A missile defense system for the eastern seaboard that was dropped from the final version of the 2013 Defense Authorization Act is getting a second look, in light of North Korea’s escalating threats. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) characterized that threat as a “wake up call,” noting that “the next issue that needs to be taken up right away is [a] missile defense site to protect the East Coast of this country.”
It would appear to be a logical argument in light of the administration’s recent move to shift $1 billion in defense spending from developing a missile shield for Poland and Bulgaria, to adding 14 land-based interceptors in Alaska. The move would expand to 44 the number of long-range ballistic missile interceptors that comprise part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.
On March 19, Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee used the decision to beef up West Coast defenses as a rationale to begin pressuring the Pentagon for a similar effort on the East Coast. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) took the issue up with Gen. Charles Jacoby, head of the Northern Command, which is responsible for the U.S. missile defense system. Inhofe contended that the Alaska system was a step in the right direction, “but that doesn’t resolve the problem of the East Coast,” he said during the hearing. “The threat is very real..it needs to be corrected … it needs to be addressed,” he added.
Jacoby was forced to admit that even with the Alaska site, America was not in “an optimum position” to defend itself from ballistic missile threats, but he assured Inhofe that the Pentagon took the emerging threat of such attacks seriously. “I think that we need to continue to assess the threat and make sure that we stay ahead of it and not fall behind it,” Jacoby responded. “I think that that is a process that we are committed to.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) shifted the discussion from North Korea to Iran, citing reports predicting that Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile as early as 2015, and asking Jacoby how long it would take to construct an East Coast system. His answer was hardly reassuring, calling it an “an issue of years,” due in large measure to the reality that the timeframe would be affected by how long it took to complete an environmental impact statement. Yet the general further noted that the timeframe “could be affected by urgency, any increased threat.”
A Congressional Research Service report written in 2012 dismissed the seriousness of the 2015 threshold. “It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015 for several reasons,” the CRS report concluded. “Iran does not appear to be receiving the degree of foreign support many believe would be necessary, Iran has found it increasingly difficult to acquire certain critical components and materials because of sanctions, and Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight-test program many view as necessary to produce an ICBM.”
Such reports are hardly reassuring. A 2007 report by U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had completely abandoned its nuclear program in 2003. Now the public is being reassured that ICBM capability is yet another straw man erected by Republicans such as Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who contended that the failure to build an East Coast system before 2018 or 2019, even if we began today is “unacceptable.” “The United States, as soon as possible, should begin the construction of an East Coast missile defense site,” she argued.
It is an argument that should resonate even more in light of North Korea’s announcement on Wednesday that it had officially authorized plans to conduct nuclear strikes on targets in the United States. Yesterday, they doubled down, claiming they had the capability of striking America with “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear weapons. That claim was apparently a rebuttal aimed at U.S. intelligence officials who contend that the Communist nation’s nuclear payload is too heavy to be deployed on ICBMs. Yet a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that the military is sending anti-ballistic missiles to Guam, because of increasing concerns that North Korean improvements on the range of its ballistic missiles may put Guam in danger.
Considering the dubious track record of threat assessments made by American intelligence officials over the course of several years, an uncomfortable question arises: what if they have underestimated North Korean capabilities? Right now, U.S. officials admit that North Korean missiles are already capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Seattle and San Diego in the near future. Furthermore, Adm. James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in the Pentagon on March 15 that one of North Korea’s ICBMs has emerged as a threat “a little bit faster than we expected.”
It is precisely these realities, along with the threat of an apocalyptic-minded regime in Iran, that ought to drive the debate on an East Coast missile shield. Yet for that to happen, Democrats would be forced to admit that their ridicule of such a system, going all the way back to belittling Ronald Reagan’s initial effort in 1983 as “Star Wars,” was short-sighted. They would be forced to own the reality that Obama administration’s gutting of America’s missile defense, one that included pulling the plug in 2009 on the same Alaskan system it is rebuilding now, was nothing less than ideologically motivated folly.
That scale-back also included the downsizing of the Airborne Laser program, capable of taking out enemy missiles during their early launch phase, and the elimination of the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor that would have offered a better chance of taking out the decoys included in an ICBM attack that make taking out the missiles themselves far more difficult.
All of these developments go hand-in-hand with the Democratic Party’s insistence that much of America’s military capabilities are unnecessary (especially if such spending cuts into entitlement programs). It is an idea that dovetails quite neatly with President Obama’s dream of a nuclear-free world, one he believes can be achieved with little more than deft diplomacy, in combination with his personal charm. It coincides with the reality that newly-appointed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was once on the board of the Ploughshares Fund, which has opposed the new Alaskan site. It is aligned with Secretary of State John Kerry’s inexplicable statement on Tuesday, in which he contended that the United States “will not accept the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) as a nuclear state.” That it already is has apparently eludes Kerry.
Thus, it is unsurprising that outgoing Senate Armed Services chief Carl Levin (D-MI) stayed true to ideological form, dismissing the idea that North Korean provocation necessitates the construction of an East Coast shield. “People who have reached their conclusions” on an East Coast defense system “need to step back a little” and “see what steps DOD has already taken to mitigate the threat,” Levin said, referring to the recent buildup in Alaska.
House Republicans refuse to accept Levin’s assertion. On March 19, a letter from 19 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee requested that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel include “not less than $250 million” for the construction of a 20-missile interceptor facility for the Eastern Seaboard in the Pentagon’s 2014 budget. The request marks the second time in two years Republicans have asked for a system that compliments the one on the West Coast. “There is no legitimate reason to not similarly defend the eastern third of the U.S. from Iranian missiles,” the letter states.
Or missile attacks by any rogue state for that matter, which is precisely the point. It is worth remembering that the American left assailed George W. Bush for his “preventive,” or “preemptive,” war doctrine. An effective missile shield protecting as much of America as possible would seem like a no-brainer compromise between proactive and reactive warfare, yet as Phyllis Schlafly explains, a defensive missile shield “always posed the number-one non-negotiable issue between the U.S. and our enemies and, incomprehensively, between conservatives and the Left.”
Thoughtful Americans understand that technology, like time, marches on. At some point North Korea or Iran, or perhaps some other nation currently below the radar, will have the capability of striking any part of America with a ballistic missile containing a nuclear warhead. It makes sense to protect ourselves as best, and as quickly, as we can, even if such protection isn’t perfect. Yet as recently as late last year, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system stunned the world when it achieved an 85 percent success rate in knocking terrorist missiles out of the sky. Missile defense will only improve in the future, and the Left’s tired arguments that such systems are “wastes” and the products of militarism will only become more irrelevant.
It is time for America to invest in domestic defense systems that protect the whole of the United States, not just parts of it. With the fanatical regime in North Korea increasing its threats against the U.S. and the apocalyptic government of Iran racing toward a nuclear weapon, America cannot afford to be complacent.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.