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Analyst Says U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System Workable, Needs Investment

By | October 16, 2006

      The U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system is able to provide protection for allies such as Japan and South Korea, but the missile shield needs substantially more funding, a prominent analyst and former senior Pentagon policymaker said.

      Asked whether the multi-layered missile defense shield is sufficiently capable that Japan and South Korea should have confidence in President Bush’s assurance of protection for those nations, Dan Blumenthal, AEI resident scholar, said, “I do.

      “I think that, however, we need a lot more investment” in the missile defense programs, Blumenthal said before an AEI forum on the North Korean announcement that it tested a nuclear weapon.

      Thus far, many tests of BMD systems have gone well, including repeated hits against target missiles scored by sea-based BMD assets.

      Blumenthal noted, “The Japanese felt a lot more reassured when we sent Aegis” ship-based anti-missile systems near North Korea before it launched missiles as Americans celebrated the July 4 holiday.

      North Korea launched seven missiles, and six seemed to work well. One, however, failed shortly after launch, a Taepo Dong-2 long-range missile thought to be capable of striking targets in the United States.

      And that was before North Korea announced it tested a nuclear weapon.

      “When you’re Japan, and you’re looking at missiles on the launching pad, and there’s been a nuclear test [with intelligence agencies still attempting to confirm the test], I think the doctrine of preemption actually starts to become a little more reasonable and attractive,” said Blumenthal, who served as a China expert in the office of the secretary of defense in the Bush administration.

      The North Korean move to wield nuclear weapons is disquieting, Blumenthal indicated.

      “Absolutely, this speaks for more defense, more missile defense,” he said. “But it also, I think, has brought us, unfortunately, closer to the kind of very dangerous situations that the South Koreans were complaining about.”

      South Korean leaders have expressed concerns that if North Korea is provoked, it might attack South Korea. A narrow demilitarized zone is all that separates the free-market capitalist south and the communist dictatorship in the north.

      “Our allies will feel jittery, we’ll feel jittery, we won’t have good intelligence on just what’s on top of those missiles” in North Korea, in terms of nuclear or non-nuclear warheads, “and the pressure to do something will be far greater than it was in July. So I think we’re a little closer to that day,” Blumenthal said.

      Because North Korea is an isolated, impoverished nation, it is “vulnerable to economic sanctions and penalties,” according to another panelist, Nicholas Eberhardt, the AEI Henry Wendt scholar in political economy.

      Overall, the panelists presented a bleak picture in which the United States has little in the way of viable options for dealing with the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

      For example, the word of the North Korean government, and its leaders, is worthless, so even if negotiations produce an agreement, what is it worth? “If this isn’t a crisis, I don’t know what is,” Blumenthal said. “They’ve cheated on everything they’ve signed,” such as agreements not to produce nuclear weapons. Thus any administration moves to persuade North Korea to return to a bargaining table are “incoherent,” he said.

      The ultimate question, Blumenthal indicated, is this: “Do we really believe Kim Jong Il will give up his weapons, or do we defend ourselves?” With certainty, Blumenthal said that “Kim will not give up his [nuclear] weapons.” That leaves the United States to defend itself against a North Korean missile attack on U.S. or allied territory, and to work to avert proliferation of Korean nuclear arms. That, he said, is “not an optimal policy, not a happy policy.”

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