Should the U.S. Bomb North Korea Before It Launches its Missile?
Apparently, the answer is yes, according to Professor Jeremi Suri of the University of Texas writing in the New York Times:
The Korean crisis has now become a strategic threat to America’s core national interests. The best option is to destroy the North Korean missile on the ground before it is launched. The United States should use a precise airstrike to render the missile and its mobile launcher inoperable.
President Obama should state clearly and forthrightly that this is an act of self-defense in response to explicit threats from North Korea and clear evidence of a prepared weapon. He should give the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan advance notice before acting. And he should explain that this is a limited defensive strike on a military target — an operation that poses no threat to civilians — and that America does not intend to bring about regime change. The purpose is to neutralize a clear and present danger. That is all.
I am highly dubious about this action as a policy matter, but I think that such a strike would be legal as a “preemptive” act of self-defense under international law. Even for those wedded to the possibly outdated Caroline principle, I think the various statements by North Korea (including denouncing the armistice and making specific threats against South Korea and the United States) and its act of moving its missile into launch position would satisfy the Caroline’s imminence requirement. I think a surgical strike that targeted only the missile would satisfy the proportionality requirement.
I am somewhat skeptical of Prof. Suri’s assurance that this will actually improve the security situation in Korea and Secretary Kerry seems to be going in the opposite direction. But I do think he is right in putting this option on the table. In any event, legal concerns should not constrain U.S. actions here.