On July 4, 2006, while Americans celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s independence, North Korea test-fired a volley of seven ballistic missiles, some of which were capable of reaching the United States.
It wasn’t the first time North Korea had acted aggressively and irresponsibly. Fortunately, had any of these missiles been launched as an attack on the United States or our allies, for the first time, the president could defend against such an attack by using an operational missile defense system.
Since then, though, rogue states have continued to seek the means to attack us and the U.S. has continued to develop its system.
For example, unclassified reports have detailed North Korea’s preparations for the launch, possibly within days, of a new, even longer-range Taepo Dong 2 missile. This kind of missile is a threat, not just to some of America’s closest allies in the region (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) but to the U.S. itself.
Moreover, North Korea continues to be the world’s greatest proliferator of ballistic missile technology and nuclear weapons know-how. We should be very concerned about with whom North Korea does business.
And then there’s Iran.
On Feb. 2, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced that his country had successfully launched its first satellite. If it were any other country, such a launch would seem of little consequence. However, as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, recently noted, space launch technologies “are compatible with an intercontinental ballistic missile-type capability.”
Add to that the latest news that Iran has enriched one-third more uranium than was previously understood — more than enough to build a nuclear bomb — and the potential threat is clear.
These examples should underscore the necessity for an effective, operational missile defense system. Yet the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are now seeking ways to halt the progress that’s been made in defending against these threats.
In the past two weeks, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that he would “love” to cut missile defense funding. Newspaper headlines report that the Obama administration is planning to make significant cuts in the missile defense budget. These cuts could include funds that would be used to deploy our missile defense assets to Europe — which NATO has twice stated is necessary to deal with the threat from Iran.
That such a rollback of the system is being discussed is dangerous. That it is being discussed at the same time North Korea and Iran are carrying out aggressive, threatening activities is irresponsible and unacceptable.
When President Obama campaigned last year, he said that he supported missile defense systems that work. Our systems have shown through numerous tests that they work — that is not in doubt. So why cut the budget for continued missile defense deployment? It sounds like some old “research forever, deploy never” mantra of anti-missile defense ideologues.
President Barack Obama also campaigned on a platform of improving America’s image abroad. We stand ready to work with him to do that. So why pull the rug out from under our plans to deploy missile defense assets in Europe, thereby alienating two of our best allies — Poland and the Czech Republic — in the war against terrorists? Moreover, the U.S. should not leave itself defenseless because of a potential promise of cooperation from Russia, which it is unlikely to give and which past experience informs us will not be honored in any event. The European deployment is the only system that can protect both the U.S. and Europe against the common threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them.
We must take necessary steps now to protect against the gathering threats we know are coming. Rogue nations that seek to do us harm will not sit idle, so neither can we. Funding research and development of the nation’s missile defense program must continue.
Ballistic missile defense is the most moral and effective deterrent to the threat of ballistic missile attack. The American people deserve to be protected, and national security is too important to be politicized. Obama and congressional Democrats should work with Republicans to protect the American people and our allies against ballistic missile attack.
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl is Senate Republican whip and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor is House Republican whip.