Sunday, June 21, 2009

U.S. Prepares Missile Defense, Continues Shipping Interdictions

By John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The United States has deployed missile defense equipment to the Pacific amid reports alleging that North Korea has threatened to fire a ballistic missile toward Hawaii, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

"We're obviously watching the situation in the north, with respect to missile launches, very closely," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "And we do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile to the west, in the direction of Hawaii."

Gates has ordered the deployment of Theater High Altitude Area Defense missiles to Hawaii and the sea-based SBX Radar near the island state to provide support. "Based on my visit to Fort Greely, the ground-based interceptors are clearly in a position to take action," he added, referring to the Army launch site for anti-ballistic missiles near Fairbanks, Alaska.

"Without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say I think we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect American territory," the secretary said.

Meanwhile, Mullen reiterated the U.S. intent to adhere to a United Nations resolution allowing Americans to conduct permissive searches of North Korean vessels.

"We intend to vigorously enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874," Mullen said, noting that the United States has "hail and query" authority under Security Council guidelines, meaning American authorities can seek permission from the ship's crew to board and search its contents.

"If a vessel like this is queried and doesn't allow a permissive search, [the United States] can direct it to go into a port, and the country of that port would...inspect the vessel," Mullen said, noting that the resolution does not allow for an opposed or noncompliant boarding. The U.N. would be alerted in instances of North Korean vessels refusing searches or possessing weaponry in violation of resolution.

Asked about Pyongyang's stated stance that it would consider an interdiction of its vessels an act of war, Mullen underscored that the U.N. resolution represents an international commitment.

"It's not just the United States, it's a lot of other countries as well," he said. "And the north's steps to further isolate itself, to further noncomply with international guidance and regulations, in the long-run, puts them in a more difficult position."