Kim Jong Un has done the near-impossible. The newly minted supreme leader of North Korea has forced the Obama administration to admit that the United States needs more missile defense.
Opposition to missile defense constitutes one of the most treasured books of the Democratic arms-control gospel. Since it was introduced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Democrats have reflexively denounced the idea of a defense against incoming ballistic missiles as wholly unworkable, impossibly expensive, and dangerously destabilizing. Much better to leave ourselves exposed and work to sweet-talk our enemies out of their hostility and their weapons.
In keeping with this approach, upon taking office the Obama administration promptly nixed additional interceptors planned for deployment on the West Coast against the budding North Korean missile threat. George W. Bush had already put 30 interceptors at two sites on the West Coast, a symptom of his “Cold War mindset” that the supple and sophisticated Obama administration had no use for.
As it turns out, it is North Korea that truly has the Cold War — or perhaps worse — mindset. In the words of new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pyongyang has “made advances in its capabilities and has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.” It conducted a third nuclear test, apparently a successful one. It put a satellite in orbit with a Taepodong-2 missile. It displayed what appeared to be a road-mobile ICBM.
While threatening to “miserably destroy” U.S. units in South Korea and turn that country’s capital into a “nuclear sea of fire,” Pyongyang has vowed that North Koreans “will be exercising our right to pre-emptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor,” which is, of course, none other than the United States.
Rather than simply trust that a lunatic regime running its country like a vast prison camp will rationally calculate its self-interest as we would hope, the Obama administration says it is going to add back the 14 canceled interceptors. This will take the number of West Coast interceptors from 30 to 44, but with unnecessary expense and delay. The new interceptors should be online in 2017, or by the end of the president’s second term.
While the restoration is heartening, the Obama administration has pulled the plug on the development of other, more technologically advanced defense systems and can’t overcome its compulsion to make unilateral concessions to the Russians. At the same time that Hagel announced the return of the West Coast interceptors, he said the administration won’t complete the final phase of a defense system in Europe to guard against an Iranian launch targeting the United States.
Why seek protection from Kim Jong Un, but not Ayatollah Khamenei? The move is meant to placate the Russians, who pretend to believe that any defenses — no matter how minimal — are directed against them. (Why they should be threatened by a purely defensive system is never satisfactorily explained.) If we are going to let malignant paranoiacs have a veto over our policy, we wouldn’t place defenses on the West Coast either, since China insists that they “will intensify antagonism and will not be beneficial to finding a solution for the problem.”
Beijing succinctly captured what has long been the Left’s attitude toward missile defense, an attitude that shouldn’t survive the new era of rogue-state threats and technological advance for defenses. Liberals once insisted that a missile couldn’t possibly be made to hit another missile. Now, the technology has been demonstrated to work again and again. It is one of the reasons that the Israelis didn’t invade Gaza in response to the rocket barrage emanating from there a few months ago. It protected itself with the Iron Dome defense system that intercepted about 85 percent of the rockets.
The Israelis don’t have the luxury of abiding by stale arms-control orthodoxies. Neither do we. Evidently, though, only Kim Jong Un and his ilk have the power to convince the Obama administration of it.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2013 King Features Syndicate