John Kerry's Shameless Flip-Flop on Missile Defense

Another testament to our new secretary of state's egregious judgment.

Secretary of State John Kerry talked tough during his news conference in Seoul on April 12th, with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se at his side. He was responding to North Korea’s continuing stream of warlike rhetoric and its final preparations for a possible imminent launch of one or more mid-range missiles, which could happen as early as Monday April 15th when North Korea celebrates the birth date of its founder Kim Il-Sung.

“The rhetoric that we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standards,” Kerry said.  “The United States, South Korea and the entire international community… are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power,” he added. “We will stand with South Korea and Japan against these threats. And we will defend ourselves.”

Ironically, Secretary of State Kerry is now flaunting the missile defense systems he so vigorously fought in his decades serving as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, when he had used words like “fantasy” and “mythology” to describe them.  Indeed, earlier this month in Washington, Secretary of State Kerry shamelessly bragged that “the President made the decision to redeploy missile defense with respect to the United States itself.”

He added on Sunday in Japan, during the third leg of his Asia trip: “The president of the United States deployed some additional missile defense capacity precisely because of the threat of North Korea.”

If Kerry had his way while serving in leadership positions in the U.S. Senate, President Obama would not have had any missile defense systems to speak of at his disposal to deploy right now.

The critical need for robust and multi-faceted missile defense systems is underscored by a troubling Defense Intelligence Report assessment disclosed last Thursday. This report concluded with “moderate confidence” that North Korea has the capability to combine its nuclear bomb and missile technologies by arming a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. Kerry and other members of the Obama administration have been scrambling to play down the report’s dire warning. However, they acknowledge that a very serious threat does exist, which is exacerbated by ample evidence of close and continuing collaboration between North Korea and Iran on what amounts to a joint missile and nuclear technology program.

Thus, President Obama has begun to step up deployment of ground and sea-based defense systems. In addition to accelerating deployment for the first time of an advanced missile defense system to Guam and positioning warships armed with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems closer to our Pacific allies, the Obama administration decided to reverse its decision to scale back on the Bush administration’s proposed deployment of a total of 44 ground-based interceptors for U.S. sites. In 2009, the Obama administration had cut the planned deployment to 30, but Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans last month to place the additional 14 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska by 2017. They would most likely have been in place by now if Obama had not cut back on President Bush’s original proposal upon taking office in 2009.

John Kerry’s staunch opposition in the U.S. Senate to missile defense initiatives, which stretched across several presidencies, helped slow down our development of these systems even further. He voted against funding missile defense more than 50 times.

Senator Kerry started his political career as the darling of the nuclear freeze crowd.  He called the Reagan administration’s plan for a missile defense system – known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) – a “cancer on our nation’s defense.”

Kerry voted against allowing the Defend America Act of 1996 and American Missile Protection Act of 1998 to proceed to a final vote on the merits. His votes helped sustain filibusters blocking the bills from seeing the light of day and delaying the development of robust missile defense systems.

Both bills referred explicitly to threats posed by North Korea and called for the United States to deploy as soon as possible an effective national missile defense system capable of defending U.S. territory against ballistic missile attacks from rogue nations. These could have included the ground-based interceptors that President Obama decided years later to play catch-up in deploying.

During a floor speech explaining his opposition to the American Missile Protection Act of 1998, Kerry dismissed the prospect of ballistic missile threats from sources other than Russia and China as “nonexistent threats.” Three months after Kerry spoke, on August 31 1998 - nearly 15 years ago - North Korea launched a ballistic missile.

Perhaps because of that launching, in a rare departure from his strident opposition to missile defense programs, Kerry did finally support the 1999 National Missile Defense Act, which passed 97-3. However, in comments on the Senate floor, he still expressed skepticism regarding any threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program: “The best estimate of the threat from North Korea, in 15 or 20 years, is still dealing with minimalist numbers.”

And if there were to be a threat from a rogue regime, Kerry said that we should be able to collaborate with China and Russia to deal with it: “It is one that we ought to be able to negotiate, if we can develop it with China, with Russia, with other people, all of whom have a similar kind of threat to think about with respect to unauthorized or accidental or rogue launches.”

Russia does not appear to be overly concerned about the North Korean problem, and China has yet to show any real resolve to rein in its fractious North Korean client.

Senator Kerry reverted back to form in opposing President George Bush’s missile defense initiatives.  For example, on May 3, 2001, John Kerry called national missile defense a “mythology” on a radio show. A month later, Kerry told Hardball’s Chris Matthews that a “missile shield that could defend the United States against any incoming missile is a fantasy.”

In late 2003, Kerry was asked to respond to a “Council for a Livable World” survey of the Democratic presidential primary field: “Do you support or oppose the current plan to deploy a ground-based version of a national missile defense in Alaska and California by the fall of 2004? Please feel free to discuss your administration’s plans for missile defense.” Kerry’s a one-word answer: “Oppose.”

For more than two decades as U.S. Senator, Kerry consistently underestimated the nuclear threat posed by rogue states like North Korea and Iran. They were “nonexistent” or “minimalist” in his words.  Planning ahead to deal with reasonably foreseeable changing geopolitical conditions down the road eluded him. As a consistent leftist opponent of proactive investment in developing effective missile defense systems, Kerry saw no further than the end of his nose.

In short, Senator John Kerry was against missile defense before Secretary of State John Kerry was for it.

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