Tuesday, July 11, 2006

North Korea’s recent launch of a long-range missile highlights the need for U.S. missile defenses, thus some anti-missile programs will be accelerated as a result, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and the committee’s chairman, told reporters that had the launch of North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missile on July 4 been successful, it could have reached the United States and that the firing validated President Bush’s decision in 2001 to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), despite Democratic criticism of the move.

Congress will seek “selected accelerations” to missile-defense programs, as a result of the North Korean launches, Mr. Hunter said in the Capitol.

“It’s important to understand the ABM treaty prohibited us by law from defending any American city from incoming ballistic missiles,” he said. “And it was only by withdrawing from that treaty that we were able to proceed with the missile tests that we have ongoing right now.”

The Pentagon activated its limited ground-based missile-defense system two weeks before the North Korean launches of seven short- and medium-range missiles, including the Taepodong-2.

The long-range missile was launched from a coastal facility in northeastern North Korea and failed after 42 seconds of flight. As a result, the 11 interceptors based in Alaska and California were never launched to try to intercept the missile, which landed about 200 miles west of Japan in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

Mr. Hunter said missile defenses are urgently needed.

“We … are in a race against time,” he said. “At some point, we’re going to have a ballistic missile that comes into the U.S. that’s not a test missile and it doesn’t fail.”

He said the developmental Aegis ship-based missile-defense system had six successful intercepts out of seven tests and noted that “all of that would have been prohibited had the United States taken the advice and the recommendations and the urging of the Democrat leadership and stayed with the ABM treaty.”

“We’re going to move ahead with those systems also as rapidly as possible,” he said.

Mr. Hunter said that knocking out an incoming missile warhead is very complicated and that five tests of the ground-based interceptors resulted in two hits of test warheads. Another test is set for this fall.

“It’s a difficult challenge, but clearly, the launch by the North Koreans showed us this is a challenge that we must meet,” said Mr. Hunter, who urged Democrats “to stop voting to gut the missile-defense budget and to come aboard and support missile defense.”

He quoted Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who stated in 2001 that “the premise that one day, North Korean President Kim Jong-il or someone else will wake up one morning and say: ‘Aha, San Francisco!’ is specious.”

In May, Democrats on the Armed Services Committee tried unsuccessfully to cut $4.7 billion from the $9.1 billion sought for missile defenses in the Defense Authorization Bill, currently in a House-Senate conference.

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