Korea's missiles move within striking distance
Created on March 4, 2009
White House talks down missile defense despite upbeat
The Obama administration continues to question the workability
of America's still-developing defenses against intercontinental
Yet the U.S. commander in the Pacific said in late February that
if North Korea tests a new long-range missile, the military not
only would track it but could well blow the missile out of the sky
if President Barack Obama gave the order.
"And [if] we hit what we're aiming at, that should be a source
of great confidence and reassurance to our allies and partners,"
Adm. Timothy Keating, who heads Hawaii-based Pacific Command, told
Not to mention ordinary Americans. After all, if North Korea,
Iran or another foe someday were to fire a long-range,
nuclear-tipped missile at the United States, it could reach and
obliterate a targeted cityin 33 minutes or less.
That's no more time than it takes for those
ordinary Americans to get a pizza delivered, notes Kim Holmes,
vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at The
"In less time, if [the missile] detonated high above the
homeland, its electromagnetic pulse would incapacitate everything
from ATMs and hospital equipment to traffic lights and computers
for thousands of miles," Holmes writes. "Life would never be the
Heritage recently premiered "33 Minutes: Protecting
America in the New Missile Age," the think tank's
plain-talking, nonpartisan documentary film on the need to counter
the growing threat of missile attack. As Holmes says, many
Americans don't realize what technology exists -- or that large
sections of the country, as well as our allies, remain
North Korea's communist regime has insisted it's merely
preparing to send a satellite into space. As the experts know,
though, a nation that can fire a rocket to put a satellite into
orbit -- as Iran did a few weeks ago -- is on the way to hitting a
target anywhere on Earth with a warhead.
U.S. and South Korea officials, an Agence France-Presse dispatch
underscores, contend North Korea's "real purpose is to test a
missile which could theoretically reach the state of Alaska."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wasn't as reassuring as
Adm. Keating sounded. President Obama, Gibbs said March 3, is going
to weigh various factors in deciding whether to keep developing a
missile-defense system, "including whether or not the system
In fact, Heritage missile-defense expert Baker Spring says, the
Missile Defense Agency's field tests put the success rate for
"hit-to-kill" technology at roughly 80 percent. MDA
interceptors shot down target missiles in 38 of 47 attempts since
The more discouraging word from the White House followed news
reports that Obama delivered a secret letter in February to Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev. In the letter, Obama suggests America would have no reason to
build the European portion of our missile-defense system if
Russia -- which vehemently opposes such a missile shield --
were to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Iran continues efforts to make nuclear
weapons, as well as missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads
to the United States. Iran isn't likely to say "yes" to pressure from its
Russian ally to scrap those programs,blogs Heritage national
security expert James Jay Carafano.
North Korea, another rogue state,
already has nukes. It shares technical know-how with Iran while
developing its own long-range delivery systems.
In separate trips abroad before disclosure of Obama's secret
letter to Moscow, Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton both repeated Obama's contention,
while a presidential candidate, that missile defenses are unproven
or unworkable or too expensive.
In the latest U.S. military exercise on Dec. 5, a "kill vehicle"
hurtled over the Pacific Ocean to intercept and blow up a missile
1,800 miles into its flight from Alaska to California.
Adm. Keating, for one, appears encouraged as he prepares for a
new North Korean missile test. The head of Pacific Command said
U.S. ships carrying interceptors are ready "on a moment's notice,"
ABC reported Feb. 26.
"We will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs,"
a former CIA analyst who is Heritage's expert on Korea, writes:
"A successful launch of a missile theoretically capable of reaching
the United States with a nuclear warhead would reverse perceptions
of a diminishing North Korean military threat."
As Klingner notes, though, a launch looms as a "high-risk
gambit" for Pyongyang because of the failure of its two previous
tests, in 1998 and 2006, of Taepodong-class missiles.
America, however, has so much more at stake.
"The surest way for the administration to set
itself up for a colossal crisis is to abandon missile defense,"
Carafano warns. "To do so in the face of provocative actions by
tinhorn tyrants in Iran and North Korea -- or in response to mere
complaints from Russia -- is to look weak and inept. And that would