Last week's celebratory Independence Day rocket launches by the North Koreans are putting China in a pickle. China has one client state -- North Korea -- and over the past decade or so they've been willing to let Kim Jong Il throw periodic temper tantrums because the outbursts caused the U.S. more worry than it did China.
Well, it looks like the times they are a changing.
In the past, the western-aligned nations in the vicinity had been willing to follow the United States' rather mellow lead in dealing with North Korea. That appears to have changed -- and that's bad news for China.
Japan won't compromise on the stern wording of a U.N. resolution it sponsored seeking sanctions against North Korea over its missile tests and is pushing for a Monday vote despite opposition from China, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Sunday.
"To compromise because of one country which has veto power, even though most other countries support us, sends the wrong message," Aso told national broadcaster NHK, adding that a vote is expected on Monday. "We can't alter our stance."
This puts China in an uncomfortable situation. China can crackdown on North Korea -- which might result in Kim Jong Il sending tens (or hundreds) of thousands of refugees into China and the attendant international scene that would make (the U.N. would be under even more pressure to do something about the refugee problem). Or, China can do nothing and watch as its hopes for military and political dominance in the Asian Pacific is diminished by a nuclear-armed Japan.
On the home front, President Bush stated in a news conference last week that the U.S. missile defense system had a "reasonable chance" of knocking down the North Korean missiles.
For those who are unfamiliar with my background, I covered Vandenberg Air Force Base for two years for the Lompoc Record and witnessed numerous rocket and missile launches. Two of the 11 anti-ballistic missiles in the U.S. system are located at Vandenberg. Having said all that, I've little idea what "reasonable chance" translates into in terms of odds. I watched many ICBM tests -- usually scheduled for a midnight launch -- that went off without a hitch. Sometimes those missile tests were delayed -- for hours. (If you read my occassional complaints about rocket or shuttle launches at decent hours, it's because when I was covering Vandenberg, too many launches were at insane hours.) Of course, when one of these ICBM tests was delayed, the Air Force public relations folks always assured me -- and I'm sure the taxpayers -- that if we were really under attack, they wouldn't wait to make sure all the lights were green, they'd just launch it and hope.
That's probably the way the ABM shield probably works. Critics of the system complain that it only works a little better than 50 percent of the time -- and then only in tightly controlled scenarios. Well, that's usually how you test any system -- in a tightly controlled scenario. If a North Korean missile comes our way, I'm sure that we'd be firing more than one interceptor at it.
Besides, North Korea's bizarre behavior and the our modest missile defense system isn't a good argument for abandoning the missile defense system, it's an argument for improving it.