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Ash Carter and North Korea: Does He Still Support a First Strike?

6:03 PM, Mar 26, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Ash Carter, Barack Obama's nominee for Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, was on the Hill today answering questions about his qualifications to serve as the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. Carter has no real experience in this field, as John McCain kindly pointed out for the committee. But that doesn't necessarily mean he isn't up to the task. What is clear is that Carter has recently taken at least one controversial position that is quite relevant given reports that North Korea is preparing for a major test next month of a Taepodong missile capable of hitting the United States.

In 2006, amid similar reports, Carter co-bylined a piece in the Washington Post with former Secretary of Defense William Perry calling on the Bush administration to "immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched." The authors asked:

Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not.

Carter and Perry were very specific about what needed to be done, how the United States might proceed, and what the consequences might be -- a full-scale war on the Korean peninsula. Still, they urged a strike:

This is a hard measure for President Bush to take. It undoubtedly carries risk. But the risk of continuing inaction in the face of North Korea's race to threaten this country would be greater. Creative diplomacy might have avoided the need to choose between these two unattractive alternatives. Indeed, in earlier years the two of us were directly involved in negotiations with North Korea, coupled with military planning, to prevent just such an outcome. We believe diplomacy might have precluded the current situation. But diplomacy has failed, and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature. A successful Taepodong launch, unopposed by the United States, its intended victim, would only embolden North Korea even further. The result would be more nuclear warheads atop more and more missiles.

Today the United States faces precisely the same threat, and Carter is on the verge of joining the Obama administration as a senior defense official. Does he still support a strike against North Korea? How do his views on this issue shape his views of the military's procurement needs, particularly with regard to missile defense and the F-22?

While the rest of the media obsesses over Obama's latest campaign event and its implications for marijuana legalization, some reporter might want to ask Ash Carter whether a quick confirmation would leave him lobbying the Obama administration for a first-strike against North Korea's missile program.