- - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Never a dull moment in Pyongyang.

On Sunday, North Korea paraded what appears to be a new missile with the intended capability of reaching U.S. cities. And South Korean satellite imagery indicates the North is preparing to conduct a nuclear test in the near future.

Given the North’s failed missile launch last week, U.S. policymakers might be tempted to dismiss the nuclear missile threat as far-fetched. They shouldn’t. Instead, these recent events should prompt the White House to reverse its policy course and adequately prepare U.S. defenses.

On Feb. 29, the Obama administration struck a deal with Pyongyang: The latter would break from its illicit missile and nuclear programs in exchange for food. Yet, just weeks after the State Department took a victory lap for this coup, the North conducted its missile test, falsely labeling it a “satellite launch.”

Team Obama should learn from this diplomatic failure and take a new tack.

It should begin by demanding that all U.N. member nations enforce existing sanctions barring North Korea from acquiring or exporting missiles and related technology. It should push for another U.N. Security Council condemnatory statement and impose unilateral sanctions on those aiding the North’s missile and nuclear programs. In light of the presidents own Asia pivot, the U.S. should increase its military presence in the region to assure adequate protection of our allies and interests in the region.

Last, the U.S. must strengthen its efforts to deploy effective missile defenses. It should remain committed to missile-defense cooperation with Japan, encourage South Korea to develop a defensive system that is interoperable with ours, and do all it can to put in place systems to protect the U.S. homeland from missile attack.

Unfortunately, the administration repeatedly has failed to recognize the full value of missile-defense technologies. For example, in 2009 Pyongyang announced it would test a missile that the U.S. military believed could be headed toward Hawaii. Bill Gertz reported in these pages that Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., then head of U.S. Northern Command, requested authorization to deploy the SBX radar, a system “so powerful it could detect a baseball hit out of a ballpark from more than 3,000 miles away.”

The Obama administration denied Gen. Renuart’s request, explaining that other radar — less offensive to Pyongyang — would suffice. Had the SBX been deployed, it could have gathered priceless information about the North’s missile program.

This year, after Pyongyang announced its intention to conduct a so-called “space launch,” the SBX set sail for the Pacific, proving someone in the Pentagon understands the radar’s critical contribution to security. But the administration still doesn’t seem to get it. This February, the president submitted a budget requesting almost no money for the SBX — and that’s just one casualty in the Obama defense budget.

Missile defense continues to be woefully underfunded. According to the administration’s own charts, it plans to spend roughly $1 on homeland missile defense for every $4 it spends on regional defense abroad. While the U.S. must help defend our allies, North Korea’s recent activity shows we cannot protect one area from nuclear attack to the exclusion of U.S. cities.

As if a scaled-back version of U.S. missile defense weren’t bad enough, President Obama foreshadowed additional cuts when an open microphone caught him telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” on missile defense once his last election is behind him. The Russians long have been opposed to U.S. missile defense, and the administration seems to view it as something that can be traded away in its ongoing effort to “reset” relations with Moscow.

North Korea’s effort to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, its debut of a new missile, and its preparations for a nuclear test should serve as a warning to the administration to reverse course while there’s time. The White House cannot continue down the path of appeasement and lackadaisical preparedness because, although we know we have some time, we just don’t know how much.

• Rebeccah Heinrichs is a visiting fellow specializing in national security issues at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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