The United States has the strongest military in the world, but we must devote more resources to strengthening our missile defense capabilities. A strong missile defense program will preserve the peace and complete the promise of President Ronald Reagan of a defensive shield to protect America from nuclear attack.
As Reagan said in 1983, "The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression — to preserve freedom and peace."
The Soviet threat is gone. Perhaps this is why missile defense spending since the end of the Cold War has been stagnant. But the nuclear missile threat is still with us -- just substitute "North Korea" for "Soviet Union" in any of Reagan's speeches on the topic.
Due to the failure of administrations from both parties, North Korea has rapidly advanced toward a developing a functioning intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Piecemeal sanctions have done nothing to discourage this progress.
This leaves the United States with two options. The first a pre-emptive strike, with assurances from China that they will look the other way. Under this scenario, thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of South Koreans will die in the first five minutes, even if North Korea only fires one salvo from its many thousands of artillery positions along the DMZ, all aimed at Seoul. Current open-source estimates say that a single volley could deliver 350 metric tons of ordinance on the South Korean capital, which is roughly the same as the entire payload of eleven B-52 Bombers.
America likely does not have the stomach for a pre-emptive strike. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale."
The second option is defensive and involves by focusing on developing intercept technologies while using sanctions and diplomacy to slow North Korea development of offensive missile technology.
This will require a large increase in spending on the program immediately. According to missile defense skeptics at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, as quoted by CNN, the program has a "40 percent success rate since early 2010" based on the last five tests. This ignores the fact that the last two tests are the ones that have been successful. More importantly, this technology is not optional – it is necessary.
Although these numbers may not sit well with some, or specifically those in the Los Angeles or Seattle area, they speak to the idea that more resources should be dedicated to this program today to expedite testing.
The most recent test of the technology was "widely seen as a test of U.S. ability to counter a North Korean missile launch" and was deemed a success. The test launched from a ground-based California's Vandenberg Air Force Base that intercepted a mock ICBM target over the Pacific Ocean. This test proves that America can succeed in protecting America from threatened intercontinental missile attack.
Homeland missile defense today is provided by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program. Boeing, with partner Northrop Grumman, was awarded the GMD Development and Sustainment Contract in December 2011, which the agency last year estimated would cost $4.1 billion to execute through 2018. Experts have said that even now, this technology is only in an adolescent state.
America needs a robust Manhattan Project-like program to ensure that our mistakes of appeasement and weak ineffective sanctions over the past 20 years do not result in the destruction of a major American city. Short of a disastrous invasion, missile defense is our only hope.
President Reagan was a strong proponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which decades later is producing results. President Donald Trump can continue to improve and fund this program as a necessary defensive measure to protect American cities and, more importantly, American lives.
Phil Kiver is an Army Veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan, a current doctoral candidate in Strategic Studies at Henley-Putnam University and a freelance journalist.
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