WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump unveiled a revamped U.S. missile defense strategy on Thursday that called North Korea an ongoing and “extraordinary threat,” seven months after he declared the threat posed by Pyongyang had been eliminated.
The Missile Defense Review, which also detailed concerns about the burgeoning capabilities of Iran, Russia and China, was a broad examination of efforts to shield the United States from enemy missiles, including a push to develop space-based sensors and study the development of space-based weapons.
“Our goal is simple: To ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” Trump said at the Pentagon as he unveiled the report.
Trump did not mention the North Korean missile threat in his remarks. But acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called North Korea’s missiles a “significant concern.”
The document was even stronger.
“While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant,” the report said.
For Trump, who is trying to revive efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal, the report’s release came at an awkward moment. Senior North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol was headed for Washington on Thursday for expected talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and a possible encounter with Trump, a person familiar with the matter said.
The talks could lead to an announcement of plans for a second Trump summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after their meeting last year in Singapore, the source told Reuters.
Trump wrote on Twitter after the June 2018 summit that there is “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
The Missile Defense Review recommended studying experimental technologies, including prospects for space-based weaponry that might be able to shoot down enemy missiles, a throwback to former President Ronald Reagan’s 1980s “Star Wars” initiative.
It also called for investments in space-based sensors that can better detect and track incoming missiles, and perhaps counter super-fast hypersonic technology, an area in which China has made major advances.
“We will protect the American people from all types of missile attacks,” Trump said. “In the past, the United States lacked a comprehensive strategy for missile defense that extended beyond ballistic missiles. Under our plan, that will change. The U.S. will now adjust its posture to also defend against any missile strikes including cruise and hypersonic missiles.”
“We are committed to establishing a missile-defense program that can shield every city in the United States. And we will never negotiate away our right to do this,” Trump added.
Trump specifically mentioned Iran’s capabilities. The report said Iran possesses the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East.
“Its desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM,” the report said, referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Trump said the United States would not impose any limits on U.S. development of missiles defenses against “any America target — whether before or after launch.”
“We will not take any chances. We will only take action,” Trump said.
The United States previously announced plans to increase the number of ground-based interceptors over the next several years, hiking the number positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska to 64 from 44.
U.S. military officials have said American missile defenses are primarily designed to counter attacks from countries with more-limited arsenals like North Korea, which U.S. intelligence officials believe is still advancing its nuclear program despite a halt to missile launches last year.
Pentagon officials contend that American missile defenses are too few to counter a first-strike on the U.S. homeland by a major nuclear power like Russia or China. Washington hopes those countries will instead be deterred from attacks by America’s nuclear arsenal.
The report underscored that point, but also acknowledged that in a war with a major power, the United States would use the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) defenses at its disposal.
“The GMD system is designed to defend against the existing and potential ICBM threat from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, but in the event of conflict, it would defend, to the extent feasible, against a ballistic missile attack upon the U.S. homeland from any source,” the report said.
Russia views U.S. missile defense advances as a threat. The chairman of Russia’s upper house defense and security committee, Viktor Bondarev, said after Trump’s announcement that the new U.S. missile-defense strategy would ramp up global tensions, according to Interfax news agency.
The Pentagon has made no secret about its concerns about Beijing’s pursuit of hypersonic technology that would make missiles far harder to detect and destroy.