Should We Hit North Korea's Missiles on the Launch Pad?

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This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," July 5, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: Well, as diplomats try to head off a full-scale crisis with North Korea, what are America's military options? Should we hit the missiles on the launch pad before the next test?

With us now, Van Hipp, former deputy assistant secretary of the Army, and James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Hipp, we apparently knew there was going to be a launch. Should we, could we have hit them on the launch pad?

VAN HIPP, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: I believe this is probably the greatest threat facing the Western world, David. And let me tell you why.

We know that since 1985 the Iranian government has been financing the missile development efforts of North Korea. When you now consider the fact that the Iranians now have their own program to tinker with the nose cone of a very similar missile, the Shahab missile, which basically is North Korean and Chinese technology, so that it can accommodate a nuclear warhead, that, you know, fact that the North Koreans are sharing missile development technology with the Iranians, you better believe that the Iranians...

ASMAN: So, Mr. Hipp, Mr. Hipp, I just got to ask you straight out — forgive me for pressing the point.

HIPP: Yes. Yes.

ASMAN: Should we hit the missiles before they launch?

HIPP: If we believe the Taepodong missile has the ability to reach the continental United States, absolutely. We need a preemptive strike to take out those fixed facilities.

ASMAN: Mr. Carafano, could we do that? Do we have the Intel? Do we have the — the capability to take them out on a launch pad?

JAMES CARAFANO, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Absolutely. If they're on the launch pad and they're fueling, getting ready to launch, we could do that.

You know, should we? No. I mean, they're tests. We know they are tests. The North Koreans know they are tests. We know also that the long-range missile doesn't even work.

So, they are not attacking the United States, so you really don't have a justification to go in and start attacking them.

ASMAN: But, Mr. Carafano, they are tests now. Some day, they may launch them for real. How do we know the difference?

CARAFANO: Well, well, you — actually, you can know the difference. And we actually do have a missile defense system, which can interdict these things in flight. And we have the enormous ability to retaliate and destroy all of North Korea, if they try.

ASMAN: Well, Mr. Hipp, we do have — excuse me, Mr. Carafano, just a second.

CARAFANO: I don't — I don't think the lack of defending the United States...

ASMAN: Mr. Hipp, we do, in fact, have interceptors. They were put on alert. Could they have taken down the missiles after they launched, if we had attacked it?

HIPP: That is the $64,000 question. We have missile interceptors at Fort Greely. And I know that we are now deploying missile interceptors to Japan.

But, you know, in the late 1990s, don't forget, the North Koreans fired one of these missiles. It went over 3,600 kilometers and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

In the late 1990s, the U.S. Congress had a ballistic missile commission, headed up by a fellow named Donald Rumsfeld. Donald Rumsfeld, then a private citizen, in 1998 expressed his concern over this very same missile, the Taepodong missile, and the ability of the North Koreans to lessen its weight, so that they could extend the range to reach the continental United States.

ASMAN: Well, by the way, Mr. Carafano, do we know where this missile was heading, the one that didn't go off? Had it gone off, where would it have ended?

CARAFANO: Yes. You can tell — after it has been launched, you can tell in the trajectory where it is going. And the 1998...

ASMAN: Well, where was it going?

CARAFANO: And the 1998 missile test failed as well. So, they don't - - they have not demonstrated that they have an operational intercontinental ballistic missile.

ASMAN: But somewhere in the Pentagon, they do know where the one set off two days ago was going, correct?

CARAFANO: Well, you can tell by the trajectory where it's going, sure.

ASMAN: So, apparently, we know.

Do we have the capability, the interceptor capability, to take them down after they are launched, Mr. Carafano?

CARAFANO: Yes. Yes, we do have a capability to intercept either short-range or long-range ballistic missiles for Japan and the United States.

HIPP: But the $64,000 question is, will that technology work all the time?

What I'm saying is do we need a preemptive strike today? No. But I am saying it depends on our intelligence capability. If our intelligence is right — and they got to get this one right — if it's right, that this threat is imminent or about to be imminent, such that a Taepodong, even if it goes off course, if they extend the range, like they want to, and it can reach the continental United States...


HIPP: ... and they are in cahoots with the Iranians, we have got to launch a preemptive strike.

ASMAN: And we have got to go, leave it on that note.

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