The North Korean Moment

By Riki Ellison

As North Korea ratcheted up its familiar rhetoric for positioning in negotiations and testing new weapons to threaten the United States and its allies, we were on the Korean Peninsula honoring our best missile defense forces from both the Republic of Korea and the United States that can and are negating these bellicose threats from North Korea and holding them harmless.

North Korea does not get any free and unimpeded missile shots on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, or the United States from Guam, Hawaii and Alaska, and to the lower 48 states. Obviously there are tremendous and abundant retaliatory capabilities in place, but more important are the land- and sea-based operational and deployed missile defense capabilities today from the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (MDB) with the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD), the U.S. 7th Fleet with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships, to the 35th & 38th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Brigades with Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); along with the allies capabilities to defend the populations and negate all the different ranges of North Korea ballistic missiles. In the very near future the United States will be deploying operational air platforms both manned and unmanned with kinetic air-to-air interceptors for boost phase intercepts of North Korean missiles, adding to the existing and deployed exo-atmospheric operational space layer and terminal endo-atmospheric layer missile defenses.

It is the readiness of these defensive missile systems and the retaliatory capabilities of both the United States and the Republic of Korea that must be as high as possible, demonstrated regularly to best and adequately ensure deterrence, defense, and most of all diplomacy to take place effectively with North Korea. Suspension of annual large-scale integrated Korean-U.S. military exercises reduces readiness and greatly and falsely sends a message of a permanent concession given with intent to enhance good will negotiations with the North Koreans. The North Koreans have yet to reciprocate even close to the level of suspension of these exercises by the United States and Korea. North Korea has continued unabated production of its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads during its self-imposed testing ban on nuclear and ballistic missiles for nearly a year, showing good intent to bring forth negotiations with the United States.

Rightfully the United States has chosen not to engage in any deal until verifiable and significant destruction of nuclear sites, verification of the exact nuclear capability North Korea has in their inventory, and the complete denuclearization of North Korea is on the negotiating table.

The Republic of Korea is active within its framework to engage North Korea in hopes of a peace settlement and a normal economic relationship with North Korea. In an aggressive forward leaning track alongside, hoping to incentivize the U.S.-North Korean Denuclearization discussion, is the Korea to Korea talks led by President Moon, who is responsible for being the initiator during the 2018 Winter Olympics and bringing forth a receptive North Korea. Economic benefits, sanction relief, demilitarization along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and suspension of the major U.S.-ROK exercises has been heavily led by President Moon as incentives for North Korea to move forward with the United States for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These efforts, though gallant, have not gotten traction yet on denuclearization from North Korea while enabling also North Korea during this period of non-testing to get other nations to relieve some sanctions placed upon them and a more lenient Republic of Korea during this window of sunshine policy.

North Korea looks to be the clear winner, achieving its national security objectives of building and being a recognized nuclear power during this prolonged engagement with the high hopes of peace from the west. South Korea for its foundation and backbone of security also recognizes the dependency of permanent American presence on the Korean Peninsula for Peace.  As one of the highest burden sharing allies of the United States, South Korea is in negotiations of providing close to and possibly above a billion dollars a year to the U.S. for its presence on the Peninsula.

The upcoming U.S. President talks with the North Korean leader will have to move from this period of grace and good intentions to real significant actions of substance for the denuclearization of North Korea. This will require the highest readiness of U.S. capabilities to defend, deter, defeat, and destroy North Korean nuclear ballistic missiles capabilities that are more numerous today than a year ago.

The North Korean problem has to be dealt with for the betterment of the world and nonproliferation of nuclear capabilities, matched with ballistic missile capabilities, that North Korea will advance if not stopped.

Glass has to be broken to increase our current capability and capacity to defend against North Korea so we can negotiate from strength for North Korea to denuclearize.

Published as “There Are No Free Shots” by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance on November 19, 2018