“North Korea said it will test a rocket that they hope will hit the United States. In other words, watch your back, middle of the Pacific Ocean.” –Conan O’Brien
This, and other jokes by late night comedians make for a funny punch line. It’s true that North Korea has shown that it still lacks the capability to launch a long-distance nuclear strike. But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that North Korean’s nuclear ambitions are real. This despite the threat of future economic sanctions and the scorn of most in the international community, North Korea and their unstable leader, Kim Jong Un, have been working diligently to harness their technology and military prowess to develop a sophisticated nuclear military arsenal capable of striking countries – including the United States.
Worse yet is that tensions with the Hermit Kingdom are only escalating. President Trump was recently quoted as saying: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.”
Of course, the President and his closest advisors are also saying that they are working to apply pressure on the international community and key players like Russia and China to discourage North Korea from realizing their nuclear ambitions.
Deterring North Korea will require a combination of many things: the possibility of further sanctions, pressure from the international community and the threat of a military strike. But there is also one important piece in all of this: beefing up our defense systems to ensure that our country is prepared for a military strike.
This concept is not new. It has been kicked around for years in the national security and military community for decades. One of the most prominent proponents of this idea included former president Ronald Reagan that called for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
But it’s not just Republicans that have expressed support for these measures. It’s also included President Barack Obama that spoke up in support of enhancing our nuclear missile attack defense capabilities. Unfortunately, this support did not translate into properly funding this important endeavor. In fact, the opposite happened. According to Front Page magazine the Obama administration actually reduced homeland-related defense spending by around $4.5 billion and in 2016 reduced that even more to $2 billion even when adjusted for inflation. These actions have certainly made us more vulnerable to threats from North Korea, but also Iran and rogue actors like the Islamic State.
On the campaign trail, President Trump also spoke up in support of better preparing our country for the possibility of a nuclear military strike, but since then there have been competing interests that have made it difficult to get a good read of where the president is now on this. The simple fact is that the time to act is now, because the longer we put off the important work of preparing ourselves for the real possibility of a nuclear missile attack, the more vulnerable we are to catastrophe and mass destruction in a scale we can not even begin to imagine.
The well-respected Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) says that our homeland missile defenses remain too limited and that at a minimum, the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) existing plans for enhancing the missile program is dependent on the current budgetary topline staying in place rather than continuing the stagnation of the overall defense expenditures of the last administration.
President Trump’s budget is a step in the right direction to correct course, but an even sharper focus is needed particularly when thinking about the threat of a nuclear war.
To be sure, President Trump and this administration should continue to pursue a multi-dimensional approach to stave off any military engagement – nuclear, or not – but it is also incredibly reckless to hope for the best and not take the necessary steps to ensure that we will be prepared to prevent a nuclear missile strike that is heading towards our homeland.
Israel Ortega is a columnist, political commentator and a consultant that includes clients in support of expanding our nuclear defense capabilities. Ortega is also a Contributor to Forbes Opinion, The Hill and the Washington Examiner. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega