Abstract: The United States and its allies are at risk of missile attack from a growing number of states and nonstate terrorist organizations. This growing threat is particularly clear in East Asia, where diplomacy has failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them on target, and where China continues the most active nuclear force modernization program in the world. To counter these growing threats, the U.S. should work with its allies, including South Korea and Japan, to develop and deploy missile defenses, including ground-based, sea-based, and air-based components.
The United States and its allies are at risk of missile attack from a growing number of states and nonstate terrorist organizations. Today, this once exclusive nuclear club has nine members, and Iran, with its hostile regime and long record of supporting terrorists, is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. At least 32 countries have ballistic missile capabilities.
The U.S. ballistic missile defense review of February 2010 warned:
[T]he ballistic missile threat is increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively, and is likely to continue to do so over the next decade. Current global trends indicate that ballistic missile systems are becoming more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate, while also increasing in range.1
Diplomacy, engagement, international condemnation, and United Nations resolutions have not deterred North Korea from developing missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. While Washington continues to seek diplomatic resolutions to the ballistic missile threat, it is critical that the U.S. simultaneously pursue missile defense programs to protect itself and its allies.
Missile Defense Needs
To deter and defend against ballistic missile attacks, the United States and its allies need a comprehensive, integrated, multilayered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. Regrettably, the United States military cannot currently protect all American citizens or all of the homeland—much less its troops, allies, and friends abroad—from ballistic missile attacks. Despite recent deployments and technological advances, the United States still does not have sufficient defenses. U.S. missile defense capabilities “exist in numbers that are only modest in view of the expanding regional missile threat.”
The United States has 30 ground-based interceptors stationed in Alaska and California to defend against long-range missile attacks. The U.S. Navy has equipped 18 Aegis warships with sea-based interceptors and 21 Aegis warships with long-range surveillance and tracking systems. These sea-based interceptors can defeat short-range and medium-range missiles in mid-flight.
Many of these ships are stationed in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan. Equipping additional Aegis cruisers would provide an ability to patrol America’s coasts as well. Additional destroyers are needed to perform the new phased-adaptive approach mission in Europe to replace the planned “third site” in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The United States currently has the capability to shoot down approximately 10 ballistic missiles launched from North Korea or Iran, but not if Iran and North Korea continued to develop their nuclear capabilities and coordinated an attack. U.S. missile defense systems cannot protect against Russian or Chinese ballistic missiles or against short-range or medium-range missiles launched from ships off the U.S. coast.
A comprehensive missile defense system would not only protect the American homeland, but also reassure U.S. friends and allies of Washington’s commitment to their security against steadily rising military risks and threats of coercion or aggression. Missile defense contributes to regional peace and stability and supports international nonproliferation efforts by reducing other nations’ perceived need to acquire nuclear weapons.
Conversely, the absence of sufficient missile defenses leaves the U.S. and its allies “limited in their actions and pursuit of their interests if they are vulnerable to North Korean or Iranian missiles.”
The Increasing Nuclear and Missile Threats
China and North Korea are the only countries in East Asia that have both ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
For its strategic deterrent,
Admiral Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, noted in December 2010 that China had reached “initial operational capability” for its anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) force. The DF-21D, a modified version of the DF-21, will allow the Chinese military to hold foreign aircraft carriers and other large-deck ships at risk.
China ’s missiles, integrated with modernized command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, will provide
Uranium Enrichment. In November 2010,
Dr. Hecker concluded that the centrifuges could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Lee Un-chul, a nuclear scientist at Seoul National University, estimated that
Successive U.S. Administrations had asserted that North Korea began a uranium-based nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s. Indeed, in both 1999 and 2000, the Clinton Administration was unable to certify to Congress that North Korea was not pursuing a uranium-enrichment capability. The U.S. intelligence community unanimously concluded in its 2002 assessment that North Korea had an active program to acquire materials for enriching uranium to develop weapons. Where disagreements existed, they were over the extent of the progress that North Korea had made or would likely make toward achieving a covert capability to produce uranium.
Critics charged that the U.S. intelligence assessments were partisan fabrications of the Bush Administration, but Hecker’s direct observations of the uranium enrichment facility provide irrefutable evidence of
Ballistic Missiles. North Korea has an extensive ballistic missile force that can strike South Korea, Japan, and U.S. military bases in Asia. It is continuing to develop an ICBM that would threaten the continental United States.
North Korea has 600 Scud short-range tactical ballistic missiles, 300 No Dong medium-range missiles, and 100 to 200 Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The Scud missiles have an estimated range of 320 to 500 kilometers (km), which limits them to South Korean targets. The No Dong, with a range of 1,300 km, can target all of Japan. The Musudan’s range of 3,000 to 4,000 km enables it to hit U.S. bases on Okinawa and Guam.
The Scud missile has a conventional explosive warhead, but it could carry chemical or biological warfare agents.
In July 2006,
Reportedly, 12 Musudan missiles were displayed in an April 2007 military parade, but they were not observed by foreign media until an October 2010 parade. A Musudan test flight from a North Korean test facility has not been identified, but media reports citing military and intelligence sources indicate a possible North Korean test flight in Iran in 2006.
In 2001, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that a two-stage Taepo Dong 2 “could deliver a several-hundred-kilogram payload up to 10,000 km—sufficient to strike Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the continental United States.” The report projected that including a third stage could increase the range to 15,000 km, which would allow the missile to reach all of North America with a payload sufficiently large enough to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
In July 2006,
The Attack on the Cheonan. In July 2010, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned:
[The sinking of the Cheonan portends] a dangerous new period when North Korea will once again attempt to advance its internal and external political goals through direct attacks on our allies in the Republic of Korea.
Coupled with this is a renewed realization that North Korea’s military forces still pose a threat that cannot be taken lightly.
The attack on the Cheonan shows that, despite widespread perceptions of declining North Korean conventional forces capability,
Despite the audacity of attacking a South Korean ship, Kim Jong-il would have been confident that neither South Korea nor the U.S. would retaliate militarily. Both countries have suffered several North Korean attacks that caused loss of life, but neither country has retaliated.
For a future provocative action to pressure
Asian Missile Defenses
North Korean and Chinese missile forces cast a long shadow over U.S. allies in Northeast Asia. The United States has sought to develop common missile defense policies to defend the region against missile attacks from North Korean and Chinese launch sites, but with mixed results.
Despite these constraints, Japan has significantly augmented its missile defense program, spurred by concerns over North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear capabilities. North Korea’s TD-1 test launch over Japan in 1998 was a wake-up call to the government and populace about the reality of
During the past decade, the U.S. and Japan have made considerable strides in ballistic missile defense cooperation and interoperability. In August 2008,
In January 2009, the Ministry of Defense announced plans to develop an early warning satellite system to detect ballistic missiles in boost phase as part of efforts to enhance the effectiveness of the country’s missile defense system.
In July 2009, Japan activated a new air defense network combining the country’s ballistic missile sensors and antimissile weapons. The previous Base Air Defense Ground Environment was replaced by the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment, which features improved automatic air warning and control technology and better defenses against ballistic missiles. The network was originally designed to improve Japan’s ability to counter attacks by airplanes or other airborne strikes, but
All of the Kongo-class Aegis destroyers have participated in missile interception tests since 2007, destroying three of four target missiles. In December 2007, in the first flight test mission, the Kongo successfully searched for, detected, tracked, and engaged a separating medium-range ballistic missile target, marking the first intercept by a U.S. allied navy ship with the Aegis BMD system.
In October 2010, the Kirishima successfully intercepted a target missile at an altitude of more than 100 miles with an SM-3 interceptor off the coast of Hawaii. The Japanese Ministry of Defense has stated that the sea-based missile defense shield of the four Aegis destroyers will become operational as early as November 2010.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency characterized the test as a “significant milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S. in the area of missile defense.” To improve missile defense integration further, the Japanese Air Defense Command is being relocated to U.S. Forces Japan headquarters at Yokota Air Base in
The United States and Japan also co-developed the next-generation SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. Washington sees the U.S.–Japan missile defense partnership as “an outstanding example of the kind of cooperation the United States seeks in order to tailor a phased adaptive approach to the unique threats and capabilities in a region.”
Limitations on Missile Defense. Despite strong technological developments and deployments of the integrated missile defense system in Japan, several factors severely handicap its use. Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution precludes engagement in “collective self-defense” or defending another country against attack. Under the current constitutional interpretation, Japanese missile defense systems would not be allowed to intercept missiles attacking the United States or to protect a U.S. naval vessel that was defending Japan from missile attack even if it was adjacent to a Japanese Aegis destroyer.
In 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe commissioned a blue ribbon panel to review the restrictions on Japanese collective self-defense. The group made recommendations on four scenarios:
- Protecting U.S. naval vessels under attack in international waters,
- Intercepting ballistic missiles that may be targeted at the United States,
- Defending foreign troops that come under attack during a U.N. peacekeeping operation, and
- Providing logistical support in overseas countries.
Panel chairman Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., commented that “we should bring an end to the interpretation of the Constitution that does not match reality.” In light of the increasing North Korean and Chinese military threats, Yanai remarked that the panel advocated an expanded role for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and a less restrictive interpretation of the edict against collective self-defense.
Regrettably, in June 2008, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Abe’s successor, rejected the panel’s recommendations that would have enabled a more expansive interpretation of Japanese security roles, including defending the United States. Subsequently, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the first prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), commissioned another panel in 2009 that reached similar conclusions, but these, too, will likely be rejected.
The DPJ has adopted a much more skeptical view of the utility of missile defense and has taken steps to constrain its deployment. Prior to the DPJ taking power, Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, the DPJ shadow deputy defense spokesman argued that “missile defense is almost totally useless, only one or two out of 100 are ever effective.”
During a November 2009 cabinet committee meeting to discuss Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa’s budget request to deploy additional PAC-3 units over the next five years, then-Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that the value of Japan’s missile defense system must be explained to the public since it is so expensive. In December 2009, the DPJ cabinet abandoned future deployments of PAC-3 missiles. The Ministry of Defense had requested funds to deploy PAC-3s at three bases in Hokkaido,
In October 2010, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Japan to ease its arms embargo policy to allow Washington to deliver SM-3 Block 2A missile interceptors co-developed with
Despite the steadily increasing North Korean missile threat, progressive Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun downplayed the danger to South Korea to garner domestic support for their attempts to foster reconciliation with
In March 1999, President Kim’s Minister of Defense Chun Yong-taek stated that a missile defense system would harm reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea. Roh dismissed the threat from North Korea’s missile forces by claiming that they were not targeted at anyone in particular, despite the fact that the range of
Low-Tier Missile Shield. President Roh resisted joining an integrated missile defense system with the United States and limited the South Korean response to building a low-tier missile shield. General Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, urged South Korea in March 2009 to “continue to develop and field an interoperable theater missile defense system to protect critical civilian and military command capabilities, infrastructure and population centers.”
Lee was also less concerned with North Korean and Chinese reactions to implementing defensive measures. Indeed,
In February 2009, South Korea announced that it would develop an independent lower-tier Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system by 2012. It would consist of land-based Patriot-2 missiles, SM-2 Block IIIA/B missiles deployed on three Sejongdaewang-class Aegis destroyers, and a command and control center to detect and track missiles up to 1,000 km (600 miles) away.
A Change in Attitude, but Not in Action. Since Lee was elected president, South Korean defense officials have been more receptive to augmenting missile defenses, but have not followed through with requisite actions. Most notably,
As a result, South Korea’s efforts remain at the preliminary stages, although it has taken steps to remedy its missile defense deficiencies. The most capable missile defense systems on the Korean Peninsula are the 64 PAC-3s operated by the U.S. Army.
In February 2009, Minister of Defense Lee Sang-hee said that
After North Korea’s April 2009 launch of a Taepo Dong-2 missile, Defense Minister Lee stated
In early 2010, the U.S. again pressed South Korea to join a regional missile defense system. The Joint Chiefs of Staff provided South Korea with suggestions on providing missile and radar sites to the U.S. military, cooperating with the United States on developing BMD programs, sharing the cost of deploying the BMD in South Korea, and purchasing U.S. defense systems, such as PAC-3s.
In contrast with Japan’s extensive missile defense efforts, South Korea has only “indicated interest in acquiring a missile defense capability,” while Washington and
U.S. officials are frustrated with the lack of progress. A U.S. defense official privately characterized U.S. missile defense cooperation with Japan as being 15 to 20 years old while South Korea’s efforts remain at the infancy level.
In September 2010, General Sharp testified, “We are trying to work very hard…[to have] South Korea, the United States, and Japan to do some better coordination in order to be able to have regional type ballistic missile defense….”
Yet South Korea continues to strongly resist any depiction that it will engage in a comprehensive program. South Korean defense officials even tried to claim that the U.S. Department of Defense’s ballistic missile defense review did not represent an official U.S. government position and that the U.S. had not made a formal request through diplomatic channels for South Korea to augment its missile defense efforts.
In October 2010, South Korean Minister of Defense Kim Tae-young again stated that
The United States and South Korea also have differing interpretations of the concept of extended deterrence. During the 42nd U.S.–South Korean Security Consultative Meeting in October 2010, the two sides agreed that the U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence included “the full range of military capabilities, to include the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike, and missile defense capabilities.”
Moreover, U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates and Minister of Defense Kim agreed to “institutionalize an Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, which will serve as a cooperation mechanism to enhance the effectiveness of extended deterrence.” The committee is intended to share intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and to develop specific countermeasures against them.
Washington emphasized the importance of nonnuclear aspects of extended deterrence in the “Nuclear Posture Review Report”:
Although nuclear weapons have proved to be a key component of U.S. assurances to allies and partners, the United States has relied increasingly on non-nuclear elements to strengthen regional security architectures, including a forward U.S. conventional presence and effective theater ballistic missile defenses. As the role of nuclear weapons is reduced in U.S. national security strategy, these non-nuclear elements will take on a greater share of the deterrence burden.
While the United States emphasizes all three components of extended deterrence, South Korean officials tend to prefer focusing on the nuclear umbrella, while downplaying missile defense.
Calibrating South Korean Defense Capabilities to the Threat. To adequately defend itself against the ballistic missile threat, South Korea must deploy a more sophisticated missile defense system, including PAC-3 and SM-3 missiles. Park Chang-kwon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, assessed that PAC-2 systems would be effective to “defend small regions and key facilities, though not perfectly…PAC-3s will be a better choice to help upgrade the country’s missile intercept capability, as well as increase interoperability between South Korean and U.S. militaries.”
To implement a regional missile defense network,
Such cooperation would also be an effective way to augment nascent trilateral military operations among the U.S. and its allies, which, to date, have been hampered by historic animosities and unresolved political issues between South Korea and Japan.
Active Deterrence: Adding Offense to Missile Defense. Missile defense systems serve a deterrent and defensive role against an opponent’s ballistic missile force. However, this is not enough:
[The deterrent capability] is not sufficient because there is no guarantee that the system can intercept every single incoming missile. The ballistic missile defense system needs to be supplemented by the deterrent of punitive measures to ensure that opponents with ballistic missile capabilities are clearly aware of possible counterstrikes, thereby deterring the missile attack in the first place.
Since the North Korean attack on the Cheonan, there has been greater advocacy to change the South Korean military policy from passive defense to proactive deterrence. A South Korean presidential committee on military reforms proposed that
Professor Lee Sang-woo, head of the 15-member committee, recommended that South Korea acquire weapons capable of attacking North Korean weapons of mass destruction. He observed that South Korea, “which maintains a denuclearization policy, can prevent the North’s military superiority only when it has the nonnuclear precision strike capabilities that could incapacitate its WMDs before they are put to use.”
The Missile Technology Control Regime is a voluntary arrangement among countries to control the export of ballistic missiles (and their components) capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. The only specific restriction in the MTCR is a prohibition on the transfer of missile production facilities. The agreement permits cooperation among member countries, including missile transfers, as long as the recipient country pledges not to modify any transferred systems to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
What the U.S. Should Do
The Obama Administration should recognize that continuing North Korean and Chinese missile development means that the U.S. needs to reverse its proposed cuts to missile defense programs.
For a truly effective and comprehensive system, the land, sea, and air components of U.S. missile defense must be strengthened. To counter the increasing threat of ballistic missiles, the U.S. should:
- Restore $1.4 billion that the Obama Administration cut from the missile defense budget.
- Reinstate the original plan to field 44 ground-based midcourse defense interceptors in Alaska and California, rather than follow the Obama Administration’s revised plans to deploy only 30 interceptors.
- Bolster the Aegis ballistic missile defense program to accelerate and expand both the development and procurement of the Aegis weapons system and the SM-3 family of interceptors.
- Accelerate development of ship-based interceptors and the associated fire control software. Upgraded fire control software should then be reinforced by a broader command and control system optimized to support the Aegis system’s access to off-board sensor data.
- Expand procurement of Standard Missiles beyond current Navy plans to procure 300 SM-3s by 2015. For an additional $170 million, the Navy could accelerate production of these interceptors and build a larger inventory.
- Give U.S. sea-based SM-3s the ability to intercept long-range missiles in the ascent phase of flight before they can release decoys that may confuse or overwhelm the defense.
- Fund development of smaller and lighter kill vehicles for the SM-3 interceptors. Increasing the speed of the SM-3 interceptors will expand their capabilities, enabling them to protect larger areas, engage long-range missiles, and intercept missiles in the ascent phase.
- Invest in research and construction of a space test bed for missile defense. Space-based interceptors may prove to be the most effective and reliable way to counter future-generation missiles.
- Resurrect the Airborne Laser, Multiple Kill Vehicle, and Kinetic Energy Interceptor programs.
Seoul’s request to remove the 300-kilometer limit on South Korean offensive ballistic missile development to enable South Korean forces to strike any North Korean target from any South Korean deployment area.
What South Korea Should Do
Diplomatic efforts to constrain North Korea’s advancing missile and nuclear weapons capabilities have failed. While a comprehensive integrated strategy of pressure and engagement may eventually return
- Deploy a multilayered missile defense system that is interoperable with a U.S. regional missile network to provide for a more coherent and effective defense of allied military facilities and the South Korean populace.
- Purchase and deploy PAC-3 ground-based missiles and SM-3 missiles.
- Augment missile defense planning and exercises with U.S. forces and initiate trilateral missile defense cooperation and exercises with the United States and Japan.
- Publicly articulate the scope of the North Korean missile defense threat and the extent of potential casualties from a ballistic missile attack, including missiles armed with nuclear, chemical, and biological warheads.
- Review Defense Reform Plan 2020, which was predicated on a declining North Korean threat that enabled South Korea to decrease its conventional forces. South Korea should also adjust planned changes in force posture to include both an enhanced near-term priority on deterring and defending against North Korean conventional forces and long-term objectives for expanding South Korea’s regional security role.
- Increase defense spending and accelerate programs to respond to North Korean conventional forces.
What Japan Should Do
- Reverse planned cuts to Japanese missile defense programs, including deployment of PAC-3 interceptors.
- Increase defense spending beyond the status quo of less than 1 percent of GDP to enable Japan to fulfill mission objectives, including defense of the Japanese homeland from ballistic missile attack.
- Adopt a less constrictive interpretation of the theory of collective self-defense. This would enable Japan to protect U.S. forces and territory, including with missile defense, while they are engaged in defending Japan.
- Revise Japan’s weapons export laws to enable greater multilateral participation in research and development of mutually beneficial missile defense programs.
- Allow the export of the jointly developed SM-3 Block 2A missile interceptors to allied nations.
- Enhance public diplomacy efforts to explain the imminent security threat from North Korean and Chinese nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and the need for comprehensive integrated missile defense programs with the United States and South Korea.
To fully protect their citizens from ballistic missile attacks, the United States and its allies should continue to develop and deploy viable missile defense systems. An effective system would include ground-based, sea-based, and air-based components.
Missile defenses have the potential both to deter the aggressive impulses of freedom’s enemies and to strengthen the resolve of its friends. Having a missile defense system in place could prevent an enemy attack from ever reaching Washington, New York, Seoul, or Tokyo and complicate any design aspiring world powers may have to limit America’s role as guarantor of peace and security in the Asia–Pacific region.
—Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.