We have to be completely honest with ourselves and with each other on the subject of missile defense, North Korea, China and Russia. When North Korea elected to launch several medium and long range ballistic missiles on the US' Independence Day last week, it defied the international community and sent a shock wave through countries in the region, especially South Korea and Japan.
The Taepodong-2 missile built by North Korea can reach targets all over Taiwan, adding to the overall difficulty of defending the country. The greater the range of a ballistic missile, the higher the re-entry velocity. This equates to an increasingly more difficult defense challenge as the range of the aggressor's missile flight increases.
We already know that, as good as they are in theory, the missile defense networks currently being contemplated by the US are imperfect and limited.
US President George W. Bush wisely put the right perspective on the US' missile defense sys-tem at his Chicago news conference on July 7, saying, "Our anti-ballistic systems are modest, they're new, they're new research, we're testing them. And so ... it's hard for me to give you a probability of success [on how they might have performed against North Korea's missiles]."
The US Navy AEGIS-equipped ships, properly positioned, could add some defensive capability to Taiwan. But the capacity to protect the entire country is still lacking, and achieving this will be a monumental task both in terms of time and money.
The US Patriot PAC-3 missiles proposed to defend Taiwan, South Korea and Japan are a step in the right direction but still inadequate to intercept a longer-range ballistic missile.
PAC-3, which is less capable than the Navy systems for ballistic missile defense, was also designed to counter shorter-range ballistic missiles; not a bird with the long-range capability of the Taepodong-2.
After traveling thousands of kilometers from North Korea, the re-entry vehicle, which could carry a nuclear weapon, would be traveling at unbelievable velocities. Intercepting that kind of vehicle fired at that range would be extremely difficult. And a missed intercept in this scenario could mean a vast expanse of destruction and death -- in the target nation's homeland.
The Taiwanese people now live under the shadow of potentially thousands of shorter-range ballistic missiles from China that could come with almost no warning. The nation's defense against this new North Korean threat is also very limited.
Missile defenses on land, like PAC-3 or systems with even less capability, could not defend Taiwan against a large-scale Chinese or North Korean attack.
Taiwan must rethink its missile defense posture, policy, strategy and investment and follow the lead of the US, Japan and South Korea on missile defense.
John Carey is a former president of International Defense Consultants. He served in the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization during his career in the US Navy and also commanded an AEGIS-equipped ship.
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