North Korea's threat prompts response
Missile defense, once derided as a dangerous dream, is now considered a military necessity.
The leaders of North Korea may come across as comic-book villains and their occasional threats thrown in the direction of their neighbors in South Korea and Japan and even the United States as empty bluster.
But they have drawn the close attention of U.S. policymakers, to the point that on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States will spend $1 billion to expand its West Coast missile-defense system.
Hagel, President Barack Obama's recent choice to head the Defense Department, stated that this country will add 14 more ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska, adding to the 30 already in place in Alaska and California.
Hagel's announcement represents a dramatic policy reversal by Obama, perhaps explaining why Hagel made it on a Friday afternoon, the time considered least likely to draw significant public attention.
Long on record as opposing missile defense, Obama froze plans for its expansion when he took office in 2009.
The genesis of missile defense began with President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, when he announced the beginning of research efforts he labeled the Strategic Defense Initiative — SDI for short. His critics, most notably the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, ridiculed the plan, calling it "Star Wars," a label quickly adopted by the news media.
Kennedy and later Obama may have objected to Star Wars. But Reagan's goal of building a defense system that could shoot down missiles aimed at the American homeland unnerved leaders of the old Soviet Union.
Reagan and the Soviet Union are both gone now, but strategic missile defense lives on in the form of a bipartisan agreement that it is a necessity in a dangerous world.
There is no minimizing the danger from a potential threat of nuclear attacks by North Korea, Iran or others. That being the case, Obama has wisely opted to implement a missile-defense system he once vehemently opposed.