San Diego Union Tribune

July 11, 2006

Politics
Hunter cites N. Korean missile launch to push missile-defense system
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

 

WASHINGTON – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter declared Tuesday that North Korea's unsuccessful launch of a missile that might have been able to reach the United States proves that President Bush was right in 2001 when he pulled out of a treaty that barred deployment of a national missile defense system.

Hunter, R-El Cajon., told a news conference that North Korea's July 4 test of six short-range or mid-range missiles and its attempt to launch a long-range Taepodong 2 vindicated Bush's controversial decision to scrap the U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

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“The president should be applauded for adopting a policy of peace through strength – Unfortunately, we still have a majority of Democrats in the House who are fighting missile defense,” he said.

Hunter was referring to an unsuccessful attempt on the House floor to cut $4.7 billion from the nearly $10 billion his committee had authorized for missile defense.

The Taepodong failed 42 seconds after liftoff, but Bush said the national defense system had been activated in case it was needed.

Hunter said he would try to add money to the defense authorization, now in a House-Senate conference, to see if deployment of the missile defense system can be accelerated.

But arms control advocates noted that the land-based missile defense system has yet to prove it can intercept an incoming missile and the money allocated for fielding more interceptors could be used more effectively for other homeland security efforts. “I think we're still confronted with a situation, not withstanding the North Korean launch, that nuclear weapons are far more likely to reach the United States in a shipping container than in a ballistic missile,” said P.J. Crawley, a retired Air Force colonel and former National Security Council spokesman who is now with the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center think tank.

“The issue is not missile defense or no missile defense,” Crawley said. “The issue is do we have a system that's been effectively managed and tested? The answer is no.”

Crawley noted that three of the five latest attempts by the ground-based defense system to intercept a simulated intercontinental missile have failed. Other attempts have been aborted or postponed because of technical problems.

Other analysts have said that even the successful intercepts were not realistic tests and after 23 years of development and more than $100 billion in spending the system has never shown it could work.

Currently, nine interceptors are in silos in Alaska and two are at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Hunter said he would rather have the “limited capability” the current system provides than be defenseless against North Korea's threats.

Crawley said the July 4 failure shows that North Korea is not a threat now, but conceded it could be some day.

“The question today is, should we rely on an untested missile defense system or should we engage North Korea directly and see if we can eliminate the threat that way? he said.