In the aftermath of North Korea’s bold but risky decision to test-fire a missile over Japan’s large northern island of Hokkaido, many people were wondering why the U.S. and Japan did not attempt to shoot it down.
Following the test, President Trump declared again that “all options are on the table” in dealing with North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and the ICBMs with which to deliver them. Yet, the U.S. and Japan made a decision not to intercept the missile because, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), officials “determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis said any North Korean missile that was headed toward Guam or other U.S. territories would be shot down and be considered an act of war against the United States. However, he added that if the missile were tracking to land in the sea, it would be the president’s call about how to respond.
Source: Defense One
Why it’s on our radar: It should be noted that U.S. missile defenses, while having advanced considerably since they were first used against Iraqi SCUDs in 1991, are still far from mature. Some systems only have a 50 percent success rate. Imagine the fallout, politically and otherwise, if the president had given the order to shoot down the North Korean missile and missed. A miss would likely further embolden North Korea and throw into doubt whether the tens of billions already spent on missile defense technology was worth it. A miss in a real-time situation may even endanger further missile defense research and funding.
Also, shooting down a missile can, in and of itself, be considered an act of war, especially if the missile was not on a dangerous or threatening trajectory.