By Sarah Lenti, LifeZette
North Korea, a country the United States has refused to recognize diplomatically since 1948, is, yet again, at the forefront of U.S. news.
This time, it’s not about disgracing North Korea for capturing a U.S. spy ship, starving its people, blocking international inspectors, or even arresting American journalists. And it’s not about President Donald Trump taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — aka “Rocket Man” — before the United Nations and threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea.
This time, the headlines read more like a burgeoning love fest. First, it was then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo secretly meeting with Kim. Then, it was Twitter gushing by Trump in the wake of Kim’s promise of “complete denuclearization” to South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.
Now it’s about the first meeting between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea in 70 long years. This is a big deal. America’s going from shunning Kim to courting him in less than 60 days is unchartered territory.
But, really, what is this all about?
While there is suddenly genuine hope, there remains no more urgent threat to the global nuclear nonproliferation order than North Korea’s accelerating and unconstrained nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Pyongyang is estimated to possess enough nuclear explosive material for at least 10 nuclear warheads and likely can deliver some of these weapons on its arsenal of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Worse, Pyongyang could have enough for 100 warheads by 2020.
And let’s not forget that North Korea conducted 23 missile tests in just 10 months, culminating with the launch of Nov. 29, 2017. Practice makes perfect, so this should concern us.
Skepticism abounds among Asia-Pacific regional experts on North Korea’s denuclearizing. As The National Interest reports:
“Color just about everyone skeptical that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will give up its most destructive weapons. As Chris Nelson wrote just hours after the Declaration was signed, ‘No credible expert on the DPRK argues there is a price which, being met, the Kim Regime will ever relinquish all its nukes, period, given Libya and Iraq.'”
Time will tell if the President made the wrong call on meeting Kim. Meanwhile, it’s important to consider how U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) investments make negotiations and a diplomatic settlement with North Korea more likely to succeed. Here is where the Trump administration and Congress really are getting it right.
For context, a year ago, Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 would have maintained BMD funding at a level similar to the last years of the Obama administration. But following North Korea’s intense missile tests in 2017, Congress approved a White House reprogramming request to boost BMD spending by $368 million.
The president also announced the U.S. will deploy an expanded and layered BMD system to defend the country. Unlike Obama, Trump is prioritizing the BMD program, and thus proactively protecting America.
Consider this: Only the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system now protects U.S. civilians and soil from missile attacks by intercepting incoming nuclear missiles in space before they can detonate and literally blow us up.
In 2017, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated there are 9,220 nuclear weapons worldwide. Until these 9,220 nukes (and any others in development) are eradicated, it is essential that the U.S. be able to protect itself against missile attacks.
Having that defense does not encourage U.S. aggression, much less a pre-emptive or preventive strike on North Korea. To the contrary, it strengthens U.S. deterrence and thereby strengthens diplomacy and sanctions. Having a credible BMD diminishes nuclear war risks by encouraging Pyongyang to question whether they can in fact hit U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles.
Should the forthcoming summit not go as expected, and Kim reverts back to his tyrannical ways, we still have the finest missile defense system in the world. Fortunately, Congress has re-recognized this truth. The U.S. must continue to protect and grow these capabilities. Doing anything less would be irresponsible in the extreme.
Sarah Lenti is a political strategist, freelance writer, and founder of SML Advisory Partners. Sarah worked on the National Security Council under Dr. Condoleezza Rice and is also a former researcher and adviser to Mitt Romney.
This article was used with permission from LifeZette.
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