“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein
The intelligentsia has been all a’ twitter since the latest foray of ballistic missile testing by North Korea … and possible preparation for another test of one of its nuclear weapons. Surprise: We’ve seen this show before — actually many times. Will there be any different outcome this time … a worthy challenge for the Trump administration?
For one statement of the issues, click here for a March 11 Washington Post review of concerns that there is a heightened risk of “miscalculation” as North Korea’s arsenal grows. Joby Warrick argues that the international community must respond to a growing threat. So what to do?
In considering what to do, let’s trace a little history and its tangled web … since the mid-1980s and North Korea’s testing initiatives and our related response — or lack thereof. Click here for an up-to-date informative tabulation from The Arms Control Association, which aptly begins:
“For years, the United States and the international community have tried to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology. Those efforts have been replete with periods of crisis, stalemate, and tentative progress towards denuclearization, and North Korea has long been a key challenge for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.”
North Korea acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985 — during my watch as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) for Strategic Programs, linked to the U.S. and Soviet/Russian withdrawal of nuclear weapons from South and North Korea. That objective was finally accomplished on the last day of 1991 in South Korea, and in North Korea within a month later (and six years after North Korea signed the NPT). North Korea also agreed to regular compliance inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — which became a focus for future disputes.
Thus began an essentially continuous harangue over suspicions and ill-inspected forays of that international body with the subsequent North Korean regimes. I refer you to the above referenced Arms Control Association record of that sorry history which includes a meaningless “freeze” agreement negotiated by former President Carter the month before North Korea’s President Kim Il Sung died in 1994. (Not sure what President Clinton thought of this “help.”)
His son Kim Jong Il took the reins and four months later his negotiators completed in Geneva the “Agreed Framework,” which was supposed to “freeze and eventually eliminate” North Korea’s nuclear facilities (to be verified by the IAEA through “special inspections”); allow 8000 spent nuclear fuel elements to be removed to a third country; and serve as a jumping-off point for U.S.-North Korean dialogue on Pyongyang’s development and export of ballistic missiles, as well as other issues of bilateral concern.
This “Agreed Framework” was followed by an interlude of various negotiations, largely inconclusive IAEA inspections, and nuanced agreements, including via Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) efforts aimed at controlling sales of ballistic missile systems, components, and technology, of course complemented by North Korean demands that the United States provide compensation for lost missile-related revenue — i.e., the largely symbolic sanctions on the North Korean regime.
In November 1995, the U.S. intelligence community issued an intelligence assessment describing the ballistic missile threat to the United States. Among other things, it concluded that North Korea would pose little threat of a missile attack on the U.S. for at least 15 years. After reading the fine print, it was discovered that this intelligence estimate left out Alaska and Hawaii in their assessment — bad decision, given that Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) alternated for years as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, and they considered Alaska and Hawaii to be part of the United States.
Thus was born a Congressional Commission, chaired by past (and to be again) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to provide an independent assessment of the ballistic missile threat to the entire United States. The primary unanimous conclusion of that bipartisan assessment was that
“The US is threatened by ballistic missiles tipped with biological or nuclear payloads from China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Iran and North Korea could develop the capability to strike the US within five years of a decision to pursue ballistic missile technology; Iraq would require ten years.”
Click here for the Federation of American Scientists link to the Commission’s unclassified report. The Classified report was briefed to a closed session of congress in July 1998. Almost on cue only one month later, North Korea launched its three-stage Taepo Dong-1 rocket with a range of 1,500-2,000 kilometers, overflying Japan, and claimed to place a small satellite into orbit, a claim contested by U.S. Space Command.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. intelligence community admitted to being surprised by North Korea’s advances in missile-staging technology and its use of a solid-rocket motor for the missile’s third stage.
Thus motivated, congress passed — unanimously as I recall — the Missile Defense Act of 1999, which declared:
“It is U.S. policy to: (1) deploy as soon as technologically possible a National Missile Defense (NMD) system capable of defending U.S. territory against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate), with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for NMD; and (2) seek continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces.”
(The context of these negotiations included the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prevented the deployment of any truly effective BMD system. The Clinton administration called the ABM Treaty the “cornerstone of strategic stability.” The persistent political legacy of this view was that when President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, his administration did not take full advantage of that freedom to build truly effective BMD systems. Indeed that legacy still remains in place, constraining our BMD programs today to developing less than the most cost-effective BMD systems!)
In the latter days of the Clinton administration (February 1999), CIA Director George Tenant validated the Rumsfeld Commission’s conclusion in his testimony to congress that North Korea would be able to use the Taepo Dong-1 to deliver small payloads to parts of Alaska and Hawaii; and that Pyongyang’s Taepo Dong-2, if it had a third stage like the Taepo Dong-1, would be able to deliver large payloads to the continental United States, albeit with poor accuracy.
(I assume you would agree: That qualification offers little consolation when contemplating North Korea’s nuclear-armed ballistic missile threat.)
Meanwhile, former Defense Secretary Bill Perry began trying his hand at negotiating a deal with North Korea. . . By September 1999, he recommended “a new, comprehensive and integrated approach to…negotiations with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] DPRK,” involving a coordinated reduction in isolation by the United States and its allies in a “step-by-step and reciprocal fashion,” and including normalization of diplomatic relations and relaxation of trade sanctions. One more try at appeasement.
Throughout the Clinton administration’s final year continued helter-skelter negotiations and by then what long before should have been predictable North Korean aversion to accommodation to U.S. concerns and those of our “far-East neighborhood” allies. By late 2000, Russia was in the middle of these negotiations, with little positive benefit.
As summarized by the Arms Control Association record (click here), the George W. Bush administration continued the same kind of record of fruitless negotiations, with the President announcing in June 2001 the completion of his North Korea policy review and his determination that “serious discussions” on a “broad agenda” should be resumed with Pyongyang, hopefully in “comprehensive” negotiations, including “improved implementation of the Agreed Framework,” “verifiable constraints” on North Korea’s missile programs, a ban on North Korea’s missile exports, and “a less threatening conventional military posture.”
In the wake of 9/11, no doubt a distracted President Bush criticized North Korea in his State of the Union address for “arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” President Bush characterized North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as constituting an “axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” And Secretary of State Colin Powell followed up by reiterating the administration’s willingness to dialogue with North Korea at “any time, any place, or anywhere without any preconditions.” Same song, second verse — or was it the third or fourth verse?
And things did not go any better for the rest of the two Bush-43 terms. See the Arms Control Association summary for the record. The bottom line was that North Korea steadily progressed toward a confirmed capability with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering them to attack the United States and our allies.
By 2006, former President Clinton’s Defense Secretary Bill Perry and his Assistant Secretary (and future Obama Defense Secretary) Ashton Carter had their fill of this failed approach. Click here for their June 22, 2006 Washington Post article recommending that the United States should destroy North Korean ballistic missiles as they were being prepared for testing on their launch pads.
But that was then — and they apparently forgot that advice during the Obama administration, although there were suggestions in the latter days of Ashton Carter’s tenure as Defense Secretary that he might have been rethinking that issue mixed in with using our Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems to intercept North Korean test missile in flight as well as employing cyber warfare technology.
Click here for a March 4, 2017 New York Times recounting of some of those issues in the context of problems confronting the Trump administration. The article begins by apparently forgetting some of the above history and suggesting that North Korea’s current President Kim Jung Un “is in ‘the final stage in preparations’ for the inaugural test of his intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.” “Inaugural test?” Really?????
David Sanger and Bill Broad, in drafting this article, apparently are also oblivious to the history of the nation’s BMD development activities, especially during the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) era initiated in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan and continuing until the advent of the Clinton administration in 1993, when Defense Secretary Les Aspin (and his Assistant Ashton Carter, by the way) “took the stars out of Star Wars” — their label for gutting especially the most important SDI programs.
The hundred billion dollars they quote as having been spent on BMD, if accurate, is three times what was spent on all the technology considered during the SDI era — and it ignored entirely the most important product of the SDI era, developed for a minor percentage of the $30 billion during the SDI era and which still remains dormant.
The fact is that the United States under both Democrat and Republican administrations have invested heavily in the most expensive, least effective BMD systems, while ignoring the least expensive most effective BMD systems possible with technology that was readily available a quarter century ago.
This fact has been the conclusion of our Independent Working Group (IWG) that was established on the heels of the Missile Defense Act of 1999. Click here for our 2007 and 2009 reports which deal exhaustively with the history, key technology options and the political realities that must be addressed if ever we are to provide the most cost-effective BMD systems to protect the American people and our overseas troops, friends and allies.
We concluded that the most effective BMD systems would be based in space — not surprising since that was also the conclusion of studies in the 1960s by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and President Reagan’s SDI program. The needed technology was not available in the 1960s — but it was available a quarter century ago before the Clinton administration scuttled the SDI program and went its way on the most expensive, least effective defenses for the American people.
The stage is now set for a revival of these SDI innovative systems, and should employ technology advanced by several cycles of Moore’s Law that now enables even more capable lighter-weight, less expensive BMD systems than were possible a quarter century ago. Furthermore, the Missile Defense Act of 1999 was repealed last year in the Defense Authorization Act, removing the word “limited” and now reading:
“The United States should “maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the United States, allies, deployed forces, against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.” (sec. 1681)”
The NDAA also specifically encourages (sec. 1683) the Department of Defense to:
“Examine the feasibility of defeating space-based threats to space-based U.S. national security systems and to examine the feasibility of defeating ballistic missile threats with a new generation of space-based missile defense capabilities.”
So the stage is set for a serious re-examination of how best to build truly cost-effective BMD systems for the first time in a quarter century. We await a report from the Defense Department on a recommended approach to this important new congressional direction.
Click here for a recent discussion of recommended initiatives for consideration by the Trump administration as viewed by several experts who led the SDI activities before they were dismantled in 1993 — and who have recommended for years that we “go back to the future!” Now is the time! President Trump must lead if it is to happen.
We should remember that the threat from North Korea (and its ally Iran) not only can come from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), it can come from their demonstrated capability to launch satellites to their south, such that they approach the United States from our mostly undefended south — to detonate a nuclear weapon over us to produce an electromagnetic pulse that could lead to the death of most Americans within the following year.
Click here for my discussion of this threat prompted by North Korea’s activities just over a year ago. Nothing’s changed since then.
I could have continued recounting this history of failed negotiations and lethargic U.S. responses to North Korean provocations by both Democrat and Republican administrations.
For sure, we don’t want to return to the failed approach in past negotiations with North Korea … we should heed Albert Einstein’s description of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I want to be clear. I am not opposed to serious negotiations. Click here for Joseph DeTrani’s recent Washington Times article, “Engaging with a belligerent North Korea.” He served as a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea and as Director of the National Counterproliferation Center. So, he is well informed and I respect his sober views on what must confront serious negotiations with North Korea, including insisting on an important, perhaps essential, role for China.
I also want to be clear that, while I strongly want to revive viable programs to develop space-based BMD systems, other innovative BMD systems are also important.
Our Aegis BMD systems are in my opinion our most cost-effective defenses today, and as a top priority they should to be further improved to provide even wider area coverage — enabled by SDI-pioneered (and improperly discarded a quarter century ago) technology.
Another important innovation is to use modern unpiloted air vehicles as launch platforms to intercept ballistic missiles in their boost phase — what we called a “Raptor-Talon” system during the SDI era. Click here for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article on such a modern innovation.
In any case, it is most important that we take initiatives to provide the best defenses possible, as quickly as possible — and not only to defend against North Korea (and Iran)!
As grist for a future article, click here for Bill Gertz’s March 10, 2017 article on important recent space developments by China. China has been paying attention to exploiting SDI technology while we let our most potent innovations languish. We need to turn this around!
Wake up America!!! ASAP!
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