The new deployments, announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday, will increase the number of ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska to 44 from 30 by 2017.
The missiles have a mixed record in testing, hitting dummy targets just 50 percent of the time, but officials said Friday’s announcement was intended not merely to present a credible deterrence to the North’s limited intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. They said it is also meant to show South Korea and Japan that the United States is willing to commit resources to deterring the North and, at the same time, warn Beijing that it must restrain its ally or face an expanding American military focus on Asia.
“There’s been a quickening pace of provocations,” said one senior administration official, describing actions and words from North Korea and its new leader, Mr. Kim. “But the real accelerant was the fact that the North Koreans seemed more unmoored from their Chinese handlers than even we had feared.”
Although American and South Korean intelligence officials doubt the North is close to being able to follow through on a nuclear strike, or that it would even try, given its almost certain destruction, analysts say the country’s aggressive behavior is an important and worrying sign of changing calculations in the North.
In interviews over recent days, Obama administration officials described internal debates at the White House and the Pentagon about how strongly to react to the recent provocations. It is a delicate balance, they said, of defending against real potential threats while avoiding giving the North Koreans what one official called “the satisfaction of seeming to make the rest of the world jumpy.”
In announcing the deployments at a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Hagel cited North Korea’s third test of nuclear weapons technology last month, the successful test of a long-range missile that sent a satellite into space, and the discovery that a new generation of mobile missiles appeared closer to development.
“We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Mr. Hagel said.
All 14 of the new interceptors will be placed in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, where 26 interceptors are already deployed. Four others are at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
North Korea has always been an unpredictable, provocative dictatorship. But even by its own standards, the isolated Communist regime’s recent decision to nullify a wartime cease-fire and weeks of increasingly hyperbolic warnings, including of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, appear to have crossed new and dangerous lines.
Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the Pentagon on Friday and described how the United States was deliberately building a two-tiered system of deterrence against North Korea.
The United States will “put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objectives to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs upon them if they do,” Admiral Winnefeld said.
In an unusually pointed warning to the new North Korean leader, Admiral Winnefeld added, “We believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that — and if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”
The arguments for bolstering the limited missile defense were symbolic of the larger problem.
The antimissile systems are considered less than reliable, and some administration officials were reluctant to pour additional resources into deploying more of the existing technology.
But in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the commander of the United States Strategic Command, made clear they serve a larger purpose. “Deterring North Korea from acting irrationally is our No. 1 priority,” he said. He acknowledged that there were doubts that the 30 existing antimissile systems would be sufficient, and added that an additional site in the United States, on the East Coast, may be needed to deter Iran.
US Is Bolstering Missile Defense to Deter North Korea – New York Times