Politics & Policy

Don’t Forget National Security

Even in these dire financial straits, we must not ignore North Korea's missile launch.

The nation’s gaze is understandably fixed on the economy, but it would be unwise to overlook emerging threats to national security. That is what appears to be happening right now. Inexplicably, the Obama administration and its allies in Congress seek to strip billions from our nation’s vital missile-defense funding at the precise moment when North Korea readies to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile potentially fit to carry a nuclear payload.

In brazen defiance of international sanctions, the regime of Kim Jong Il insists, the launch will occur no later than April 8. The North Korean Taepodong-2 possesses the range to strike not only several of our allies in Asia but also Alaska, Hawaii, and swaths of the American mainland.

A destabilizing force, North Korea uses its nuclear and missile programs to intimidate and coerce its neighbors. Perhaps no nation contributes more to the proliferation of missile technology and nuclear secrets.

Today Iran has experts on the ground in North Korea to assist with the launch. We must assume that Iran is sharing its long-range-rocket recipe with North Korea. We also have to assume that whatever North Korea learns from the test will be used for Iran’s benefit too — a scary thought since several experts say Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Judging from a recent television interview of Defense Secretary Gates, it’s uncertain whether the administration intends to interdict the North Korean missile if it heads toward the United States. This is troubling, to say the least. I urge President Obama and Secretary Gates to place our global, integrated missile-defense architecture on high alert immediately. I also encourage the administration to renew with our allies the push toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

More generally, North Korea’s provocative conduct should lead the new administration to reconsider its national-defense priorities. As our enemies race to acquire new weapons that can do us harm or hold us hostage, we need to send a strong signal that the United States is not asleep at the wheel. North Korea and Iran must understand that we will match their missile efforts every step of the way and invest in superior defense systems.

That can’t happen if Congress cuts a rumored $2 billion from missile defense. The lack of funding would choke off resources for completing the deployment of current defenses and investing in the development of critical programs that could pay huge national-security dividends down the road.

We already have made tremendous progress in assembling a workable and effective missile-defense program. It includes radar tracking sensors, ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, Aegis missile-defense ships, and Patriot batteries. Deterrent capabilities long thought impossible have been mastered and put into place. But more work needs to be done to perfect the performance record of our system before it’s too late.

Ten years from now, let us not look back upon these days with deep regret that we missed our chance to do what was necessary to protect our country. The ballistic-missile threat is real and growing, and it would be irresponsible not to defend against it.

On display for the whole world to see, North Korea is poised to remind us why.

Eric Cantor (R.,Va.) is Republican whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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