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Bomb North Korea?

Just as President Obama is readying an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, former State Department official Philip Zelikow suggests we open up a can of North Korean worms by interrupting their reportedly imminent long range missile test by bombing it on the launch pad. Such a move would not only squash their nascent and intolerable long-range missile threat, Zelikow said, but would also send a message to other would-be proliferators.

Of course, it's not all upside:

The downside, as in 2006, is the possibility of North Korean escalation against South Korea. The United States must consider its own security, the security of its Japanese ally, and the security of its South Korean ally. Ideally, all should arrive at a common understanding of what must be done to protect their long-term security.

In keeping with precedent, I suspect that Obama will err on the side of not re-starting the Korean War.

I wonder why Zelikow thinks that the South Koreans, who have been reluctant to pressure North Korea too hard lest the country destabilize, would nonetheless sign on to a U.S. bombing run which could easily result in the shelling of their capital (and do untold damage to an already battered global economy). Why run such a huge risk when we can tell the North, publicly and repeatedly, that any missile launched against the U.S. would result in their destruction?

But I think Zelikow's final sentence is the more telling. Ultimately, while there is broad agreement that the North should not possess nuclear weapons, there is a fundamental divergence between America and South Korea (and China) on North Korea. Both the Chinese and the South Koreans seem to put a higher premium on regime stability than they do on denuclearization. As crazy and dangerous as the Dear Leader is, he's the devil they all know, and steps that would plausibly lead to regime change (such as a blockade) never fly.

This is ultimately why South Korea and China have to take the lead on North Korea. It's their cities down range of artillery and it's their borders over which tens if not hundreds of thousands of refugees could come stampeding over.