Do we as a nation take seriously enough the threat posed by rogue regimes — such as those in North Korea and Iran — that brazenly develop, test, and proliferate their ballistic-missile programs?
Is it a high-priority threat to the homeland that must be met with resolve and determination? Or is it a secondary concern? Given the administration’s conflicting signals on the matter, it’s tough to tell.
Consider the two very different tracks the administration is pursuing simultaneously as North Korea threatens to test-fire a long-range — and potentially nuclear — missile in the direction of Hawaii around the July 4 holiday.
President Obama has appropriately described North Korea as “a grave threat” to the world. With Pyongyang eager to build on its test of a long-range missile in April, the administration has activated our missile-defense system and moved additional radars and shoot-down systems closer to Hawaii. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated that our ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska and California are “clearly in a position to take action.” Meanwhile, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was 90 percent certain we could interdict a North Korean missile.
Sadly, this kind of forthrightness from President Obama on the threat is the exception rather than the rule. On the legislative front, the administration has gutted $1.2 billion from missile-defense funding. This, even as its exorbitant $3.6 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget request cranks up spending for seemingly everything else.
Yesterday the wisdom of these cuts was debated on the House floor during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. I joined Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. Pete Sessions, Rep. Paul Broun, and Rep. Peter Roskam to offer an amendment to restore full funding to missile defense, because we believe the president’s cuts will leave us more vulnerable in an ever-more-dangerous world. The amendment was defeated, largely along party lines.
The president’s timing couldn’t be worse. Iran — its brutality on full display for the world to see — is ramping up its ballistic-missile development. Tehran’s test last month of a surface-to-surface missile with a range of 2,000 km should be a red flag. And should North Korea’s forthcoming test prove successful, the regime would feel emboldened to produce more missiles. The prospect of these countries attaching nuclear payloads to their missiles grows with each passing month.
Obama has also cut funding for the research and development of critical programs that could pay major national-security dividends down the road. Two particularly bad decisions, for example, were to eliminate funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and to reduce funding for the Airborne Laser program by 53 percent. KEI and ABL offer the potential to bring down an Iranian or North Korean missile in its earliest stages of flight.
President Obama and his allies in both chambers of Congress argue that these programs are nonessential because they will not be operational in the immediate future. This is a remarkably short-sighted refrain that only delays the date when we will be able to safeguard against emerging threats. The same arguments were made years ago against the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an Army system designed to take out missiles in their final stage of flight. Today, THAAD has one of the highest performance rates in anti-missile tests. And as we prepare for the upcoming North Korean launch, the military has rushed an additional THAAD unit to Hawaii as insurance.
Near-term defenses are not immune either. The administration will cut 89 percent of funding from the planned “Third Site” in Europe, which would host long-range interceptors to guard against missile attacks from Iran. Even the Ground-based Midcourse Defense Program — which includes the interceptors in Alaska and California — will see a 35 percent reduction.
These decisions have severe consequences for national security. If President Obama grasps the importance of taking the North Korean missile threat seriously, it shouldn’t be hard for him to see the folly in reducing our financial commitment to a robust missile defense.
– Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia, is the Republican whip in the House of Representatives.