AP wonders: If North Korea sends missiles towards U.S., should we shoot them down?

An article published by Eric Talmadge, the Associated Press’ Pyongyang bureau chief, questioned whether the Trump administration should shoot down missiles launched by North Korea.

Not “would,” mind you, but “should.”

Talmadge wrote:

With North Korea threatening to send a salvo of ballistic missiles close to Guam, a U.S. military hub in the Pacific, pressure could grow for Washington to put its multibillion-dollar missile defense system into use and shoot them out of the air.

If U.S. territory is threatened, countermeasures are a no-brainer. But if the missiles aren’t expected to hit the island — the stated goal is to have them hit waters well offshore — should it? Could it?

It’s not an easy call.

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The North Korean regime threatened to launch missiles against the U.S. territory of Guam, which prompted President Trump to issue a stern warning, which was praised by the island’s governor.

According to Talmadge, attempts to shoot down the missiles could cause more problems:

Unlike past missile launches that landed much closer to North Korean territory, firing a barrage near Guam would be extremely provocative, almost compelling a response. Trying to intercept the missiles, however, would open up a whole new range of potential dangers.

He noted some of the pros and cons of an attempted intercept.

In the “pro” column, he said:

Shooting down the North’s missiles would hamper its ability to glean the flight data it needs. And if his missiles prove no match for U.S. interceptors, Kim Jong Un might be chastened into thinking twice before conducting any more.

Intercepting a missile over the open ocean has the added benefit of not being a direct attack on North Korea itself. It would send a very strong message but leave more room for de-escalation than a pre-emptive strike against military facilities or other targets on the ground.

In the “con” column, he stated:

A failed intercept would likely embolden the North to move ahead even faster. It could also have a chilling psychological impact on allies like Japan and South Korea, which might seek to build up their own nuclear forces independently of Washington. Rival powers China and Russia, meanwhile, might see the exposed weakness as an opportunity to push forward more assertive policies of their own.

Even if it were successful, a policy of shooting down missiles would undoubtedly raise tensions, and put an uncomfortable squeeze on American allies on the front lines.

Worst of all, if American intentions aren’t clear, an attempt to intercept a missile might be misinterpreted by Pyongyang — or Beijing or Moscow — and escalate into a real shooting war.

Additionally, he said that shooting down those missiles might end up cutting off intelligence we might get on North Korean missile capability.

The AP tweeted:

Many on Twitter couldn’t believe such a question even needed to be asked:

One Twitter user correctly noted that the article was intended to be a thoughtful analysis of the question, but we have to agree with the majority on this.  If indeed, it appears that North Korea intends to shoot missiles with the intent of terrorizing Guam, in our view the administration absolutely needs to take any and all measures necessary to protect and defend American lives.

Exit question: Wonder if the AP would’ve asked this question if we had this much foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor?  Would they have asked, “Should US shoot down Japan’s bombers?”


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Joe Newby

A 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Joe ran for a city council position in Riverside, Calif., in 1991 and managed successful campaigns for the Idaho state legislature. Co-author of "Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad," Joe wrote for Examiner.com from 2010 until it closed in 2016 and his work has been published at Newsbusters, Spokane Faith and Values and other sites. He now runs the Conservative Firing Line.

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