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The sobering truth about the national security threats to a financially squeezed USA

The year 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for the United States as far as increased national security threats are concerned. No, I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m talking about the almost constant and ever increasing threats to U.S. national security from Iran, North Korea and China.

When you consider former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ words of wisdom that the U.S. has never “gotten it right” when it comes to predicting the next conflict, one thing’s for sure – the U.S. has to have the right national security strategy in place and it can’t afford to gamble.

In Iran, the Ahmadinejad regime is getting dangerously close to what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls the “Zone of Immunity,” meaning its underground uranium enrichment facility near Qum is becoming so impregnable that even the bust bunker buster munitions won’t faze it. 

The threat is not only Iran’s increasing nuclear capability, but its increasing missile launch capability. At the forefront of this threat is the Shahab missile. Upon close examination, the Shahab looks an awful lot like the North Korean Taepodong missile. 

Surprise, surprise.

As the Federation of American Scientists first pointed out in the late 1980s, Iran has been in bed with North Korea since the early 1980s and helped fund North Korea’s missile development. When we peal back the Shahab and Taepodong missiles even further, we see subcomponents having their origin in Chinese technology.

North Korea proliferation activities have been known for years, providing missile technology to countries like Iran and Syria in exchange for oil and cash. 

What is even more concerning today, however, is the increased risk of Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation. North Korea has developed enough fissile material for at least six plutonium based nuclear weapons. 

By all accounts, they also have a parallel uranium based nuclear weapons program. Now, there are credible reports that Burma/Myanmar is developing nuclear technology, with the assistance of North Korea.

Oh yes, and don’t forget North Korea’s Taepodong missile. 

Remember when Kim Jong Il was alive and North Korea conducted a missile test almost every few months? Most of those tests revolved around the Taepodong missile and Kim Jong Il’s plan to lessen its weight and extend its range. 

That’s why President Bush deployed missile interceptors to Ft. Greely, Alaska. Many experts now believe that North Korea will have a fully capable intercontinental ballistic missile within 5 years. The threat of a Taepodong or Shahab missile equipped with a nuclear warhead is a very real threat to the U.S. and our allies.

Let’s not forget China -- the folks who provided some of the missile technology to the North Koreans in the first place. 

These days, the Chinese, in addition to increasing its military and engaging in constant shenanigans in the South China Sea, are focusing most of its efforts on cyber warfare. When the Pentagon or other U.S. Government agencies aren’t being attacked by China’s cyber assault, defense and security industry in the United States working on classified programs are.

So what’s our national defense strategy and President Obama’s response to these ever increasing threats?

Last month, President Obama and Secretary Panetta laid out a total of $489 billion in defense cuts over ten years and acknowledged that the United States would no longer be able to fight two regional conflicts simultaneously. 

Looming on the horizon is the very real possibility of an additional $500-600 billion in cuts resulting from the Super Committee's failure (sequestration) being added on top of the $489 billion, resulting in a disastrous impact on U.S. national security. 

If these additional cuts go through, I doubt seriously whether the United States would be able to fight even one MRC successfully.

The administration did announce the launch of a new Asia-Pacific strategy to deal with increased threats in the region. I agree we need to focus more on cyber security and engage more allies like Australia and Singapore. However, decreasing ship building, as well as Naval fleet size, sends a message that we aren’t really serious about an Asia-Pacific strategy.

In fairness, Secretary Panetta has been right on the money when it comes to the real threat to U.S. national security if the sequestration cuts happen. 

Secretary Panetta has noted that under sequestration, the U.S. would have the smallest ground forces since 1940, a fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915 and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.

There’s only one problem, President Obama said that he has only one legislative priority this year – the payroll extension tax cuts. President Obama needs to listen to his Secretary of Defense and add the $500 billion dollars in mandatory defense cuts to his legislative agenda.

I’m all for cutting waste and fat out of the defense budget and do believe strategic cuts can be made. However, when you combine the $489 billion in defense cuts, together with the mandatory sequestration cuts, we are no longer cutting just fat – we are cutting muscle and bone.

The primary reason the states came together to form the federal government was to “provide for the common defense.” It is imperative in 2012 that America maintain the capability to adequately provide for the national security of the American people. 

This is not the time to begin the return to 1979. -- That was the year we had planes that couldn’t fly, tanks that wouldn’t run, Special Forces teams that couldn’t rescue, and vast shortages of equipment and spare parts. 

This is the time to do what it takes to keep America strong.

Van D. Hipp Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and will be speaking on National Defense at CPAC 2012. Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and currently serves on Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union and The National Capitol Board of The Salvation Army. Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.