March 15, 2013

March 15, 2013 | Commentary on Missile Defense

Right Move on Missile Defense

According to FOX News, Team Obama has decided to deploy 14 additional ground-based interceptors (GBI) in Alaska and California against the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, reversing itself on numbers proposed by the Bush administration.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Though it highlights the failure of the Obama administration’s policies toward North Korea in the first term in general, it’s a good idea for a couple of reasons.

First, the threat is real. In the last few months, North Korea not only successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile, it also conducted a third, (most likely) more-advanced nuclear weapons test.

This means that Pyongyang is steadily advancing toward having a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching out and touching us with increasing precision.

That’s kind of troubling, when you consider the number of threats North Korea has made in recent days, including promises of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the American homeland.

It’s never a good day when an enemy’s capabilities and intent come together. 

Fortunately, the bulking up of U.S. missile defenses in the Pacific sends a strong message of deterrence to North Korea. It should also reassure regional allies and friends that are threatened by North Korean claims of turning their capitals into a “sea of fire.”

But the failure to tame the North Korean nuclear and missile programs also brings to the fore another similar security problem: Iran.

Tehran is also making great strides on its nuclear and long-range missile programs, a growing threat which remains unresolved after nearly 10 years of diplomatic negotiations with Iran.

While estimates differ, President Obama believes Iran is at least a year away from having the bomb. Of course, estimates are just that: estimates. They are sometimes incorrect. 

Unfortunately, Team Obama cast aside the Bush administration’s Eastern European missile defense plan aimed at Iran in hopes of fostering the “reset” with Russia, which has failed miserably. 

While the Pentagon will tell you the Pacific missile defense architecture will protect us from Iran that assertion is open to debate. At best, it is a limited defense against an Iranian long-range missile attack.

The Pentagon’s new missile defense plan for Iran won’t be fully active for years, lagging well behind the potential threat. That’s a huge problem.

But maybe — just maybe — North Korean provocations have opened the Obama administration’s eyes to the value of missile defense to our security and the challenges that are sure to come from Iran, hastening the development and deployment of more U.S. systems. 

-Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in The Hill.