Brian T. Kennedy, president of the American Strategy Group, joined Seth Leibsohn and Chris Buskirk to discuss why the United States is lagging badly in the area of ballistic missile defense in the face of the growing threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea and what can be done about it—as well as the high cost of doing nothing at all.
Seth Leibsohn: Welcome back to the Seth and Chris show. I’m Seth Leibsohn, he’s Chris Buskirk. It is a delight to welcome back our good and old friend, Brian Kennedy. Brian T. Kennedy is, among other things, the president of the American Strategy Group. We thought we’d come in from music from his salad days as his youth, “The Piña Colada Song” there, Escape.
How are you Brian?
Brian Kennedy: You know, I pretty much need a drink about now.
Leibsohn: I also should say, give you kudos, you have something to do with the prowess of the UCLA football team, do you not?
Kennedy: Well, you know, their star quarterback went to my high school, St. John Bosco.
Kennedy: He made everybody pride when he beat Texas A&M on Sunday night. Big deal, I think.
Leibsohn: Heck of a thing. Heck of a thing.
Brian, I wanted to bring you on, as did Chris here, to talk about North Korea, because, it just seems it’s one of these countries that pops up every so often. We neglect it at our peril. We forget about it at our peril. Then, people scramble to find the only handful of experts that exist on this, you’re one of them. I had said earlier, “When we do … Not if, but when we do get comprehensive missile defense, that story will be written about three to five people in this country who have been on this case and pushing it forward for the last 30 or so years, your name will be prominent among them.”
We want to thank you for staying on this issue. When it comes to North Korea, Brian, where are we on missile defense? When it comes to anything, any threat we face, where are we on it?
Kennedy: Well, first of all, thank you for the kind words. Reagan talked about missile defense, of course, back in the ’80s, and created the pledge to do it. I think way back when, he didn’t think he was going to have to do that to deal with North Korea.
Kennedy: When we won the Cold War, one would have thought we would have continued to do missile defense, but, we really made missile defense a research and development project. We have a very rudimentary system today, which is, again, really more like a research and development project. American industry and the aerospace industry can produce very fine things, but, we’ve not built an adequate missile defense to the point that North Korea would be discouraged from building these horrible weapons.
We have limited interceptors in Alaska and California. We’re putting the theater high altitude or the terminal high altitude defense in the theater of Korea in order to try to deal with it. Frankly, it’s inadequate. The system we have in Alaska is maybe barely adequate, I would argue inadequate.
We’ve just, we’ve gone cheap on all this. Donald Trump inherits a missile defense that can only do a few things. It can not do them very well, because, Obama and Bush before him, just did not think this was a serious problem. Now, Kim Jong-un is reminding everybody that he and the Chinese are relevant in the world and they may do an awful thing to us and there’s not a whole lot we could do about it, unfortunately.
Leibsohn: Brian, one of the things . . . Thank you for that laying out of the land, one of the things I have been astounded on whenever I read you or hear you speak on it, and I repeat it, it astounds audiences I talk to, is the relative low-level of cost it would take to have the kind of missile defense we need to have in this day and age. I mean, it would be something on the order, last time I looked at the numbers you were talking about, something like about one-fourth of the price of the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Education. People don’t realize how little money, given the stakes, we would need to do this. Can you lay that one out for us a little bit?
Kennedy: Yeah, sure, sure. Well, the good news about the cost of these things is that with modern technology and all sorts of scientific discoveries in other industries, we can now do it for much cheaper than we ever could have done it in the past.
Kennedy: A very sophisticated interceptor might only cost, again, the number is so small that people won’t hardly believe it, but, a couple million dollars. It may cost another million dollars to put them into space, you know, a space base kind of interceptor, but, in the kind of money the United States has to work with, it’s not a whole lot. We could put into space today, a very robust system. Robust, I mean, really could deal with almost any contingency, for probably $20 billion.
Leibsohn: Right, right.
Kennedy: Right? Today, we spend a little under $10 billion. Well, as a country, we spend $10 billion a year on pornography.
Leibsohn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kennedy: It’s not like the country could not afford this. We waste $10 billion in the U.S. government every week on something that need not be done. This is actually something we need and we’re just not getting it done. But, we actually have now, a new system.
Everyone understands what drones are, but, they have these drones today that can carry . . . They’re working on this, an actual set of four interceptors that could probably deal with North Korea and their problem. These things would cost, not in the billions, in the millions of dollars to produce. It could be done relatively quickly, if America committed to getting this done.
Chris Buskirk: Brian, it’s Chris, is there no one leading the charge in Congress? I mean, this is peanuts, to protect the American Homeland from the threat. I mean, if we spend a very, very small sum of money in the scheme of things to protect the United States, its citizens, its major cities, its infrastructure and on and on and on. The way we think about North Korea, I think, changes a little bit. Is there no one in congress who is advocating to actually do this?
Kennedy: Well, yes. I mean, there’s a great congressman named Trent Franks out of Arizona.
Buskirk: Out of Phoenix, right? I know him well.
Kennedy: Yeah, your state. I actually saw him this afternoon. He’s a brilliant guy who’s very committed to this. I think he’s going to be leading the charge, has been leading the charge, will be leading the charge to get this done. When we say this thing costs peanuts, that’s part of the problem.