Tillerson: No ‘Strategic Patience’ With North Korea, Maybe War

On his way to China, Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, stopped off in South Korea.

During a visit to the demilitarized border, Tillerson dissed the Obama administration. He said its policy of “strategic patience” has run its course and all “all of the options are on the table.”

Tillerson said “obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that would be met with (an) appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table.”

Trump sent out a tweet to underscore the new policy. He went so far as to take a swipe at China, already irritated by the US position on its activity in the South China Sea.

It looks like the Trump administration is dead serious about starting a war with North Korea if it continues to build and test missiles and nukes.

Although it is probably unlikely Trump will be able to start a war with North Korea—additional draconian sanctions seem more likely—the residents of Seoul, 35 miles from the border, might want to prepare a go-bag. North Korea has tens of thousands of missiles aimed at them. (For more from the author of “Tillerson: No ‘Strategic Patience’ With North Korea, Maybe War” please click HERE)

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North Korea, Malaysia Ban Each Other’s Citizens From Leaving

North Korea barred Malaysians from exiting its borders and Malaysia followed suit Tuesday, turning ordinary citizens into pawns in the diplomatic battle surrounding the investigation into the bizarre death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother.

The tit-for-tat directives come as relations between the two countries disintegrate over the poisoning of Kim Jong Nam in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13.

“This is way out of normal diplomatic practice,” Lalit Mansingh, a New Delhi-based scholar and longtime top Indian diplomat, said of North Korea’s decision. He could not recall anything similar in recent years, where so many everyday citizens were pulled into a diplomatic standoff. (Read more from “North Korea, Malaysia Ban Each Other’s Citizens From Leaving” HERE)

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Mystery Deepens in North Korea Princeling Assassination

What do we really know about the sudden death of an exiled North Korean princeling? Aside from heated media speculation and an instant “it’s-gotta-be-Pyongyang” reaction from Seoul’s spy agency, not much.

As the investigation continues, the mystery of just what happened to the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he waited for a flight in a Malaysian airport only deepens. Was Kim Jong Nam poisoned? Are the two female suspects trained killers or dupes? How can we be sure that North Korea, which seems the obvious culprit, was even involved?

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service — no friend to Pyongyang — and eager reporters across Asia have assembled a dramatic, almost cinematic profile of the last hour of Kim’s life. But there’s still a surfeit of unanswered questions. (Read more from “Mystery Deepens in North Korea Princeling Assassination” HERE)

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North Korea Suspected Behind Murder of Leader’s Half-Brother: U.S. Sources

The U.S. government strongly believes that North Korean agents murdered the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia, U.S. government sources said on Tuesday.

American authorities have not yet determined exactly how Kim Jong Nam was killed, according to two sources, who did not provide specific evidence to support the U.S. government’s view.

A South Korean government source also had said that Kim Jong Nam had been murdered in Malaysia. He did not provide further details.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country’s intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

In Washington, there was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Trump administration, which faces a stiff challenge from a defiant North Korea over its nuclear arms program and the test of a ballistic missile last weekend. (Read more from “North Korea Suspected Behind Murder of Leader’s Half-Brother: U.S. Sources” HERE)

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North Korea Tests a Missile, and Donald Trump

Pyongyang launched another ballistic missile on Saturday, raising tensions and pushing itself to the top of the Trump administration’s policy agenda.

Preliminary reports indicate the missile flew approximately 300 miles, but it is unclear what the missile type was or whether the launch was a success of failure. But, it doesn’t appear to have been the initial test flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang had vowed to launch “anywhere, anytime.”

Last year, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and 24 ballistic missile tests, its most extensive year of testing. Pyongyang had not tested a missile since October, leading to speculation that the regime’s restraint was to not give the advantage to conservative candidates during a forthcoming South Korean presidential election or to wait until the Trump administration had completed its North Korea policy review.

In 2009, North Korea conducted a long-range missile test and a nuclear test as the Obama administration was formulating its own policy toward Pyongyang.

During my meetings in Seoul this week, all senior U.S. and South Korean officials expected a missile launch wouldn’t occur for several more months. It is unclear why Pyongyang abandoned its testing hiatus or chose to do so while President Donald Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In any case, the launch will undermine those in the U.S. and South Korea advocating resumption of long-stalled negotiations to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The increasing North Korean threat has aggravated long-standing allied concerns of U.S. abandonment exacerbated by perceptions of diminished U.S. military capabilities and resolve during the Obama administration and comments made by Trump during the campaign suggesting conditionality of U.S. troop presence in Asia.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ trip to Seoul and Tokyo last week assuaged much of the allied concerns, though as one senior South Korea official commented, “the concerns are gone, but anxiety remains.”

In recent months, there have been growing South Korean fears of a decoupled alliance in which the U.S. “wouldn’t trade Los Angeles for Seoul” once North Korea demonstrates an unambiguous capability to threaten the continental U.S. with nuclear ICBMs.

This has led to greater advocacy in South Korea for a range of military options, including the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn in the 1990s, development of an indigenous South Korean nuclear program, and greater reliance on preemption strategies.

The Trump administration should build on the positive momentum generated from its recent affirmation of its “ironclad commitment” to defend South Korea and Japan by closely coordinating on an allied response.

The launch is yet another violation of United Nations resolutions prohibiting any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology and the allies should press Beijing for further restrictions on North Korea financial activity, most notably coal exports to China.

Given Chinese foot-dragging on fully implementing required U.N. resolution sanctions, the Trump administration should go beyond the timid incrementalism of the Obama administration by more vigorously enforcing U.S. laws against North Korean transgressions.

While President Barack Obama talked a good game on sanctions, his administration pulled its punches, sanctioning a limited number of entities while holding other actions in abeyance until the next North Korean provocation. Obama’s most significant actions against the regime last year were the result of requirements contained in Congress’ North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act.

The Trump administration should use the extensive authorities already contained in existing legislation and executive orders to impose targeted financial measures against a broader array of North Korean entities. Just as importantly, the U.S. should end its self-imposed restraint against third-party sanctions against Chinese entities facilitating North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Washington should also consult with Seoul to accelerate the planned deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) ballistic missile defense system to South Korea.

Both governments have agreed to the deployment but it is not scheduled to occur until later this year. North Korea’s resumption of missile tests shows the need to more quickly augment allied defenses.

The U.S. and South Korea should continue the planned annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises which begin in early March. Washington should reassure our allies by including U.S. strategic assets, such as B-52 and B-2 bombers as well as dual-capable aircraft and nuclear naval vessels.

However, the allies should tone down public messaging about “decapitation attacks” and preemptive strikes that are potentially destabilizing and could lead either side to misinterpret the other’s intentions, fueling tension and raising the risk of miscalculation.

Responding to the growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats is like a military version of playing “whack-a-mole.” Unlike the arcade game, however, in the real world there is the very real danger that the mole will whack back. (For more from the author of “North Korea Tests a Missile, and Donald Trump” please click HERE)

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‘EFFECTIVE’ RESPONSE: Mattis Warns North Korea Against Nuclear Weapons Attack on US, Allies

In an explicit warning to North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday said any use of nuclear weapons by the North on the United States or its allies would be met with what he called an “effective and overwhelming” response . . .

“North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons program, and engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior,” Mattis said with Han standing at his side and U.S. and South Korean flags at their backs.

“We stand with our peace-loving Republic of Korea ally to maintain stability on the peninsula and in the region,” he added. “America’s commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad: Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.” (Read more from “‘EFFECTIVE’ RESPONSE: Mattis Warns North Korea Against Nuclear Weapons Attack on US, Allies” HERE)

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North Korea: Cold War Relic, Present Day Threat

You can kick the can down the road, but when Kim Jong Un announces, as he did last Sunday, that “we have reached the final stage in preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic rocket,” you are reaching the end of that road.

Since the early 1990s, we have offered every kind of inducement to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program. All failed miserably. Pyongyang managed to extort money, food, oil and commercial nuclear reactors in exchange. But it was all a swindle. North Korea was never going to give up its nukes because it sees them as the ultimate guarantee of regime survival.

The North Koreans believe that nukes confer inviolability. Saddam Hussein was invaded and deposed before he could acquire them. Kim won’t let that happen to him. That’s why Thae Yong Ho, a recent high-level defector, insisted, “As long as Kim Jong Un is in power, North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons, even if it’s offered $1 trillion or $10 trillion in rewards.”

Meanwhile, they have advanced. They’ve already exploded a handful of nuclear bombs. And they’ve twice successfully launched satellites, which means they have the ICBM essentials. If they can miniaturize their weapons to fit on top of the rocket and control re-entry, they’ll be able to push a button in Pyongyang and wipe out an American city. (Read more from “North Korea: Cold War Relic, Present Day Threat” HERE)

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Has North Korea Reopened an Old Prison Camp?

Recent satellite images reveal that a North Korean political prison camp, former Camp 18, may have been reopened.

It is unclear when and why this may have happened. The time lag in obtaining detailed information from North Korea means this could be somewhat dated information. But even the possibility that the camp has reopened raises red flags—political prison camps in North Korea have been home to some of the most egregious human rights violations in modern times.

Camp 18, also known as Pukchang political prison camp, was approximately 28 square miles and could hold roughly 27,000 prisoners. It used to be one of the five biggest political prison camps in North Korea. Camp 18 was situated just across the Taedong River from Camp 14, a similar prison camp. Combined, the two camps held an approximate total of 50,000 political prisoners and their families.

Camp 18 was supposedly shut down sometime around 2006. But since 2011, satellite imagery has shown substantial housing growth in the area.

Recent imagery from Google Earth provides evidence that the camp has in fact been reopened. Images show that a substantial number of houses have been razed and a new security perimeter with guard barracks has been built. ”Immortality Tower,” a statue dedicated to North Korea’s founding dictator Kim Il-Sung, had long been an essential element of the residential area, but it has now been removed.

All of this points to the likelihood that either Camp 18 has been reopened, or Camp 14 is expanding.

North Korea has long denied the existence of political prison camps in the country, but various reports on North Korea have confirmed they indeed exist and have been the focus of grave human rights abuses.

In 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (COI) released a report describing “unspeakable atrocities” being committed in North Korea. It attests that the North Korean regime is responsible for crimes such as “deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.”

The North Korean government uses political prison camps as a means of keeping the North Korean people in check, often sending as many as three family generations to the camps for committing alleged crimes against the state.

Since the release of the COI report, the international community—including the United States—has admonished North Korea to “dismantle” its prison camps and release political prisoners. Yet, according to analysis by Amnesty International, Pyongyang “is continuing to maintain, and even invest, in these repressive facilities.” Other new satellite imagery verifies this, confirming “the sustained, if not increased importance of the use of forced labor under Kim Jong-un.”

The United States took a positive step forward in 2016 by sanctioning North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and other known human rights violators in North Korea, but much more can and should be done. The issue of prison camps must be addressed as both a strategic and humanitarian consideration. The U.S. and the international community should develop a feasible plan to hold North Korea accountable for crimes against humanity. (For more from the author of “Has North Korea Reopened an Old Prison Camp?” please click HERE)

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North Korean Sub-Launched Missiles Threaten US Allies

North Korea conducted its most successful test launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Tuesday. The missile traveled 500 kilometers (300 miles), a considerable improvement over the 30-km range of the previous launch, and landed within Japan’s air defense identification zone.

South Korean military officials report that North Korea used an unusual 500-km high trajectory so as not to penetrate the Japanese air defense zone further. If launched on a regular 150-km high trajectory, the submarine-launched missile might have traveled over 1,000 km.

After the unsuccessful missile test earlier this year, the South Korean ministry of defense assessed it would take North Korea three to four years before deploying a submarine ballistic missile force. However, after yesterday’s test, some South Korean military authorities warn deployment potentially could occur within a year.

South Korea does not currently have defenses against submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The SM-2 missile currently deployed on South Korean destroyers only provides protection against anti-ship missiles. South Korea has recently expressed interest in the U.S.-developed SM-3 or SM-6 ship-borne systems to provide anti-submarine launched missile defense.

Some experts are dismissive of a submarine-based ballistic missile threat based on the perception that North Korea’s old and noisy submarines would be easy to detect. However, in 2010, a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan in South Korean waters. In August 2015, 50 North Korean submarines—70 percent of the fleet—left port and disappeared despite allied monitoring efforts.

Despite post-Cheonan efforts, South Korean anti-submarine warfare capabilities remain an area of concern for allied military planners. A strong anti-submarine capability is not only critical for homeland defense but also for protecting sea lines of communication during a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. During a Korean conflict, the South Korean navy could have a critical mission to protect U.S. carrier groups deployed near the peninsula by engaging North Korean submarines.

Expanding Missile Threat

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pushing forward rapidly on both nuclear and missile fronts. In addition to submarine missile launches, this year he has successfully tested a nuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile, a road-mobile intermediate-range missile as well as medium- and short-range missiles, re-entry vehicle technology, a new solid-fuel rocket engine, and an improved liquid-fuel ICBM engine. During Kim’s four-year reign, Pyongyang has conducted 34 missile tests, more than twice as many as his father Kim Jong Il did in 17 years in office.

In June, North Korea successfully tested a Musudan intermediate-range missile, which led experts to conclude the regime currently has the ability to threaten U.S. bases in Guam, a critical node in allied plans for defending South Korea. Successful No Dong medium-range missile tests were conducted in July and August, accompanied by North Korean statements that they were practice drills for preemptive nuclear attacks on South Korea and U.S. forces based there.

A North Korean media-released photo showed the missile range would encompass all of South Korea, including the port of Busan where U.S. reinforcement forces would land. Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, stated that North Korea is capable of putting a nuclear warhead on the No Dong medium-range ballistic missile that can reach all of South Korea and Japan.

In March, Kim Jong Un observed another missile launch simulating a nuclear missile attack on South Korean targets. The regime declared those launches were “a sea port of debarkation ballistic missile test [conducted] under the simulated conditions of exploding nuclear warheads from the preset altitude above targets in the ports under the enemy control where foreign aggressor forces are involved.”

In February, North Korea again used a Taepo Dong missile to put a satellite into orbit, the same technology needed to launch an ICBM nuclear warhead. Assessments indicate that the satellite was approximately 450 pounds, twice as heavy a payload as the previous successful satellite launch in Dec. 2012, and that the missile may have a range of 13,000 km, putting the entire continental United States within range.

Defending Allied Security

The accelerated pace of North Korean nuclear and missile tests reflect Kim’s intent to deploy a spectrum of missile systems of complementary ranges to threaten the U.S. and its allies with nuclear weapons. Kim affirmed at the National Party Congress in May—the first held in 36 years—that North Korea will never negotiate away its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and South Korea should:

Deploy the THAAD ballistic missile defense system. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is more capable than any system that South Korea has or would have for decades to defend against North Korean land-based missiles.

Refute fallacious Chinese arguments against THAAD. Beijing asserted that THAAD deployment would impinge on its security interests. However, a careful analysis of THAAD interceptor and radar capabilities and Chinese missile deployment sites reveal Chinese technical objections are disingenuous. Beijing’s true objective is preventing improvement in allied defensive capabilities and multilateral cooperation.

Demonstrate THAAD radar is not a health threat. South Korean critics of THAAD deployment claim fears of radiation risks from the X-band radar, saying it would kill bees and irradiate melons. Independent South Korean measurements show the levels of electromagnetic waves emanating from the radar are at an intensity far safer than required by Korean law.

Deploy sea-based ballistic missile defense against the submarine missile threat. The THAAD system is not designed to counter SLBM threats. The X-band radar can only detect missiles in an approximate 90-degree arc, which would be directed toward North Korea, not the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, Washington and Seoul should discuss deployment of SM-3 or SM-6 missiles on South Korean naval ships.

Augment allied anti-submarine warfare capabilities. North Korea’s apparent ability to evade allied submarine detection systems is worrisome. Washington should facilitate South Korean collection and analysis capabilities and linkage with U.S. naval intelligence. Seoul requires wide-area ocean-surveillance capability, for both coastal defense and blue-water operations.

North Korea continues its relentless quest to augment and refine its nuclear weapons arsenal and missile delivery capabilities. The international community should maintain a comprehensive effort of augmented sanctions for North Korea’s repeated violations of U.N. resolutions and international law.

But the U.S. and its allies must implement measures to defend themselves against the spectrum of North Korea’s military threats. Ballistic missile defense is an important part of the broader strategy of strong alliances, forward-deployed U.S. military forces in the Pacific, and devoting sufficient resources to the U.S. defense budget. (For more from the author of “North Korean Sub-Launched Missiles Threaten US Allies” please click HERE)

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N. Korea: US Has Crossed Red Line, Relations on War Footing

North Korea’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs told The Associated Press on Thursday that Washington “crossed the red line” and effectively declared war by putting leader Kim Jong Un on its list of sanctioned individuals, and said a vicious showdown could erupt if the U.S. and South Korea hold annual war games as planned next month.

Han Song Ryol, director-general of the U.S. affairs department at the North’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview that recent U.S. actions have put the situation on the Korean Peninsula on a war footing.

The United States and South Korea regularly conduct joint military exercises south of the Demilitarized Zone, and Pyongyang typically responds to them with tough talk and threats of retaliation. (Read more from “N. Korea: US Has Crossed Red Line, Relations on War Footing” HERE)

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