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Missile site

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North Korea’s saber-rattling has caused President Obama to reverse his first-administration hold on a missile-defense system and move ahead with a plan to spend $1 billion that could establish a missile site at Fort Drum in the next few years.

In response to rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States would deploy 14 ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska, which already has 26 interceptors. Four more are based at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The administration will also install a second advanced radar system in Japan that can track a North Korean missile launch.

Defense officials believe the North has missiles capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii, although it is not yet capable of striking the continental United States. The North is not believed to have the capability of mounting nuclear warheads on the missiles.

The administration’s response is well justified by the escalating threat. Last month, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of international protests ahead of the testing. It has also displayed what appear to be mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that would be hard to strike given their mobility.

A bellicose sounding North Korean President Kim Jong-un recently threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States and nullified the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. The Korean border is one of the most heavily fortified in the world. There are 28,500 American troops in South Korea who could come under immediate attack from Pyongyang.

Secretary Hagel also boosted plans for a third missile site to deter against Korean and Iranian aggression.

Mr. Hagel threw his support behind environmental impact studies for a third interceptor site. Officials are looking at one possibility on the West Coast and two East Coast locations.

One of them should be Fort Drum, which would be a logical choice given Defense plans to construct a data terminal complex at the post that would relay information to California and Alaska on incoming missiles. The terminal would be operational by 2015.

A missile site at Fort Drum would enhance its role and help to secure its place in the nation’s defense. The missile defense system would also bring well-paying, high-tech jobs needed to staff and maintain the system.

It is incumbent now on local leaders to join with the state’s congressional delegation to ensure that Fort Drum is included in the study and receives a full and fair evaluation of its capability to support a missile interceptor system.

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