The following article was originally published by The Orange County Register on September 18, 2017.
Last week, the long hot nuclear summer in North Korea continued with Kim Jong-un’s latest ballistic missile test. Analysts are interpreting the test as a dress rehearsal for striking U.S. bases in Guam. This comes just weeks after the North successfully tested a hydrogen bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to detonate it over Greater Los Angeles. These two new developments call to question the foundations of our national defense.
The standing U.S. policy to deter such an attack has pivoted on the concept deterrence – a sort of geopolitical bluff that threatens a civilization-destroying counter attack on any adversary dumb enough to use their nuclear arsenal on America or its allies. But with a rogue and arguably irrational regime like Kim Jung-un’s now able to threaten the West Coast with a nuclear attack, it’s time to ask if this strategy is still a safe bet.
Through Kim’s eyes, it’s easy to wonder if America’s security guarantee to South Korea is worth the paper it’s printed on. Donald Trump might be the most unpredictable president in memory but it’s hard to think that he or any other leader would really trade a free South Korea for Los Angeles. Whether Kim and company think of their nuclear arsenal as an umbrella to shield an army attacking south or as an insurance policy against foreign invasion is unimportant; the fact of the matter is that the U.S. and its allies no longer have a free hand to deal in one of the world’s most important regions because of it.
Ask experts what there is to do about North Korea’s nuclear threat and you’ll get a short list of bad options. They’ve been written about extensively and are stung by a few common flaws: military action would almost certainly result in a costly war in the South, while diplomacy risks more of the same – a worsening situation where North Korea accumulates a larger arsenal of more sophisticated nuclear weapons that further destabilize the globe.
Given these realities, the best short-term option to balance North Korea’s nuclear capability is to immediately strengthen our homeland ballistic missile defenses against it. The Trump Administration already reached a similar conclusion when it upped its aide to South Korea by deploying the THAAD missile defense system there.
That thin line is held by the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, the only platform available to intercept the intercontinental ballistic missiles that foreign adversaries would need to hit us from overseas. Those types of missiles – the long range ones – aren’t vulnerable to other platforms, like THAAD or the Navy’s Aegis system. Given this grim reality, Congress needs to act swiftly to provide the Missile Defense Agency with enough GMD interceptors to get the job done.
But missiles themselves aren’t enough. The MDA needs raw infrastructure to ensure reliability, too. That means funding for new bases to extend our defenses to Hawaii and the Eastern Seaboard. And it also means ensuring that existing bases have an adequate number of silos that are cocked and ready. Nuclear missiles can travel the globe in 40 minutes. That doesn’t leave time to reload.
GMD’s critics point out its high cost and the ever-evolving threat it’s designed to counter, and they aren’t wrong to do it. That’s why Congress and the Trump Administration should act to resume development of a space-based platform to hit ballistic missiles in their boost phase when they are at their most vulnerable, as Ronald Reagan proposed decades ago. Ideas like his “Star Wars” defense are still the closest thing there is to a permanent solution to the problem at hand, and the American people deserve it.
History shows that regimes like North Korea’s eventually collapse. But hoping for good luck is not an adequate plan to deal with a nuclear threat. Congress needs to realize the reality of the situation on the ground: that by fielding an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. homeland, North Korea is turning the tables on our nuclear deterrent. If it’s true that they’ve built this weapon as a national insurance policy, isn’t it time that we do the same thing?