Washington's latest missile-defense blunder.

Military analysis.
June 28 2006 12:01 PM

Washington's Latest Missile-Defense Blunder

Let's hope North Korea backs down soon.

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Let's return to the baseball analogy: So long as the pitcher releases the ball, anyone with a good video camera can tell how good his arm is, even without seeing the ball cross the plate. Similarly, North Korea will be able to tell, and show others, whether its missile works, even if the United States ultimately shoots down its payload.

The United States has backed itself into a no-win situation. For now, the United States would do best to stick to research and development on missile defense and save activation for genuinely dangerous situations. By wielding its missile defense now, it has increased the stakes for itself while leaving them unchanged for North Korea. Ironically, American military moves have made a diplomatic solution all the more urgent.

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Correction, June 30, 2006: This piece originally claimed that the United States "has never shot down a satellite." In fact, the United States shot down a NASA satellite in September 1985, when it was legal for Washington to test ASATs against its own satellites. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Michael Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at CFR.org.