The extreme and, some would add, insane regime in North Korea traditionally deploys far-out threatening rhetoric. Personal insults, bizarre accusations and apocalyptic images of destruction are all in a days' broadcasting for this strange government.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been making specific nuclear threats against the island of Guam, a United States territory. President Donald Trump has responded with graphic warnings. Early in the year, Kim boasted Pyongyang now has an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), raising the nightmare specter of a nuclear attack on the United States along with Japan, South Korea and other nations.
Sustained North Korea threats and weapon tests led the Obama administration and South Korea's government to agree to deploy the Lockheed Martin THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) anti-missile system.
Beijing reacted with alarm, but China's arms buildup further justifies the South Korea deployment. Earlier, THAAD was deployed on the U.S. West Coast, Guam and Hawaii.
"Hitting a bullet with a bullet" is a graphic as well as accurate way of describing the extraordinary technical challenge involved in missile defense. Nonetheless, there has been sustained pressure within the U.S. government for more than a half century to build such weapons.
Over time, there has also been remarkable success in developing these complex weapon systems. That is most fortunate given current threats.
During the Eisenhower administration, defense spending absorbed more than half the entire federal budget, and a much larger percentage of gross domestic product than today. President Dwight Eisenhower maintained control over the military primarily, though not exclusively, by putting an overall ceiling on the Pentagon budget, effectively setting the Air Force, Army and Navy against one another for available resources.
One byproduct was considerable duplication of effort. For example, each service developed a separate strategic missile program, jealously guarding research and development information from the others.
In the successor Kennedy administration, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara took offense at the apparent disorder of this approach, and decisively imposed organization-chart order. The Air Force acquired land-based ICBMs, the Navy sea-based submarine systems, and the Army removed from the game.
Additionally, McNamara and his young civilian analysts rejected anti-ballistic missiles because any conceivable defensive systems could be overwhelmed at relatively low cost. McNamara embraced strategic concepts whereby leaving populations vulnerable was "stabilizing," termed "Mutual Assured Destruction." Defending missile sites was acceptable and achievable by placing them in concrete and steel underground silos.
McNamara's style unified the services against him. The Army won an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) role. President Lyndon Johnson, politically floundering in the Vietnam War, forced out McNamara but generously named him President of the World Bank. LBJ also required him publicly to endorse the ABM.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan promoted missile interceptors termed the Strategic Defense Initiative. The Air Force became the lead service but the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsed the effort.
An erratic nuclear-armed government argues for developing the defense. Nuclear war strategist Herman Kahn used this argument in print to bolster the humiliated McNamara when he announced the earlier ABM system. The radical rogue regime of North Korea, still committed to Cold War totalitarianism, is precisely the sort of threat Kahn had in mind.
In early August 2017, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2371, strengthening North Korea sanctions. Banned goods include coal, iron, lead and seafood. North Korea's moribund economy is a fundamental, unavoidable strategic reality — and weakness. The days of Korean communism are numbered.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of "After the Cold War."