Although I am not responsible for America's air defenses, I was nonetheless dismayed and alarmed by the launch of a "mystery missile" 35 miles off the coast of California last night. The US military has denied any launch, has no idea what the launch was but insists that it presents no danger to the national security. I wonder if this is whistling in the dark, trying to keep us ignorant masses calm, arrogance or a combination of all three. I wish I could dismiss the event so easily.
Internet speculation on the source of the missile has ranged from UFOs and USOs to China, North Korea, Iran or even Al Qaeda.
North Korea has 40 Sang-O class submarines and, more importantly, 10 midget subs, just the kind that might be the most useful both for a demonstration of this sort and for an actual attack.
North Korea once launched an announced missile in the general direction of Japan. Additionally, North Korea has been able to use its nuclear program to hit up the US and other nations for aid. A best case scenario might be that the North Koreans are hard up again and want some money. The best method they have found for getting money in the past is to create a crisis.
Another North Korean motive? To demonstrate to the US that they have the capacity to hit us even if they don't have ICBMs yet. Of course that motive could also apply to Iran, less so to Al Qaeda.
China would not need such a demonstration. It is already quite clear that it has the potential to annihilate much of the US and the West. Of course, China itself would be completely decimated as well. During an earlier period when the Chinese nuclear strike force was much smaller and only the US and the Soviet Union had nuclear forces that would take out each other's nation and, more than likely, the habitability of the planet, we depended on an insane sounding policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Of course, until now at least MAD worked. Of course, deterrence only has to fail once under such a regime.
Worse, this event is destabilizing in that it demonstrates that at least one of our adversaries is willing to do such a thing, and if they chose to put a nuclear or other warhead on the missile they would have the ability to strike us with plausible deniability.
As bad as whoever may be behind the launch is what the apparent lack of the military's ability to deal with the situation demonstrates to other adversaries who are watching this situation. It suggests that the nightmare scenario of a 'suitcase nuke' destroying one or more US cities is not the only means an adversary might use to attack us in such a manner. Which brings us to another nightmare scenario, the possibility that Al Qaeda might have been responsible or partly responsible.
If Al Qaeda is responsible, then the relatively low tech attacks we have seen from them lately may have been giving us a false sense of security. After all the Nazi and Soviet armies in World War II were both capable of inflicting massive devastation, at the same time much of their armies used horse power (literally) to move much of their armies. Still for Al Qaeda to get anything like the capability necessary to do something on this order it would likely need allies within the Pakistani military. Unfortunately, Pakistan's intelligence agency the ISI has had deep and murky dealings with Islamic extremists, including a sponsorship of the Taliban and even potential links to both the Mumbai attacks and 9/11.
The idea that an Al Qaeda attack would necessarily be a suitcase nuke might also be flawed. But in any event the missile launch demonstrates the difficulty the US government would be in if such an unattributable attack had succeeded. Perhaps the only defense to such an attack is both controversial and certainly not officially sanctioned. That is that the US also has a submarine fleet, each sub of which carries an awesome arsenal capable destroying a large part of the earth by itself. In such a scenario those submarines have the capacity for launching their weapons on their own, either with the consent of the captain or mutiny from the crew. If, for example, the captain and/or crew felt that an officially unattributable attack emanated say, from Islamists, there is a very good possibility that at least one sub might do something such as take out Mecca, something former Congressman Tom Tancredo actually suggested, much to both ridicule and shock from political enemies who did not or would not understand that Tancredo was addressing a real possibility. A possibility that appears all the more real after the mystery missile launch.