If North Korea fires off a missile in the coming days, the United States should use its missile defenses to shoot it down, even if it's not headed for a real target, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable.
The Obama administration has been moving missile defense related assets closer to North Korea recently and has plans to shoot down a North Korean missile headed for Japan, South Korea, or Guam, according to the New York Times, but not if the missile is just going to fall into the water.
McCain begs to differ.
"If they launched a missile, we should take it out. It's best to show them what some of our capabilities are," he said. "Their missile would most likely miss, but the fact that they have the ability to launch one with that range is very escalatory at least."
Asked if a failure of U.S. missile defenses in such a scenario would be harmful to the credibility of U.S. weapons systems, McCain said, "That's true, but I would hope that would be a minimal risk."
South Korean officials have been predicting that North Korea could launch a medium-range ballistic missile on or about April 10, just ahead of the April 15 birthday of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung. Last year, North Korea launched an Unha-3 rocket with a satellite attached on April 12, scuttling its ongoing diplomacy with the Obama administration.
North Korea's missile-launch preparations are ongoing, but South Korean officials on Monday walked back comments from over the weekend warning that North Korea is preparing a fourth nuclear device test. Meanwhile, the Times reported that the United States and South Korea have prepared a new "counterprovocation" plan that would allow for proportional retaliatory strikes if North Korea conducted a limited military strike on the South.
Secretary of State John Kerry will visit China, South Korea, and Japan later this week. A senior administration told CNN that Kerry will try to present a diplomatic path out of the crisis during his trip.
"Secretary Kerry agrees that we have to have a robust deterrent because we really don't know what these guys will do," the official said. "But he also knows that the North Koreans need a diplomatic off-ramp and that they have to be able to see it."
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will visit Beijing next week and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is scheduled to travel to China in May.
McCain said the key to solving the North Korean crisis in the short term is held by the Chinese, who although they have made increasingly sharp statements and have been conducting military exercises near their border with North Korea, have yet to use whatever leverage they have on Pyongyang.
"The Chinese are the only ones who have real influence over the North Koreans and they could take action that would ratchet down this crisis dramatically and they are not doing that," McCain said. "China could shut down their whole economy in a short period of time... It's symptomatic of Chinese behavior... They are not behaving appropriate to a world power."