July 2, 2009
By Peter Brookes
The Obama administration is reacting to the anticipated launch
of another North Korean long-range ballistic missile, expected to
fly over the Pacific toward Hawaii sometime soon, by putting
missile defense on alert.
That's a big change from last time.
Back in April, in advance of North Korea's last missile
test, the administration pretty much pooh-poohed the threat posed
by the Taepo Dong launch, characterizing Pyongyang's saber-rattling
Indeed, from all outward indications, Team Obama did just about
nothing but bloviate to defend US territory and interests from the
missile that, by almost all accounts, has the potential to reach
the western United States.
The Pentagon even declined to put the Pacific missile-defense
system (based at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force
Base, Calif.) on operational alert -- precautions the Bush
administration took during North Korea's 2006 Taepo Dong test.
But the April shot saw the Taepo Dong fly further than ever
before -- some 2,500 miles. That relative success apparently
surprised and embarrassed the White House enough that it's taking a
drastically different approach this time by deploying just about
all of the bells and whistles in our (still limited)
It's a layered Defense: An at-sea X-band radar will cue shooters
with sensor data to engage the incoming missile. Ground-based
missiles from Greely and Vandenberg will intercept the missile in
mid-flight. And if those countermissiles don't score, Navy
Aegis-class destroyers at sea off Hawaii and land-based THAAD
(Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) systems on Hawaii will
destroy the target.
It's the right thing to do, but what changed? Pretty clearly,
the Obama crew got mugged by reality.
Their charm offensive toward North Korea isn't working.
Pyongyang has been as belligerent as ever, lobbing more threats,
epithets and missiles in our direction than at any time in recent
In fact, the Kim Jong Il regime is ratcheting up tensions in an
almost unprecedented manner -- while it's clearly getting closer to
having a nuclear-capable missile that can "reach out and touch us"
in a very bad way.
Moreover, insiders say that field commanders seem to have
convinced Defense Secretary Bob Gates that they weren't comfortable
with doing nothing to defend their areas of responsibility this
time around. In fact, the Obamanistas may just have come to realize
that, despite their deep-seated dislike for missile defense, it's
the best tool they've got for protecting American troops, territory
and interests against these North Korean missiles.
Indeed, whether or not the administration will acknowledge it,
missile defense has proven an effective system based on dozens of
successful tests. Sure, the technology is still evolving, but it's
already shown it can "hit a bullet with a bullet" in space: Now
we're even able to hit a particular spot on that
Deploying missile defense in the face of continuing Korean
hectoring also helps the administration counter the perceptions
(domestic and international) that it's weak on national security.
Indeed, this allows the Pentagon to act militarily, but in a way
that's relatively unlikely to provoke escalation by the other
It's certainly more subtle than stationing a carrier strike
group off the Korean coast.
The good news is the Bush administration kept its promise to
develop and deploy missile defense to protect us against an
expanding nuke and missile threat. Otherwise, we'd now be
completely vulnerable to North Korean missiles.
The bad news is the new team hit the brakes on developing the
Pacific missile-defense system further, halted the development of a
European system to protect us against the unfolding Iranian threat
and cut the missile-defense budget by 15 percent.
Maybe North Korean menacing will finally convince the
administration and Congress that being able to protect yourself
with missile defense is really a good thing. It certainly beats the
alternative -- "Duck and Cover."
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for
National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage
First Appeared in the New York Post
The Obama administration is reacting to the anticipated launch of another North Korean long-range ballistic missile, expected to fly over the Pacific toward Hawaii sometime soon, by putting missile defense on alert.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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