Op-Eds

Aug 03 2017

OMAHA WORLD-HERALD: Defenses for a rising threat

The writer, Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

Last Friday, North Korea tested another intercontinental ballistic missile. Numerous reports indicated this missile flew significantly farther than the one the regime launched July 3 and could reach major U.S. cities.

This threat is a concern I hear about often when I visit with Nebraskans. Wednesday’s successful test-launch of an ICBM of our own should be reassuring. This was a pre-scheduled, highly technical launch and one of many tests our military conducts every year to ensure that our defenses are safe and reliable.

Technical hurdles remain before North Korea can carry out a nuclear strike against our country, but we should expect Kim Jong Un to reach that objective. We must do all we can as a nation to avoid this outcome.

Time is not on our side. Eight years of “strategic patience” has left us with limited options.

One thing is certain: China is North Korea’s economic lifeline. Beijing provides direct food and energy assistance to North Korea. Reportedly, the regime’s hackers conduct cybercrime operations from northern China. Almost all of North Korea’s Internet access is provided via a fiber-optic cable running between the two nations. Kim Jong Un uses Chinese banks to conduct transactions associated with Pyongyang’s proliferation activities and criminal operations.

This relationship is an avenue through which the United States can impose costs on China for enabling North Korea’s belligerent behavior. Congress gave President Donald Trump broad authority to take action against nations facilitating the North Korean regime. It’s time for the president to use that authority and show China that continued support for the North Koreans will harm its own interests.

The administration has begun to implement such measures. In June, the United States announced sanctions against a Chinese bank, two Chinese individuals and a Chinese entity for supporting the North Korean regime. It appears this “warning shot” has fallen on deaf ears, however. There has been no change in behavior.

In response, we should act swiftly to aggressively sanction the companies and countries doing business with the Kim regime.

At the same time, we must increase America’s missile defense efforts to stay ahead of this threat. I serve as the chairman of Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which oversees our missile defense programs. I have worked closely with directors of the Missile Defense Agency and commanders of U.S. Strategic Command to improve our missile defenses. Our current Ground-based Midcourse Defense system provides us with an effective capability against North Korea, but more must be done to stay ahead of its increasing capabilities.

Over the years, the Senate Armed Services Committee has authorized additional funding for a variety of improvements to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, including construction of a new radar to track potential threats from North Korea. The committee’s 2018 defense authorization bill authorized more than $200 million to meet unfunded requirements for the system.

Options for further action stand before us, as well.

The Missile Defense Agency is pursuing these options, but the question remains: Are the current efforts enough?

To find the answer, the administration is conducting a review of ballistic missile threats and our missile defense posture, the first of its kind since 2010. The review is expected to conclude in the fall, and I plan to hold hearings in my subcommittee to fully examine the results.

Kim Jong Un has repeatedly threatened to attack U.S. cities with nuclear weapons. His capability to carry out this threat grows with every passing day.

We must change our strategy.

Strong secondary sanctions and enhanced missile defense should form our new approach.