Now we know why Obama reversed course on missile defense

Article Highlights

  • Part of the U.S. intelligence community now believes North Korea has achieved at least a rudimentary capability to put nuclear weapons on long-range ballistic missiles.

    Tweet This

  • The Obama administration deserves credit for bowing to reality, and taking seriously what may be a real threat in the future.

    Tweet This

  • All of this raises questions about what else we don’t know.

    Tweet This

Last month, the Obama administration abruptly backtracked on cutting continental missile defense, and decided to restore the full amount of interceptors in Alaska to an original Bush administration plan. Given the time and cost of the reversal (costing up to $200 million and taking at least two years), many wondered what could have spooked an administration not known for second-guessing itself. Well, this report may reveal the answer: Part of the U.S. intelligence community now believes North Korea has achieved at least a rudimentary capability to put nuclear weapons on long-range ballistic missiles. That, of course, is a game-changer, even if the North can’t yet depend on the accuracy of its missiles (or weapons, for that matter). 

The Obama administration deserves credit for bowing to reality, and taking seriously what may be a real threat in the future. That raises questions, however, about its initial judgments about other threats to the United States, as well as to allies. In particular, it highlights once again the fact that the administration is caught by surprise on timelines. It may have assumed the North wouldn’t perfect weaponization so quickly. Similarly, the administration’s rationale for killing the F-22 stealth fighter in 2009 was that no other stealth competitor was on the horizon; just months later, the Chinese rolled out not one, but two stealth prototypes, both of which appear to be proceeding much faster than expected. 

All of this raises questions about what else we don’t know. WhenIran might have a bomb? Terrorists getting their hands on WMD? Cyber attacks on America’s infrastructure? It’s possible none of those things will happen, but if they do, we’ll need an immediate response, not one that takes years to prepare. Hence, putting back missile interceptors. There are other things we may find wanting, like having enough stealth fighters or cyber defense. Prudence isn’t always about saving money; it’s also about adequately understanding tomorrow’s threats and preparing today.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin
  • Michael Auslin is a resident scholar and the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Asian regional security and political issues.


    Before joining AEI, he was an associate professor of history at Yale University. A prolific writer, Auslin is a biweekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal Asia, which is distributed globally on wsj.com. His longer writings include the book “Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations” (Harvard University Press, 2011) and the study “Security in the Indo-Pacific Commons: Toward a Regional Strategy” (AEI Press, 2010). He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar.


    Auslin has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A. from Indiana University at Bloomington, and a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University.


    Follow Michael Auslin on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5848
    Email: michael.auslin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Shannon Mann
    Phone: 202-862-5911
    Email: shannon.mann@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.