In foreign policy, seemingly minor signals can have far-reaching consequences – the assassination of a minor dignitary in a small European country can trigger a world war.
The Obama administration’s proposed defense budget cuts – particularly the deep cuts to our homeland missile defense system – are signaling North Korea and Iran that we do not have the will to counter their aggressive actions. In response, Iran and North Korea have tested ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons on numerous occasions, flouting decades of diplomatic non-proliferation efforts and nudging the U.S. onto a crash course towards armed conflict.
Wisely, North Korea and Iran are watching the money trail. The Pentagon’s proposed 2010 budget would cut the funding for homeland missile defense – known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD – in half, allowing the U.S.’s only defense against long-range ballistic missiles to stall and eventually become obsolete.
The budget halts the installation of interceptor missiles in silos in Alaska and California, leaving us approximately a dozen missiles short of what security analysis has shown we need to counter the threat from North Korea. The budget also cuts the funding for GMD research and development by one third, making more robust testing impossible and potentially eliminating threat-representative missile shoot-downs. According to the budget, after a few years, there will be no more practice missiles available for operational tests. Ironically, this only strengthens critics’ hollow complaints that the system has not been tested enough against realistic threats.
Moreover, the budget makes no funding available for the planned procurement of a Polish missile defense site, which would defend our allies in Europe from a potential Iranian nuclear strike. President Obama regrettably offered to scuttle the plans for the European missile defense site as a concession to Russia, indicating that the U.S. is not serious about countering Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Iran has responded to the administration’s overtures and dismantling of our defense not with an outstretched hand, but with more missile tests. In early February 2009, the country put a satellite into orbit using the basic missile technology needed to propel a nuclear warhead into Europe on the back of a multi-stage rocket. In late May, Iran test-fired a medium-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted that “in the short future we will launch longer rockets with bigger reach from this province.”
In 2009 alone, North Korea has test-fired ballistic missiles on multiple occasions; one of the missiles was a complicated three stage rocket that traveled 2,000 miles, bringing its range perilously close to the U.S. North Korea has also loudly restarted its nuclear program, recently detonating a nuclear bomb in an underground test. Russia claimed that the nuclear device packed a power equivalent to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And weapons are one of North Korea’s largest exports, netting the country $1.5 billion annually.
Also deeply troubling is the administration’s budget request for a new Air Force refueling tanker. The KC-X tanker program, plagued by delay and by the highly questionable awarding of the contract to the French conglomerate EADS (which the GAO overturned), is critical to keeping our war fighters fueled and in the air over critical theaters of battle. Yet the Obama administration requested only $430 million and has given no indication of when the tanker will be rebid or built. We should replace our aging and decrepit tanker fleet at a rate of a minimum of 36 aircraft per year, and do so in a way that protects U.S. national security and American jobs.
Dismissing missile and nuclear tests as mere theater reflects genuine ignorance of world history or willful foreign policy naiveté. A boxer’s right hook is just a gesture unless someone’s chin happens to be in its path. The best insurance that such a gesture doesn’t turn into an act of aggression is to keep a glove up – to fully fund the defensive systems that quiet our enemies’ threats and make peace possible.
If the Obama administration is serious about avoiding future wars, it would wisely start paying greater heed to the signals of its defense budget cuts and the threatening responses of Iran and North Korea.
Malcolm Wallop, founder and chairman of Frontiers of Freedom, represented the state of Wyoming in the U.S. Senate and has been a leader on defense and foreign policy issues.
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