America Needs Modernized Missile Defense to Counter Serious North Korea Threat

Is America a lumbering giant wound in bureaucratic red tape, unable to keep up with the serious threat posed by a nimble, focused North Korea? That is the question America faces today.

North Korea presents a threat of nuclear missile attack against America today more serious than at any time since the Cold War, but this time Mutually Assured Destruction is an insufficient deterrent. In 2016, North Korea launched 36 ballistic missile tests (more than double the 2015 launches), 2 nuclear bomb tests (making now 5 in total), and a successful satellite launch after only 4 prior attempts.

This rapidly developing nuclear capability establishes an imperative to develop and deploy the next stage of American missile defense, Ground-based Midcourse Defense, which involves shooting down attacking enemy missiles while still arcing upward over the launching country’s territory.

The rapidly developing North Korean threat has been long in the making. President Clinton was fooled into thinking he had a deal to end North Korea’s nuclear program in the 1990s. But North Korea just pocketed what he offered them, and kept on building.

President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice thought she had a deal too about 10 years later, which included removing well-deserved sanctions for state sponsorship of terrorism. Those highly effective sanctions denied North Korea access to international balance of payments transactions.

But after Rice convinced President Bush that the deal was sound, and North Korea was liberated from the sanctions regime, the rogue Communist nation never skipped a beat in developing its nukes. President Obama never showed any concern about what was going on with the untrustworthy former combatants whom we had beaten in the Korean War, until the Communist Chinese surprised our military with an enormous counterattack across the Yalu River separating the two countries, throwing us back to the armistice lines that continue to this day.

Last week, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, testified before Congress that Hawaii needs more missile defense interceptors to maintain its defenses against the growing North Korean threat. “I don’t share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the United States,” he testified.

Already, the Hawaii House Public Safety Committee has begun to repair, refurbish, and restock the state’s hundreds of Cold War era fall-out shelters. The U.S. recently supplied South Korea with the latest land based missile defenses.

But what has been supplied for the U.S. homeland? While the U.S. may spend $8 billion a year on missile defense, for the eight years of the Obama Administration, most of those American tax dollars were spent to put regional missile defense systems in foreign countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to defend our allies. Defense of the U.S. homeland from the threat of ballistic missiles was largely ignored and grossly under-resourced.

The Obama Administration prioritized putting systems like the THAAD regional missile defense system in places like Romania. Meanwhile, Systems designed to intercept incoming ICBMs from rogue states like North Korea and Iran while those missiles are still in the outer atmosphere did not get the funding to build up their stocks. Nearly two thirds of the missile tubes in California and Alaska to intercept such threats are currently empty at a time when the threats and missile and nuclear tests from unstable North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are increasing.

Moreover, the Obama Administration decided to develop this next stage of missile defense while trying to implement at the same time sweeping acquisition reforms that are slowing development and availability of urgently needed missile defense systems. This is not the time for such long term acquisition reforms, when the defenses are so urgently needed in operation ASAP.

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