Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates refused to grant permission to U.S. Northern Command to use the nation’s most powerful sea-based radar to monitor North Korea’s recent missile launch. Why is this significant? Because the $900 million dollar system, known as SBX, is capable of detecting a baseball hit out of a ballpark from more than 3,000 miles away and provides unparalleled details of missile capabilities. The system is three to four times more powerful than all other radars in the missile defense inventory. If any system should have been used to monitor the launch it is SBX.

One explanation for Gates’ lapse in judgment is that the Administration was worried the repositioning of the floating radar system would be seen as provocative by North Korea and upset diplomatic efforts. Funnily enough, talks with North Korea are unlikely to start again any time soon. In fact, after the U.N’s condemnation of the launch North Korea stated they would never participate in nuclear talks. Nuclear talks with North Korea are unrealistic and being used as an excuse for inaction. Right now the U.S. needs to focus on protecting its citizens and allies from a missile attack.

The threat of North Korea is apparent to many in the Department of Defense, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the powers that be. In fact some confusion seems to exist in the Administration’s position on North Korea. North Korea’s launch demonstrated their desire to reach ever longer distances across the planet. Yet, the Administration deferred to the U.N. on the matter. The launch directly impacts U.S. national security. It’s hard to miss the writing on the wall.

It is vital for the United States to collect as much information as possible on North Korea’s missile capabilities. The last thing the U.S. needs is to be caught by surprise because it didn’t use technology already available. Once again, missile defense must be a top priority for the Administration. It is far better to be unpopular and choose missile defense than to ignore the threat and have to apologize for thousands of dead citizens. This is the tough reality of the situation.