Obama’s Devastating Cuts in Missile Defense

How the administration has made us more vulnerable to the aggression of North Korea and other rogues states.

The Ballistic Missile Defense System is a key part of our nation’s overall missile defense program. It is described by the Department of Defense as “an integrated, ‘layered’ architecture that provides multiple opportunities to destroy missiles and their warheads before they can reach their targets.”  The system is “designed to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges—short, medium, intermediate and long.” It consists of three basic components – space, ground and sea-based sensors and radars, and ground and sea-based interceptor missiles. The system relies on a sophisticated communications network “with the needed links between the sensors and interceptor missiles.”

Seven years before winning the White House, Barack Obama told a Chicago TV station that “I don’t agree with a missile defense system.“  True to his word, the Obama administration has set about weakening key elements of the multi-layered ballistic Missile Defense System. Our enemies including Russia, Iran and North Korea could not be happier. 

For example, the Obama administration has undermined what is known as the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system, which relies on strategically placed ground-based missiles combined with radars to enable the interception of incoming offensive missiles. In fact, as part of his failed ”reset” policy towards Russia, Obama decided during his first year in office to reverse a key initiative of the Bush administration that would have deployed missile interceptors and a radar station in Poland and the Czech Republic. Obama got absolutely nothing in return for this enormous concession, which has increased the vulnerability of Europe and the U.S. homeland. 

Russia has been in non-compliance with a key arms control missile reduction treaty since 2008. A senior Obama administration official admitted to a joint congressional subcommittee last December that the evidence of Russia’s violations was “conclusive,” and that Russia’s actions pose an “indirect” threat to the American homeland. His attempt to provide assurances that the administration was preparing to counter Russia’s arms treaty breaches was not very reassuring. 

Instead of following through on promises to develop more robust, adaptive missile defense alternatives, the administration has retrenched. Early in Obama’s first term, his administration downgraded or cancelled various facets of the country’s layered Missile Defense System, including airborne laser, space-based and kinetic energy interceptor system development. There is no missile defense system on our Gulf of Mexico or East Coast. Progress has slowed on deployment of interceptors in Alaska and Hawaii. The administration also stopped funding for systems that could be used to destroy missiles during their early boost phase of flight when they are most vulnerable.

President Obama did follow through, however, on a promise that he made to outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev four years ago, caught on a hot microphone. Obama told Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after the 2012 presidential election to work with Medvedev’s successor, Vladimir Putin, to resolve any issues regarding “particularly missile defense.”  All Obama needed, he told Medvedev, was for Putin to give him some “space” until after Obama’s re-election. Demonstrating his “flexibility” during his second term, Obama’s proposed missile defense budget has declined since FY 2012. Putin’s response was to flex his muscles in Ukraine and Syria. 

Not only are Obama’s cuts in missile defense a gift to Russia. The Iranian regime, which has been test firing ballistic missiles with impunity, will benefit from a weakened U.S. missile defense. 

Before the nuclear deal sellout to Iran was finalized in July 2015, Obama administration officials had assured the American people that curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile program would be a part of the deal. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, a lead negotiator of the nuclear deal with Iran, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014 that shutting down Iran’s missile program that had anything to do with the delivery of nuclear weapons “is indeed going to be part of something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.” It did not turn out that way, however. To the contrary, Iran’s ballistic missile development and testing were deliberately left out of the nuclear deal at Iran’s insistence.

“The administration is paving the way for Iran to become a strategic threat to the United States eventually with ICBM’s, while at the same time suppressing our own ability to defend the homeland against such weapons,” House Armed Services Committee member Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican whom has served as chairman of the House missile defense caucus, told The Daily Caller last July. 

North Korea is also reaping the benefits of Obama’s reckless cuts in missile defense spending. Its test last month of a three-stage rocket, which can serve as an intercontinental ballistic missile, is yet another step forward in the regime’s offensive nuclear posture. Although the North Korean regime tried to portray its February 7 launch as serving a peaceful space-related purpose, the North Korean leaders’ real intentions are obvious. 

In its 2015 report to Congress entitled “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the Department of Defense discussed various types of rockets North Korea has developed and is testing, including “the TD-2, which has only been used in a space-launch role, but could reach the United States with a nuclear payload if developed as an ICBM.” The report warned that North Korea’s “continued development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles…pose a serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world.”

North Korea’s state-run outlet DPRK Today published earlier this month the regime’s boast that it can “burn Manhattan down to ashes” with an H-bomb “mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

While North Korea’s ability to carry through with this threat does not pose an immediate danger, North Korea does have ballistic missiles capable of striking South Korea, Japan, and U.S. military bases on Okinawa and Guam. And its intention to develop and deploy long range ballistic missiles capable of delivering their lethal nuclear payloads to the U.S. mainland is crystal clear.

The Obama administration’s response to date has been what it calls “strategic patience.” It has imposed some additional unilateral sanctions and managed to get the United Nations Security Council to pass another toughly worded resolution with multilateral sanctions. North Korea has routinely ignored past resolutions and responded to the latest resolution with the firing of some short-range ballistic missiles into the sea. 

Only now is the Obama Pentagon entertaining discussions with South Korea to consider deploying the THAAD anti-missile defense system on the Korean peninsula over the objections of Russia and China. The U.S. is already deploying THAAD missiles in Guam. 

The THAAD missile is a land-based system capable of shooting down short and medium range ballistic missiles in their “terminal phase,” as they re-enter the atmosphere towards their targets. It uses kinetic energy to collide with and destroy the incoming warhead. South Korea has been reluctant in the past to host such missiles on its soil for fear of riling up China, one of its most important trading partners. Belatedly, after North Korea’s continuing pattern of escalating nuclear bomb and missile-related provocations, South Korean and U.S. officials are now preparing the way for the THAAD missile deployment.

Secretary of State John Kerry did not help to advance those discussions. He sent mixed signals as to the Obama administration’s intentions during a joint news conference following talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this month. “We have made it very clear that we are not hungry or anxious to deploy THAAD,” Kerry said. “If we can get to denuclearization, there is no need to deploy THAAD,” Kerry added, no doubt thinking of his disastrous nuclear deal with Iran which he has deluded himself into thinking is a success.

However, even if finally deployed on the Korean peninsula, THAAD missiles will provide an inadequate protection of the U.S. homeland. They presently have an estimated range of only 125 miles. They are not designed to deal specifically with the threat of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles, which North Korea is aiming to develop and deploy. 

The Obama administration has been reactive, rather than looking ahead to deal robustly with the gathering threats. Its missile defense cuts have increased the risk to the U.S. homeland from ICBM attacks, including from North Korea and Iran, in the not too distant future. 

General David L. Mann, USA, Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, United States Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee two years ago that we have only “a limited defense against threats emanating from North Korea and Iran.” When asked to explain, he said, “Given their current capability, it does provide the protection. But we all know that these countries are continuing to increase their arsenal and their technology. And down the road, they might reach a point in terms of numbers, just the numbers of missiles that they could employ that it could overwhelm the system.”

That warning is now two years old. The Obama administration has left our country in a position where time is not on our side.