July 4 could be another day that will live in infamy. The Obama administration seized headlines June 18 when the Defense Department stated that the United States would deploy ground- and sea-based missile-defense assets to protect Hawaii. This was a response to North Korea’s threat to launch a long-range missile on July 4 toward the islands. However, new information suggests that the administration is bluffing and our defenses are inadequate to get the job done.
Missile-defense expert Taylor Dinerman told us that the sea-based SM-3 missiles now deployed to “protect” Hawaii are not equipped with adequate software and communications to intercept a missile traveling from North Korea to Hawaii, which would reach a terminal velocity of Mach 23 to 25. The SM-3s are effective only against targets traveling at up to half that speed. It would take about $50 million to upgrade the software to enable a Mach 25 intercept. The Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile, which also has been activated after successful tests at Barking Sands on Kauai, “doesn’t come close” to being effective against this type of threat, Mr. Dinerman said.
The Obama administration is stuck in the past on missile defense, repeating worn-out arguments about unproven technologies and destabilizing effects. The Defense Department’s 2010 budget proposal cut missile defense by $1.2 billion, and congressional Democrats rebuffed Republican attempts to restore the funding. Justification for the cuts was led by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, who is the newly confirmed undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Ms. Tauscher will play a major role in missile-defense policy.
The cuts include scaling back the number of interceptors based at Fort Greely, Alaska, from 44 to 30. This cut is hard to justify given the proximity to North Korea and the fact that these interceptors actually could bring down one of its missiles (which may explain why Pyongyang is aiming for Hawaii). The Airborne Laser program has been downgraded to a research-and-development effort despite a recent successful test of its target-acquisition system. Taxpayers have invested about $5 billion to bring this advanced technology to the point of fruition.
The Obama administration also has cut funding for the European missile-defense shield, leaving our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic in the lurch after they took a major political risk to support the program. A February Congressional Budget Office study of the proposed European deployment concluded that “none of the alternatives considered by CBO provide as much additional defense of the United States.” This retreat makes the United States appear weak before Russian bluster, which doesn’t put U.S. leaders on the best footing on the eve of a July 7 Washington-Moscow summit.
Missile defense should be central to the U.S. strategy to dissuade, deter and, if necessary, defeat threats. Instead, we are unilaterally disarming, which only strengthens the strategic logic for our adversaries to produce more missiles. Current policies encourage countries like North Korea, Iran and Syria to move ahead with advanced missile and weapons-of-mass-destruction programs that promise more bang for the buck than expensive conventional forces.
The Obama administration’s hostility to missile defense is inexplicable. The missile threat is growing, and defensive technology is increasingly effective, yet the Obama team has dug in stubbornly behind a losing strategy that emboldens our enemies and places us in greater danger. No wonder Hawaiians are nervous.