Archive for September 4, 2017

North Korea Nuclear Progress Puts Iran on Renewed Pathway to Bomb

September 4, 2017

North Korea Nuclear Progress Puts Iran on Renewed Pathway to Bomb, Washington Free Beacon, September 4, 2017

North Korea’s intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 lifts off / Getty Images

Iran and North Korea have been sharing nuclear materials and know-how for well over a decade, according to sensitive intelligence community communications published by WikiLeaks and dating as far back as 2009.

The Obama administration took little action during its time in office to thwart this growing alliance, leading to increased nuclear ties between Iran and North Korea, multiple sources said.

In order to comply with the nuclear agreement, Iran outsourced much of its nuclear technology to North Korea, according to multiple sources, who pointed to evidence of a key 2015 meeting between the two countries surrounding the nuclear portfolio.

“Thanks to the Obama-Khamenei nuclear deal, Iran is flush with cash and has the capacity to be a willing buyer for nuclear material,” DeSantis said. “This represents a major threat to the United States and should be taken seriously.”

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U.S. officials are closely monitoring an ongoing meeting between senior North Korean and Iranian officials that comes on the heels of a nuclear test by Pyongyang, according to senior Trump administration officials and other sources who expressed concern that North Korea is helping to put the Islamic Republic back on the pathway to a functional nuclear weapon.

Sources told the Washington Free Beacon that Pyongyang continues to stockpile illicit nuclear material on Iran’s behalf in order to help the Islamic Republic skirt restrictions implemented under the landmark nuclear deal.

North Korea’s latest nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb has roiled Trump administration officials and led President Donald Trump to consider multiple options for war. However, it also has renewed fears among U.S. officials and foreign policy insiders about Pyongyang’s long-standing relationship with Iran, which centers on providing the Islamic Republic with nuclear technology and know-how.

The head of North Korea’s parliament arrived this weekend in Iran for a 10-day visit aimed at boosting ties between the two countries amid an international crackdown on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, a situation U.S. officials tell the Free Beacon is being closely monitored.

As North Korea makes progress in its nuclear pursuits, it is likely this information is being shared with senior Iranian officials who continue to maintain and build upon the country’s weapons program, despite the nuclear agreement, which only limits a portion of Iran’s nuclear enrichment and research abilities.

One senior U.S. official currently handling the Iranian and North Korean nuclear portfolios told the Free Beacon that the collaboration between these two countries is being closely monitored by the Trump administration, which will not hesitate to take action to disrupt this relationship.

“The history of collaboration between North Korea and Iran has been an ongoing concern and needs to be watched closely,” the official told the Free Beacon. “We’ve been laboring under the false assumption that these oppressive regimes are rational and that we can persuade them to act for the greater good. President Trump has made it clear those days are at an end, and that the United States will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from turning into another North Korea.”

Iran and North Korea have long collaborated on their missile programs and nuclear technology, and the U.S. intelligence community continues to monitor ongoing efforts by the two countries to boost cooperation.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s parliament, reportedly arrived in Iran on Thursday for a high-profile meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that is likely to center around Tehran’s quest for technology and North Korea’s need for hard currency and financial assets.

Iran has been flush with cash and other financial assets since the nuclear agreement lifted international sanctions and opened the Islamic Republic to new business ties.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the National Security Subcommittee, told the Free Beacon that the increased ties are cause for concern, particularly in light of Iran’s renewed economic success.

“Given that Kim Jong Un is a plump, immature kid who only rules because of accident of birth, it is not clear that he can, through traditional means, be deterred from commencing an attack against the United States using his nuclear arsenal,” DeSantis told the Free Beacon. “What is completely clear is that Kim is willing to transfer nuclear technology to, and assist with nuclear development for, rogue regimes such as Iran.”

“Thanks to the Obama-Khamenei nuclear deal, Iran is flush with cash and has the capacity to be a willing buyer for nuclear material,” DeSantis said. “This represents a major threat to the United States and should be taken seriously.”

North Korea’s latest nuclear test has sparked a fierce war of words with the Trump administration, which announced on Monday that it is considering a range of military options.

United Nation’s Ambassador Nikki Halley said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “begging for war” and urged the U.N.’s Security Council to consider a strong response.

“Enough is enough,” Haley was quoted as saying. “War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited.”

Israeli officials also have warned that North Korea’s latest test is a boon to Iran’s own nuclear program.

“The international response, led by the U.S., to the North Korean regime’s provocations, sheds light on how it will behave toward the Iranian regime on their nuclear efforts in the near future,” Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israeli defense minister, tweeted. “Although the nuclear test is not our issue, the tension should concern us.”

Iran and North Korea have been sharing nuclear materials and know-how for well over a decade, according to sensitive intelligence community communications published by WikiLeaks and dating as far back as 2009.

The Obama administration took little action during its time in office to thwart this growing alliance, leading to increased nuclear ties between Iran and North Korea, multiple sources said.

In order to comply with the nuclear agreement, Iran outsourced much of its nuclear technology to North Korea, according to multiple sources, who pointed to evidence of a key 2015 meeting between the two countries surrounding the nuclear portfolio.

Iran also has opened ballistic missile factories in Syria with the help of Russia and North Korea, according to regional reports.

“North Korea and Iran’s military and political ties are long-standing, and can be traced back to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the same time that Tehran developed an interest in nuclear and missile technology,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“North Korea’s provision of the Nodong-A liquid fueled medium-range ballistic missile to Iran in the 1990s enabled the mullahs to make significant strides in the missile program and eventually even their satellite launch-vehicle technology,” Ben Taleblu explained.

“While some may see the long-standing missile relationship as merely evidence of the two countries’ interest in conventional munitions, these missiles are capable of carrying nuclear payloads, and offer both rogues the ultimate deterrent weapon with which to ensure regime survival,” he said.

Iranian officials and scientists have been spotted at several of North Korea’s key nuclear test, fueling speculation that the two countries are in close contact on the issue.

“What is almost certain, however, is the following: both in the post- and pre-JCPOA [or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran deal] era, the two closely watched how each one negotiated with the international community, what deals it struck, the lies that worked and didn’t work, and where and how it could supplement resolve for material capability,” Ben Taleblu said.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, further told the Free Beaconthat it is suspected North Korean officials played a role in helping Iran recently test fire a series of ballistic missiles, which sparked international outrage and accusations the Islamic Republic is violating legally binding bans on such behavior.

“For those who want to deny the links between Pyongyang and Tehran, it’s easy so long as they ignore their military, diplomatic, and economic ties,” Rubin said. “It’s doubtful there has been a single Iranian missile test where North Korean scientists weren’t present, nor a North Korean test where Iranian scientists didn’t have a front row seat.”

One veteran congressional foreign policy adviser who works on the Iran portfolio told the Free Beacon that efforts to promote a new North Korean nuclear deal in the same vein as the Iran agreement are fruitless, and would only strengthen Pyongyang’s appetite to publicly test its nuclear weaponry.

“The same people who sold the Iran deal are now trying to sell what they call an ‘Iran deal for North Korea,'” the source said. “It’s the same groups, the same people, and the same playbook. Up until this weekend’s nuclear test, they were telling journalists that diplomacy has time to work, that North Korea is still years away from an H-Bomb, and—of course—that additional pressure would lead to war.”

“Now, all at once, their narratives about Iran and North Korea are both colliding with reality,” the source added. “The cost for American national security is staggering.”

Rubin went on to describe the North Korean stand-off as a glimpse into future situations with Iran.

“North Korea is a crystal ball into the future of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and the current diplomatic behavior in which there will be no support for inspections, which risk finding Iran in violation and imperiling the agreement, fits the pattern to a ‘T,'” Rubin said. “In addition, one of the biggest holes to which the Obama administration agreed was not recognizing that Iranian nuclear work doesn’t necessarily take place in Iran.”

South Korea, U.S. to scrap warhead weight limit on South Korean missiles: Blue House

September 4, 2017

South Korea, U.S. to scrap warhead weight limit on South Korean missiles: Blue House, ReutersChristine Kim, September 4, 2017

South Korea said earlier in the day it was talking to the United States about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula after signs North Korea might launch more missiles.

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SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump agreed on Monday to scrap a warhead weight limit on South Korea’s missiles in the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, South Korea’s presidential office said.

In a separate phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin also on Monday, Moon said the U.N. Security Council should seek ways to sever North Korea’s foreign currency income, including from its workers employed abroad and oil shipments.

Under the existing missile pact between the United States and South Korea, Seoul’s warheads currently face a cap of 500 kg (1100 lb).

The agreement, last amended in 2012, was in the process of being changed in the wake of a series of missile tests by North Korea this year after Moon took office in May, including two intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

An unlimited warhead weight allowance would enable the South to strike North Korea with greater force in the event of a military conflict.

The missiles would still be bound by a flight range cap of 800 km. No changes to the flight range were mentioned in the Blue House statement.

The two presidents made the decision in a phone call, a statement from the Blue House said. They also agreed to apply the strongest sanctions and pressure on North Korea through the United Nations.

Most analysts and policymakers agree cutting off the oil pipeline to North Korea would hurt its economy. It remains to be seen whether China, the North’s biggest ally and trade partner, would cooperate.

South Korea said earlier in the day it was talking to the United States about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula after signs North Korea might launch more missiles.

 

Ex-Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Will Be Watching How World Reacts to North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations

September 4, 2017

Ex-Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Will Be Watching How World Reacts to North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations, AlgemeinerBarney Breen-Portnoy, September 3, 2017

(Another good reason for America to take prompt and decisive military action rather than merely sitting around at the UN and talking. — DM)

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Twitter.

Iran will be watching how the world reacts to North Korea’s latest nuclear test, a former Israeli defense minister said on Sunday.

Following the news that Pyongyang had detonated what it claimed to be an advanced hydrogen bomb that could be put on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Moshe Ya’alon — a retired IDF lieutenant general who now heads the Manhigut Aheret NGO — tweeted, “The response of the international system, led by the US, to the North Korean regime’s provocations will be reflected in the Iranian regime’s behavior on the nuclear issue in the near future.”

“Although the nuclear test is not our concern, the tension should worry us,” Ya’alon continued.

תגובת המערכת הבינ״ל בהובלת ארה״ב להתגרויות המשטר הצפון קוריאני, תקרין על התנהלות המשטר האיראני בנושא הגרעין בעתיד הקרוב. 1/2

תגובת המערכת הבינ״ל בהובלת ארה״ב להתגרויות המשטר הצפון קוריאני, תקרין על התנהלות המשטר האיראני בנושא הגרעין בעתיד הקרוב. 1/2

למרות שהניסוי הגרעיני הוא לא מענייננו, המתיחות צריכה להדאיג אותנו. 2/2

In a March interview with The Algemeiner, proliferation expert David Albright said that paying attention to any potential nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran should be a priority for the Trump administration.

USA vs North Korea: This is the US military arsenal poised to WIPE OUT Kim’s threat

September 4, 2017

USA vs North Korea: This is the US military arsenal poised to WIPE OUT Kim’s threat, Express [UK]Will Kirby, September 4, 2017

[French] Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned a nuclear strike on Europe was possible and said a world war could erupt in months.

He said: “The situation is extremely serious… we see North Korea setting itself as an objective to have, tomorrow or the day after, missiles that can transport nuclear weapons.

“In a few months that will be a reality.”

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After ’s UN envoy said the country would never bow down to international pressure and give up its nuclear weapons program, diplomatic means of addressing the hostilities appear to have been sidelined in favour of military action.

’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley and the President himself have said “the time for talk is over”, despite China, Russia, and other members of the US administration claiming dialogue remains the main aim.

The US military has a huge presence in the area around North Korea, particularly in Japan and increasingly close allies South Korea.

There are almost 40,000 US troops serving in Japan, more than in any other country, and earlier this year the US Air Force lined up a huge array of helicopters, tactical fighter jets and surveillance aircraft in a show of force aimed to intimidate Kim Jong-un.

Among the aircraft were HH-60 Pave Hawks, a twin-turboshaft helicopter primarily used for the insertion and rescue of special operation personnel.

The aircraft’s versatility makes it incredibly useful in other operations too, including civilian rescue and disaster relief.

The F-15 Eagles, America’s twin-engine, all-weather tactile fighter jets, are also stationed in the region and are among the most successful modern fighters, with over 100 victories and no losses in aerial combat.

Also headquartered in Japan is the Seventh Fleet, the largest of the US navy’s deployed sea forces.

The flagship carrier is the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier that forms part of “the most effective and agile fighting force in the world”.

Two US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers fly from Guam escorted by a pair of Japanese F-15 fighter jets. REUTERS

Also in the fleet are up to 14 destroyers and cruisers at any given time, some armed with ballistic missile interceptors.

A collection of long-range Tomahawk land missiles, which made headlines earlier this year when President Trump fired 59 of them at an airbase in Syria, joins the arsenal.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are also 12 nuclear-powered submarines available should war break out.

South of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the US has 23,468 troops at 83 different sites as well as hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, meaning there is always a heavy military presence should North Korea decide to launch a land attack.

There is also the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which, despite criticism from Beijing and Pyongyang, is ready and waiting to intercept missiles and destroy the incoming projectiles while in mid-flight.

Guam, the US territory that Kim Jong-un has threatened to fire four ballistic missiles towards, is also host to a huge military presence.

Much of the island is controlled by the armed forces and the Andersen air base hosts a range of bombers, resulting in Guam being dubbed a “permanent aircraft carrier”.

Among the aircraft at the base are B-1B bombers, B-52 bombers and F-35B stealth fighters, some of the US Air Force’s most impressive jets.

The revered B-52 bomber is capable of carrying more than 30 tonnes of weapons. GETTY

The B-1B bomber is heralded for its survivability and although initially designed to carry nuclear arms, it was converted to carry more conventional weaponry after the Cold War.

The US is believed to have at least six B-1B bombers stationed in Guam and is best suited to a ‘medium threat environment’, rather than a heavily defended airspace.

Speaking about plans for a possible preemptive strike on North Korea earlier this month, retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News: “The B-1b has also been selected because it has the added benefit of not being able to carry nuclear weapons.

“Military planners think that will signal China, Russia, and Pyongyang that the US is not trying to escalate an already bad situation any further.”

The B-52 was first introduced in 1955 and was originally designed to carry nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It remains one of the most superior aircraft in the US Air Force.

The long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber is capable of carrying more than 30 tons of weapons. The aircraft’s fearsome appearance and reputation has resulted in the nickname BUFF, which stands for Big Ugly Fat F*****.

The US also maintains a smaller presence in other countries in the region, including Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. US military aircraft use Thai runways while the US Navy will operate four warships out of Singapore by next year.

Tensions have been stepped across the region over recent days following North Korea firing a test missile over Japan.

The provocative action saw South Korea and US forces drop bombs on the border of the hermit state.

Earlier today France warned the situation was “extremely serious”.

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned a nuclear strike on Europe was possible and said a world war could erupt in months.

He said: “The situation is extremely serious… we see North Korea setting itself as an objective to have, tomorrow or the day after, missiles that can transport nuclear weapons.

“In a few months that will be a reality.”

Haley: North Korea ‘Begging For War’

September 4, 2017

Haley: North Korea ‘Begging For War’ NPR, September 4, 2017

(Finally, Kim has asked for something we can, and should, give him. — DM)

United Nations U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley addresses a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea, on Monday.
Bebeto Matthews/AP

Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tells the U.N. Security Council that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “begging for war,” with the latest nuclear test that Pyongyang says is its first fusion device, a much more powerful weapon than it has exploded in the past.

“Enough is enough. War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited,” Haley told an emergency session of the 15-member Security Council in New York.

She said that incremental sanctions on North Korea imposed by the Security Council since 2006 had failed to stop Pyongyang’s march toward more powerful and dangerous weapons. She said Kim appeared to be “begging for war.”

“Despite our efforts the North Korea nuclear program is more advanced and more dangerous than ever,” she said.

“We must adopt the strongest possible measures,” Haley said.

As NPR’s Elise Hu reported on Sunday from Seoul, Pyongyang claims to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb and said that it had also coupled the the new weapon with one of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The U.S. Geological Survey says it detected a 6.3-magnitude “possible explosion” near Sungjibaegam, North Korea, Sunday afternoon that was “located near the sites where North Korea has detonated nuclear [devices] in the past.”

Shortly after the announcement out of North Korea, Defense Secretary James Mattis said President Trump wanted to be briefed on the “many” possible military options available to respond.

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough

September 4, 2017

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough, 38 North, September 4, 2017

(In what fantasy world does the author live? He states,

What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies.

It is inconceivable that the UN Security Council, where each permanent member has a veto, would approve any “deployment of significant and visible assets [which] would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort.”  Even were it to happen, North Korea would be told, in advance, how to prepare for whatever America and perhaps our allies will do when North Korea again tests or uses a nuke or missile. 

Please see also, North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi. — DM)

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi

In Part I of this seriesI argued that advocates for “getting tough on North Korea” were prone to adopt inappropriate models for a harsher sanctions regime and to ignore the risk of counterproductive North Korean reactions to such sanctions. This is not an argument for no more sanctions. Given North Korean progress on its ICBM and nuclear weapons capabilities, we remain in an ongoing cycle of actions and reactions that may lead to a major war. A very vigorous political/military effort to contain and eventually eliminate the DPRK nuclear threat is essential now before the tensions and ill-considered rhetoric once again create the risk of the US and North Korea bellowing and stumbling their way into a catastrophic conflict. But sanctions should be only one element of the effort. The final push for a stabilization[1] of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue has to include the following components.

Military Deterrence and Defense

The additional deployment of significant and visible assets would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort. What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies. The purpose of these forces would be both to provide diplomatic leverage and to prevent Kim from believing a military gamble would pay off.

Sanctions and Targeted Secondary Sanctions

The sanctions campaign should begin with the enforcement of UNSCRs 2270 and 2371. The initial goal would be to get full compliance with some of the difficult-to-enforce provisions, notably the caps on joint ventures and on North Korean labor exports. To this end, the US should target secondary sanctions on Chinese and other third country entities that are violating the UN resolutions. Rather than seeking to squash every sanctions-evading gnat, it should inflict significant pain on one large and vulnerable entity to have a bracing effect on many more. And, it might well create massive ripple effects if it is a key node in North Korea’s sanctions evasion network—for example, Chinese companies outlined in the recent C4ADS report—that are clearly violating UN sanctions and making extensive use of the US banking system. The US may also wish to find a similar target outside the Chinese network of businesses—perhaps one in a friendly Middle Eastern or African country that has chosen to ignore past US efforts to cut connections to Pyongyang. The US should for now avoid steps to coerce others to accept its own definition of sanctions that go beyond the resolutions. It appears that the most recent sanctions by the US Treasury against Chinese, Russian and one Namibian entity, as well as a recent freeze on some aid to Egypt, may fit the model described above.

However, it is unlikely the UN sanctions as currently written will suffice. The US should be building the case now for significant sanctions tightening if North Korea does not shift its current direction. This should best be done in steps, perhaps starting with the change of the labor and investment caps and moving to a full ban as a first iteration with the dusted off version of UNSCR 661 as the final alternative to military conflict. As the risk of conflict moves closer, the US will have to consider when secondary sanctions as a coercive mechanism for third countries needs to be deployed more widely. This is a high-risk enterprise in an already risky situation, but when stacked up against nuclear war in Asia, surely secondary sanctions are preferable.

Many Tracks of Diplomacy

These tough military and sanctions components will do nothing but open the door to miscalculation and war if other “softer” components are ignored or—more likely—mishandled. A stabilization of the Korean nuclear and missile issue is going to require multilateral diplomacy—and only the US has the ability to be at the center of this effort. It cannot subcontract the effort primarily to China. The PRC does not have the entre with some of the players, nor could it speak for the US to the most difficult audience of all: Pyongyang. These rings of diplomatic activity have existed in one form or another for many years, but they will need to be greatly invigorated and placed in the service of a clear set of policy objectives. These rings include:

  • US-ROK and US-Japan: This ring will need to create a solid front on possible military deterrence force deployments and on a sanctions strategy in the United Nations. The Trump administration appears to be in the middle of such an effort.
  • US-PRC: This ring is key. It needs to be removed from undisciplined and uncoordinated public commentary and shifted to sustained bilateral dialogue. Washington will need to enlist Chinese assistance both to create sanctions pressure on Pyongyang and to generate multilateral negotiations and a viable US-DPRK diplomatic channel. The US cannot expect pressure without political dialogue and Beijing cannot expect dialogue without real pressure on Pyongyang. The less we hear about the content of this channel (not to mention the US-DPRK channel) in public the better.
  • UN Security Council: Iraq sanctions failed when P-5 unity in the UNSC failed. The Trump Administration deserves credit for maintaining P-5 unity with the passage of UNSCR 2371, but this will have to be the first of many efforts in the Council.
  • Six Party (US, ROK, China, Russia, Japan and DPRK): At some point this channel will have to generate the political agreements and the framework for a settlement. There is nothing sacred about this particular forum or format, but something like it will have to be active and available for the formal public structure of a diplomatic settlement.
  • A direct US-DPRK channel: With one exception in the second term of the George W. Bush administration, the most rapid and extensive progress I have seen in over 28 years of interchange with North Korea over the nuclear issue has always taken place in a US-DPRK bilateral channel. The potential causes of war lie between Washington and Pyongyang. The US would be well advised to put together a small, tight, empowered negotiating team to create a channel for bilateral discussions. If the leak-prone and undisciplined Trump administration could manage to do so without us all hearing about it, so much the better.

Orchestrating this diplomacy will be one of the most complex challenges of the past 50 years. It is unclear whether the US State Department—suffering from several levels of missing leadership, low morale and persistent and unhelpful interference from the White House—is up to the task. But a way will have to be found to perform it if there is to be success on this issue.

Clarity, Discipline and Accountability in Public Commentary

US diplomacy during the recent dust-up with North Korea over its July ICBM tests was clumsy and amateurish: the incendiary rhetoric coming out of the White House needlessly escalated tensions and the uncoordinated and incoherent public messaging sowed confusion among our allies over US goals and intentions. That said, it did signal that the United States was approaching the limit of its patience over North Korean missile developments. Nevertheless, a policy vacuum continues to exist.

The United States has not made clear to Pyongyang, the American public, or its allies how it would respond to North Korean nuclear intimidation or aggression. There may be a place for strategic ambiguity in deterrence policy under some circumstances but not strategic incoherence. As a result of the loose and imprecise US rhetoric and mixed messaging, all parties are groping for an understanding of what might trigger nuclear conflict in Korea and beyond. To end this confusion and uncertainty, an authoritative figure such as the Secretary of State or Defense should give a policy speech which lays out for the American public, our allies, the Chinese and the North Koreans what American nuclear deterrence policy is vis-a-vis North Korea—and then the White House needs to discipline itself and other agencies to hew scrupulously to this script in all their public messaging on the policy.

The speech or the press backgrounding around it should also designate a single, high level official who would be accountable for the North Korean issue; this is simply not an issue that can survive current White House tong wars, presidential pique or bureaucratic backstabbing. This speech will also be the best place to signal that toughness will be accompanied by dialogue. It needs to open the door to real negotiations with a concrete proposal. This could be done through a proposal to reopen Six Party Talks or through a prearranged signal to Pyongyang that certain words in the speech are an invitation to a private authoritative back-channel discussion.

Goals and Trade Bait

The Obama administration’s efforts on North Korea foundered on a couple of rocks. The first was its inability or unwillingness to commit political capital to an issue that was highly controversial, with a very small (or nonexistent) solution set and a timeline that was less pressing than the Iran nuclear issue. The second was that the only goal for resolving or even trying to resolve the crisis that could garner consensus support was complete DPRK denuclearization. However, given the Obama administration’s unwillingness to invest fully in the issue, the White House’s highly constrained room for political maneuvering and Pyongyang’s commitment to its nuclear strategy, the goal of denuclearization became an obstacle to even starting a process for dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile progress.

Denuclearization remains a worthy goal and it is the only one that preserves the global nonproliferation regime and the long-term security of the US and its allies. But the first goal of renewed diplomatic engagement needs to be more focused and urgent: to stabilize peace in Northeast Asia and to prevent a stumble into a nuclearized second Korean War. Achieving this goal, by definition, will require North Korea to put limits on its ICBM program, which is the essential immediate need for American security policy. There are interim steps that would be of value in preserving peace and security. The parties might wish to develop mechanisms to prevent accidental war. It might also be a worthy tactical goal to create geographic limits on North Korean missile testing targets, thus putting US territories like Guam and Japanese waters off limits. The US might, at some point, trade off a particular sanction in return for a firm ICBM testing ban or moratorium or a halt to nuclear tests.

At no point should the US take ultimate denuclearization off the table, but it is necessary first to identify immediate steps to stabilize what is a dangerous dynamic. The two great dangers to pursuing more modest, immediate goals will be the accusation the US has “accepted” a nuclear DPRK and the concessions the DPRK may want. Sanctions should be considered legitimate items to trade. Our alliances should not. Our political relationship with the DPRK—including at some point a peace treaty ending the Korean War—should be legitimate points of discussion. Tangible payments to the DPRK should not, given the unfortunate experiences the ROK and US had with such payments in past agreements.

Conclusion

In a policy with any hope of resolving US and global concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, sanctions play an important but supporting role. The key to a successful effort to deal with the North Korean threat without war is a combination of military deterrence, sanctions, a complex diplomatic offensive with clear and realistic short-term goals, and perhaps most importantly, a disciplined, clear public elucidation of US deterrence and diplomatic policy for Korea. The “tough” part of this approach (military deterrence and sanctions) is well within the reach of the Trump administration. Whether it has the personnel, structure and capacity for discipline for the diplomatic and public components of the effort is yet unproven.


  1. [1]

    Stabilization is chosen deliberately in this sentence. Denuclearization should be the long term stated goal of the effort but that goal should be placed in the same context as “general and complete disarmament” as used in Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is a legitimate goal, but one that is far over the horizon. The key goal at this moment is to halt momentum towards having North Korean nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US homeland.

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi

September 4, 2017

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi, New York Times

(Assuming the accuracy of the analysis, it is doubtful that President Trump has much economic or other leverage with China vis a vis North Korea. — DM)

President Xi Jinping of China arriving on Sunday for the opening ceremony of a business forum in Fujian Province. Credit Pool photo by Mark Schiefelbein

The biggest concern for China’s leadership is the possibility of North Korea turning on China, the country’s only ally. “If cornered, North Korea could take military action against China, given the relationship has reached a historic low,” Mr. Zhao said.

China supplies more than 80 percent of the North’s crude oil, and suspending delivery would be the ultimate economic sanction, more far-reaching than those imposed, with China’s support, by the United Nations.

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BEIJING — It was supposed to be Xi Jinping’s moment to bask in global prestige, as the Chinese president hosted the leaders of some of the world’s most dynamic economies at a summit meeting just weeks before a Communist Party leadership conference.

But just hours before Mr. Xi was set to address the carefully choreographed meeting on Sunday, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-undetonated his sixth nuclear bomb.

Mr. Kim has timed his nuclear tests and missile launches with exquisite precision, apparently trying to create maximum embarrassment for China. And on Sunday, a gathering in southeast China of leaders from Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa, members of the so-called BRICS group, was immediately overshadowed by news of the test, which shook dwellings in China and revived fears of nuclear contamination in the country’s northeast region.

This is not the first time Mr. Kim has chosen a provocative moment to flaunt his country’s weapons. In May, he launched a ballistic missile hours before Mr. Xi spoke at a gathering of world leaders in Beijing assembled to discuss China’s signature trillion dollar One Belt, One Road project.

The confluence of North Korea’s nuclear testing and Mr. Xi’s important public appearances is not a coincidence, analysts said. It is intended to show that Mr. Kim, the leader of a small, rogue neighboring state, can diminish Mr. Xi’s power and prestige as president of China, they said. In fact, some analysts contended that the latest test may have been primarily aimed at pressuring Mr. Xi, not President Trump.

“Kim knows that Xi has the real power to affect the calculus in Washington,” said Peter Hayes, the director of the Nautilus Institute, a research group that specializes in North Korea. “He’s putting pressure on China to say to Trump: ‘You have to sit down with Kim Jong-un.’”

What Mr. Kim wants most, Mr. Hayes said, is talks with Washington that the North Korean leader hopes will result in a deal to reduce American troops in South Korea and leave him with nuclear weapons. And in Mr. Kim’s calculation, China has the influence to make that negotiation happen.

While some Chinese analysts say North Korea should be made to pay a price for its contempt of China, the North’s ally and major trading partner, they were not optimistic that Sunday’s test would change Mr. Xi’s determination to remain above the fray and not get his hands sullied trying to force Mr. Kim to change his ways.

Even the North’s claim that the weapon detonated was a hydrogen bomb that could be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile would probably not sway Mr. Xi, they said.

“This sixth nuclear test should force China to do something radical; this will be a political test,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a nuclear expert at Renmin University. “But the mood is not moving that way.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did express “strong condemnation” of the test. But despite the North’s repeated incitements, the Chinese leadership is likely to stick to its position that a nuclear-armed North Korea is less dangerous to China than the possibility of a political collapse in the North, Mr. Cheng said. That could result in a unified Korean Peninsula under the control of the United States and its ally, South Korea.

China fears such an outcome if it uses its greatest economic leverage: cutting off the crude oil supplies that keep the North’s rudimentary economy running.

“Cutting off oil supplies could severely impact North Korean industries and undermine the regime’s stability, a solution which China and Russia have serious qualms about,” said Zhao Tong, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

China has put forward a proposal that hinges on North Korea stopping its nuclear testing in exchange for an end to American military exercises around the Korean Peninsula.

But Mr. Xi is consumed at the moment with domestic matters, Chinese analysts said. The political machinations surrounding the Communist Party’s National Congress that will convene in Beijing in mid-October to select new members of the ruling elite are at the top of his agenda. Mr. Xi will be awarded his second five-year term at the meeting.

China always aims for domestic calm in the period leading up to the secretive congress, and so it is unlikely to do anything before Oct. 19, the start of the conclave, Mr. Zhao said.

The biggest concern for China’s leadership is the possibility of North Korea turning on China, the country’s only ally. “If cornered, North Korea could take military action against China, given the relationship has reached a historic low,” Mr. Zhao said.

China supplies more than 80 percent of the North’s crude oil, and suspending delivery would be the ultimate economic sanction, more far-reaching than those imposed, with China’s support, by the United Nations.

Even The Global Times, the nationalist, state-run newspaper, said several months ago that China should consider cutting off its oil supplies to North Korea if Mr. Kim detonated a sixth nuclear bomb. But with the party congress looming, the paper modified its position Sunday.

“The origin of the North Korean nuclear issue is the sense of uncertainty that is generated by the military actions of the U.S./South Korea military alliance,” the paper said. “China should not be at the front of this sharp and complicated situation.”

There were also some doubts whether severing oil supplies would make much a huge difference to the North Korean regime. “The economic effects will be substantial but not regime crippling,” said Mr. Hayes of the Nautilus Institute, which specializes in the North’s energy needs.

The hardships, he said, would be most felt by ordinary people, with less food getting to market and fewer people able to travel between cities in buses.

The North’s army has oil stockpiles for routine nonwartime use for at least a year, Mr. Hayes said. “They can last for about a month before they run out of fuel in wartime, at best; likely much earlier,” he said.

Another major concern for the Chinese government is the fears of residents in the northeast of the country about nuclear contamination from North Korea’s test site at Punggye-ri, not far from the Chinese border.

Many residents in Yanji in Jilin Province, which borders the North, said they felt their apartments shake after the test. Some posted photos of stocks of food and drinks shattered on the floors of a grocery store. At first residents believed the cause was an earthquake, they said, and only later in the day heard the news from state-run media that North Korea had detonated a nuclear bomb.

“I was in my study when the earthquake began,” said Sun Xingjie, an assistant professor at Jilin University in Changchun about 350 miles from the North Korean test site. Mr. Sun said he checked with friends on social media, and they determined from the location and the depth of the explosion that it was a nuclear test.

Even though there is no evidence of any contamination from the test reaching China, it is a worry of residents, Mr. Sun said.

“We are at the border region, so we have a sense of fear about leakage from the nuclear test,” he said.