What should we do about the North Korean ICBM test?

As I’m sure you must know North Korea plans to test fire a missile thought to be able to strike the continental United States:

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea on Monday it will face consequences if it test-fires a missile thought to be powerful enough to reach the West Coast of the United States.

“It would be a very serious matter and, indeed, a provocative act should North Korea decide to launch that missile,” Rice said amid indications that the North Koreans could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any moment.

The senior U.S. diplomat said the United States would talk to other nations about action should the North go ahead, and “I can assure everyone that it would be taken with utmost seriousness.”

The United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and other countries have urged North Korea to abandon any missile firing, but there was no sign of backing down. U.S. officials said Monday the missile was apparently fully assembled and fueled, giving the North a launch window of about a month.

Unlike other preparatory steps the United States has tracked, the fueling process is very difficult to reverse, and most likely means the test will go ahead, one senior administration official said.

The precise timing is unclear, the official said.

What, if anything, should be done about it?

Coming Anarchy notes that the Japanese plan to issue a stern demarche. That’ll teach ’em.

Andrew Olmsted points out that the test would make a splendid opportunity for doing live testing of missile defense:

It would be as close to a real-world conditions test as we’re likely to get, it would allow us to see what we’re getting for our money, and advocates of missile defense could use the North Korean test as fodder to maintain support for the program. Even if it failed, that would be a prime opportunity to demagogue the issue and argue that we need to focus more heavily on missile defense because the next missile might not be a test.

I’ve suggested that myself from time to time. James Joyner quite correctly wonders if the cost of failure in such a course might well outweigh the benefit of a success (or even a “neutral failure”):

Such a move could backfire horribly, however. Both a “successful” and a failed attempt to shoot down the DPRK missile could wind up killing people. One only has to remember back to the 1991 Gulf War, when American Patriot missiles shot down Iraqi scuds but quite likely killed many more people than saved by sending huge pieces of shrapnel into innocent population centers. It’s far from inconceivable that could happen in this case. And, of course, missile tests often reveal that the missile is not ready for prime time, as demonstrated by the missile not hitting its intended target. Presumably, this threat could be substantially mitigated by targetting the Korean missile while it’s still over the ocean. It could not be totally eliminated, however.

Kevin Drum speculates that we might attack the North Korean test site.

Michael Stickings of The Moderate Voice urges one-on-one talks with the North Koreans.

I, too, recommend diplomacy but I think that we should be negotiating with the Chinese rather than the North Koreans. As long as China subsidizes his regime Kim Jong-Il will continue to go his merry way, doing what suits him, and I don’t see that any amount of negotiating will change that.

It does little good to talk to the dummy—it’s the ventriloquist you’ve got to deal with.

UPDATE: AJ Strata doubts that we would intercept the missile (even if we can) and observes that it would be a very bad sign if we did.

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