Viewpoint: U.S., Hawaii must take N. Korean threat seriously

For more than 60 years, the South Korean people and their neighbors have lived many days in a state of war with a constant, real threat of a North Korean attack.

While its own people endure stark poverty, the North Korean regime has increasingly focused on its goal to destroy its real or perceived enemies, through increased military assets and capabilities, and a quickly escalating rhetoric of threats against the United States and our allies.

Now, these threats have become a reality for our Hawaii families. Some on the Mainland say that these empty threats are just saber-rattling by a far off tyrant, and that we shouldn’t be so concerned since Kim Jong-un’s missiles can’t reach the U.S. anyway. Meanwhile, along with Guam and Alaska, Hawaii families have been named as targets and placed in the cross hairs of this growing threat. Intelligence and previous missile launches have shown that Hawaii, Guam, and Alaska are within range of North Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. New information last week suggests that North Korea fueled and positioned two Musudan mobile missiles placed along its eastern coast.

We cannot be complacent. We in Hawaii know this to be true more than others – as we look back to Pearl Harbor in 1941, we saw what happened when people assumed that no country would be stupid enough to attack the United States.

We must take action to ensure that our families and assets are protected and defended.

As the leader of North Korea’s dictatorship, Kim Jong-un has attempted to consolidate and affirm his power by pursuing a “military first” doctrine, demonstrating a clear willingness to sacrifice the safety and needs of his people to advance an aggressive and unproductive agenda.

It is crucial for the United States, and Hawaii in particular, to take North Korea’s threats seriously. The actions of an unpredictable tyrant are just that – unpredictable, and increasingly aggressive.

In recent days, I have read deeply troubling reports from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency stating it believes with “moderate confidence” that North Korea has the ability to attach a nuclear bomb to its ballistic missiles, even if it’s reliability is questionable today.

Clearly, the carrot-and-stick approach we have taken with North Korea in the past has not deterred its nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, we now face a possible nuclear threat.

Now is the time to take action to prevent further provocations and to protect our families and our national assets. As North Korea continues to build its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, we must ensure we have the resources in place to defend against and prevent an attack.

In 2012, we spent $111.1 billion in Afghanistan alone, while only $9.7 billion was allocated for missile defense. Next year, the president’s proposed missile defense budget has actually been cut to $9.16 billion. Resources must be reallocated to deal with the threats and instability on the Korean peninsula.

Now is not the time to be cutting this budget. To the contrary, it should be increased so we can invest in the best technology possible to ensure the safety and security of our people.

This is not a threat that will go away. It is time we make comprehensive changes to our strategy and provide the resources necessary to execute this strategy. We need to carve a new path forward using diplomatic and military means to break this cycle of threats that has existed for far too long.

I will work with my colleagues and continue to push for strengthened resources to improve our missile defense capabilities in order to protect our families and our country.

* Tulsi Gabbard is the U.S. representative from the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Maui County.