What do we know about North Korea that we did not already know three or five years ago? The North Koreans have the material, the will, and the expertise to produce nuclear weapons.
These recent tests demonstrate both how serious the North Koreans are and how manifestly unserious the United States remains. Throughout the Clinton, Bush, and now the Obama administrations, we have lived under the delusion that we could negotiate with the North Koreans or the even more absurd notion that we could use China to pressure them. None of this has worked.
We are not going to stop North Korea from seeking to produce nuclear weapons unless we do one of two things. First, we could launch a preemptive nuclear strike on their nuclear-weapons facilities and their major cities — so as to both reduce their capability and preempt a lethal conventional counterattack by North Korea on South Korea or Japan. This we will not do.
Or, we could build robust missile defenses that make the North Korean nuclear missiles meaningless. This would be relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of war, and effective in that our missile-defense technologies could stop a missile launched from North Korea (although not yet a North Korean missile launched from a freighter ship off our coast).
The rudimentary land-based missile-defense system put in place by the Bush administration, it must be noted, is limited in its ability to prevent a wide range of attacks. What we lack is the commitment to build a robust missile defense that would include the more effective space-based and sea-based defense systems. Yet the Obama administration’s budget proposals slash funding for missile-defense programs across the board, and in particular for more sophisticated and capable systems. The sooner we realize that missile defense is an indispensable means of controlling North Korean nuclear arms, the better.
– Brian T. Kennedy is president of the Claremont Institute and a member of the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense.