiola reported from Tokyo.