Kim Jong Il’s decision to test launch seven missiles — one with the capability of reaching U.S. soil — in many ways smacks of a spoiled brat left alone in the school playground screaming for attention. With the whole world focused on the middle east and the growing specter of a belligerent and aggressive evil Iranian regime, the tin pot dictator could no longer be ignored.
“Me! Me!” cries the toddler…
While there is no doubt that North Korea’s leader has acted, at least partially, out of a deep-seated need for recognition, the provocative actions of the communist leader raise deadly serious issues: A madman wants the capability to equip a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead and fire it on our soil.
This threat is bringing an old debate back to Washington, D.C. — funding for a viable missile defense shield. Ronald Reagan first proposed a missile defense shield to neuter the threat of nuclear weapons during the cold war in 1983. Since then an unfortunate lack of progress has ensued. Between 1999 and 2005 interceptor tests have accumulated a disappointing 50 percent success ratio. But this limited capability does not mean that Pentagon officials are not going to work with what they have.
Since late 2004, U.S. military missile-defense forces have been monitoring the skies, ready to move to a higher level of alert and try to shoot down any ballistic missile headed toward the U.S. “We’ve had the war fighters on the system for almost two years now, 24/7,” Army Lieutenant General Larry Dodgen, head of the Army’s space and missile defense command, told a Senate panel in April. “We have contingency capabilities that our nation can call on.”
It’s what Pentagon officials call “a thin line of defense” that’s equal parts James Bond and Rube Goldberg. There are 11 interceptors ready to launch from silos in Alaska and California, cued to their targets by arrays of satellites and shipboard sensors all linked through a Colorado command center. The Pentagon wants 48 interceptors by 2011, including 10 in Europe — the Czech Republic and Poland are likely sites — oriented toward any threat from Iran. While the system generally isn’t on full alert — meaning ready to fire its interceptors — Pentagon officials said last week the system had been cranked up to monitor, and if necessary, respond to, a possible North Korean launch headed toward the U.S.
But to improve this “thin line of defense” Congress will have to get its act together and properly fund the project. And that means Democrats, who scuttled the program in the Clinton years, will have to cooperate. There are early indications that they may. My Heritage Foundation Colleague Mike Franc explains:
On June 22nd the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, to infuse an additional $45 million into the Pentagon’s missile-defense program “to accelerate the ability to conduct concurrent test and missile defense operations.” The possible launch of a long-range North Korean missile “that could even reach the U.S.,” Sessions argued, “calls for us to move forward with [missile defense] deployment as well as testing.”
The Sessions amendment passed 98-0. However, this early indication of a Democratic Party willing to cooperate on the issue may only be a token gesture given the relatively small monetary figure involved. Indeed, judging by the Democrats past track record, caution is warranted:
Had President Clinton and Congress not abandoned the missile defense architecture first outlined in 1991 by the Bush Administration, our ability to intercept missiles such as North Korea’s Taepo Dong or Iran’s SHAHAB-3 would be measurably greater. Spring emphasizes that the architecture they proposed — interceptors for both medium and long-range missiles, a more robust network of sensors, and space-based interceptors known as “Brilliant Pebbles” — would have been at least partially operational today. The current President Bush would therefore enjoy more options than those on today’s unappealing menu - reliance on the severely constricted defenses we have today, endless negotiations, or the pre-emptive strike advocated by two former Clinton defense officials.
The most recent example of the dogged determination of congressional liberals to scuttle missile defense came last year. Two senior Democrats on the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D.-R.I.), in what has become an annual ritual, tried to strip $50 million from the missile-defense budget for the deployment of ground-based interceptors and the construction of missile silos. Citing recent test failures, Reed dubbed the program a “rush to failure” and maintained that “the responsible thing to do is to slow down funding and reallocate the money.” This cut-and-run strategy attracted 37 votes, including all but eight Democrats.
One hopes that Democrats will see the error of their ways in the light of North Korea’s recent recklessness and clear malicious intent.