By Stewart Benson
In response to Pyongyang’s recent daring threats against South Korea and the United States, recently appointed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a $1 billion deployment of ballistic missile interceptors along the Western coast of the United States. The deployment is a clear indication that North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, is becoming increasingly unstable and without China’s normal restraint. After China helped draft a Security Council resolution enacting even tougher sanctions on the already impoverished country, the relationship between the two can only be described as severely frayed. The number of interceptors in Alaska and California will increase from thirty installations to forty four, and will be completed by 2017.
Senior Obama Administration officials have acknowledged that part of the reason of deployment has been the severity of the North’s threats, but also because China seems to be losing control of its once strong ally. In the past, any provocations of the North would be handled accordingly by leadership in Beijing, making sure things did not become out of hand. After the Security Council resolution was approved, and general discontent among the Chinese towards their North Korean neighbors has become vocalized, the increasing isolation has led to the present case of belligerence.
The installations have been called as a reminder to the world that the United States will stand firm against aggressors towards the homeland and their allies. The threats of North Korea breaking a long-standing cease-fire with South Korea and of a pre emptive nuclear strike has propelled the U.S. to develop a ‘two-tiered’ response to any North Korea threat. Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has described this system as one where the U.S. has the deterrence capability for any North Korean strike, but if they do commit a strike, then serious costs will be put upon them. While worded in generalized terms, this warning suggests that North Korea would be sufficiently disabled from performing any military action in a time of war with the United States.
The antimissile systems will also serve other purposes. The Senate Armed Services Committee has stated that they will also be needed to not only successfully deter North Korea, but also the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program. However, the reliability of these interceptors has been in question. Administration officials and members of Congress are wary of pouring additional funds into these programs, which have only proven a success rate of around fifty percent. The Pentagon has stated that the new antimissile systems will have to prove reliability before they are deployed. They will stick with their ‘fly before we buy’ approach and cited a successful launch in late January. However, Congress is adamant that the systems need to be successful in order to avoid wasting taxpayer money.
In addition to the interceptors being deployed in the U.S., Patriot Missile batteries will be installed in South Korea and U.S. warships with ballistic defense capabilities will be stationed off the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. is also working closely with Japan in deploying missile-defense radar in the region. While it is hopeful that the recent North Korean provocations will be unfulfilled, the threats have clearly struck a nerve with the U.S. and its allies, the most severe in recent memory.