Leading defense and national security expert Dr. James Carafano tells Newsmax that the Obama administration has spent four years ignoring North Korea and we now run the risk of an “accidental escalation” of tensions in the region.
He also warns that North Korea does in fact have the technical capability of attacking the west coast of the United States.
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Dr. Carafano is the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defense policy studies and director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. He is a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and has taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His books include “Private Sector, Public Wars: Contractors in Combat - Afghanistan, Iraq, and Future Conflicts.”
North Korea has now moved missiles onto launchers and there has been talk that they could technically strike the west coast of the U.S. Asked if that is accurate, Carafano tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview: “Absolutely. They haven’t done it but we know they have the technical capability that allows them to do that and they don’t have to reach that far.
“They can reach Guam, which is a major U.S. military base, and we certainly know they can reach Japan, which is an ally and has bases. More importantly: I was in the Army for 25 years, I was stationed in Korea. Much of the South Korean population and the capital is in easy range of North Korean artillery, let alone North Korean missiles.”
North Korea moved those missiles with full knowledge that the United States would observe the actions because “we have satellite imagery overhead covering the entire country” and “they know we’re watching.” But as for what these developments mean, Carafano admits: “I can absolutely tell you with 100 percent confidence that I have no idea what this means. We’ve seen the North Koreans bluster and do nothing, we’ve seen them bluster and do something. We’ve seen them say nothing and do something.
“So we’ve seen every possible combination and we really don’t have good intelligence on how the decision-making inside North Korea works, so we’re all just guessing as to what might possibly happen.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Thursday night that President Barack Obama was “pretty correct” in his response to North Korea. Carafano agrees.
“It’s absolutely right that we send a very strong message to North Korea that we would protect ourselves and our allies. So deploying the B-2 bomber was absolutely the right thing to do. The F-22 aircraft allows us to get anywhere in North Korean air space. Missile defense systems, missile direct radars, these are all exactly the right things to do to demonstrate that we will defend ourselves.
“I find a great irony here. These are often the systems that progressives want to cut and say we don’t need and are relics of the Cold War, and yet what is the first thing we send out of the box to demonstrate that we’re really serious about defending ourselves? The very systems they don’t like.
“The other great irony here is the president’s getting ready to put out his defense budget and if you run that defense budget out 10 years, I doubt that we’ll be able to do these kinds of things 10 years from now to demonstrate our resolve.
“But the United States has done the right thing by demonstrating that they take these threats seriously. We’ve seen the North Koreans in the past do some pretty unforgivable things, including sinking a South Korean ship and artillery shelling South Korean territory.
“South Koreans have sent some pretty strong signals that they will respond. But again you don’t know what the North Koreans are going to do. You can’t’ discount that there might be some kind of accidental escalation. We’ve done all the right things to prevent a conflict from breaking out but there’s an old saying that in war, the enemy gets a vote.”
Asked if this could end up becoming an accidental war, Carafano responds: “If there was no such thing as accidental wars we wouldn’t have them but we actually have them quite frequently. So it would be irresponsible to say don’t worry, nothing’s going to happen, or to predict World War III. The responsible thing to do is to take North Korea seriously because they have the weapons to do serious damage.
“What really bothers me is that we’ve spent four years ignoring North Korea and letting our defense atrophy and underselling and underinvesting in things like missile defense. And now, all of a sudden, we jump up and say, gee, we really need these things.
“This is what we typically do. We take these massive peace dividends and then when an enemy rears his head, we sit there and say why weren’t we better prepared? Sometimes it’s a 9/11 but sometimes it’s a wakeup call like this.
“We don’t have to invade every country. We don’t have to be the world’s policemen. But if we don’t demonstrate the resolve to defend ourselves and have responsible defense budgets, someday the cupboard’s going to be bare when the bad guys come knocking.”
As for what role China might play in the crisis, Carafano tells Newsmax: “There’s a myth that the Chinese control North Korea or they can just tell the North Koreans what to do. But the Chinese know they don’t and we know they don’t.
“China has influence over North Korea but they cannot drive North Korean behavior. They have a limited capacity to defuse this crisis and it’s dumb and stupid for the United States to go kind of begging China to help us because the Chinese can’t really do much for us.”
Commenting on the U.S. foreign policy pivot away from the Middle East and onto Asia, Carafano says: “The declaration of the Asian pivot was stupid. It was just stupid. The United States needs to be able to defend all of its vital interests and we need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
“We have big interests in the Middle East that are under threat. We have to protect them. And we have interests in Asia that we have to protect. And where does Asia get its energy from? It gets it from the Middle East. So Asia’s pivoting to the Middle East because they’re worried about that.
“We can’t ignore that, as we can’t ignore our responsibilities in partnering with Europeans. And we have responsibilities in the Western Hemisphere. This notion that somehow we can leave things undefended is great because it allows you to gut the defense budget, but the reality is when you compromise your interests like that, you make war more, not less likely.”
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