Defensive Deterrence is Critical to America’s Safety and Security

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One day before the summit between President Trump and President Xi of China, North Korea gave us one more reminder that they are a very real threat to American lives and interests.  North Korea ensured its relevance to the two-day Trump-Xi summit by carrying out a test of what the U.S. military assessed to be a Pukguksong-2 road-mobile, solid-fuel medium-range ballistic missile. Reports indicate the missile did not go as far as intended and the test ultimately appeared unsuccessful. However, though the test failed – it should not be ignored. The range of the Pukguksong-2 is estimated at 1,200 to 3,000 kilometers.  That means it could reach Americans.

At a recent Defense Conference at the Naval War College, a former U.S. Ambassador and Under Secretary of State listed North Korea as the most volatile and unpredictable major threat to the United States.  This closed door event had numerous senior defense experts from the government, military, and academia nodding vigorously in agreement. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement was just 23 words: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have "no further comment." The Secretary’s terse words are a good indication of the Administration’s growing frustration with Pyongyang.

A Real, Imminent Threat

During his five years as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un has overseen more than twice the number of provocative missile tests than his father did during his entire 17-year rule.  A senior White House official on Tuesday said: "The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table," pointing to the failure of previous administrations' efforts to stop the country's nuclear program.  There is little reason to be confident that negotiations will stop North Korea in their quest for a delivery vehicle.  

“Before the end of President Trump's current term, the North Koreans will probably be able to reach Seattle," Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, said recently at Johns Hopkins University.  The capability to reach our allies and more importantly, Hawaii would come much sooner.

This latest test is particularly concerning because, “the missile appeared to have been powered by solid fuel,” said Melissa Hanham of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California. She continued Now “they can launch these missiles much faster and with a smaller entourage than with liquid-fueled missiles, making them much harder for the United States, South Korea, and Japan to spot from satellites.”

Defensive Deterrence

What should the Trump team do?  Preemptively attacking North Korea is not a path anyone wants to take.  If negotiations will not work, deterrence is the only answer. 

Right now, it is clear that Kim has calculated that it is still “worth it” to him to develop this horrific capability.  He is willing to “take” a retaliatory strike as long as he can wound his regime’s biggest foe.  How then can deterrence be achieved? 

Simply put, America needs a ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability sufficiently robust that North Korea will finally realize that their missiles will not get through.  It was just this sort of defensively achieved deterrence that several experts called for at the National War College gathering.

Remove the Hawaiian Target Set

One needed improvement is to deploy operational missile defense capabilities in Hawaii immediately. Take the already- established Aegis Ashore test site in Hawaii, and make it an operational Missile Defense Agency (MDA) site.  The operational validity of the Aegis system has been proven, and that is why it is a cornerstone of our European missile defense architecture.

For a relatively modest $41 million, the test facility could become permanent. Even with the costs of procuring additional SM-3 interceptors (no more than a few million dollars per missile),  Hawaii can be protected now with a proven capability that comes with lower risk and cost than developing something new.  

Add to this the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) combined with the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2) and Hawaii will have a highly effective layered missile defense shield. THAAD is a unique missile defense system with unmatched precision and mobility.  We are already deploying THAAD to South Korea to defend our allies.  Another THAAD deployed to Hawaii would further deter North Korea from any attempts at attacking the U.S. Homeland.

Act Now
In an uncertain world, one thing is for sure:  North Korea’s quest for ballistic missiles to deliver their nuclear weapons threatens America’s largest cities, critical infrastructures, military forces, and citizens.

Effectively defending Hawaii by the existing Aegis Ashore and THAAD + AN/TPY-2 capabilities offer; greater certainty as they are battle-tested systems, greater value as they are less expensive to procure and can plug in without additional development costs, and greater security realized for Hawaii in the near-term.  The easiest lucrative target on Kim Jong-un’s plate would be removed. 

This new Congress and Administration has the opportunity to take leadership and responsibility in protecting our country. We must ensure our nation is fully prepared to remove North Korea’s ability to target America.  If doing that offensively is too risky, it must be done defensively.  We must dedicate the resources necessary to improve the overall defenses of the Nation as soon as possible. 

Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D., is the former Deputy Assisting Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and was responsible for Missile Defense policy during the Bush Administration. He is also a retired Army Special Forces colonel who dealt with weapons of mass destruction and a visiting fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

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