U.S. missile defense plans to zap North Korean threats

North Korea’s rapid march to develop a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of striking the United States has spurred the U.S. military and Congress to ramp up efforts to counter the threat.

The U.S. technological race is happening on the ground, at sea, in the air and in space. But military planners say the greatest benefit of the massive missile defense effort is to deter North Korea from contemplating a strike.

“Missile defense buys you time and opens windows,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Security and International Studies. “The way you protect yourself from a missile attack is through deterrence. You show your adversary that you can hold them off and strike back at them.”

North Korea’s latest missile launch on July 4 was its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The Hwasong-14 had a maximum range of about 4,163 miles, meaning it could hit targets in Alaska but not the contiguous U.S. mainland or the larger islands of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

Surveillance of the missile left unclear whether it successfully re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The North Korean government said its missiles can hit anywhere in the world with a nuclear warhead, but the U.S. government doubts the regime of Kim Jong Un has developed a miniaturized warhead or delivery vehicle needed to accomplish that.

North Korea may be only a year or so away from that feat, according to U.S. estimates, which is why the Pentagon is stepping up its anti-missile program.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. military successfully intercepted a simulated intermediate-range ballistic missile using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system similar to one being deployed in South Korea.

The test was the first by THAAD against a missile that is faster and more difficult to target than shorter-range missiles.

In another first, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency used a ground-based interceptor launched from a silo in Vanderberg Air Force Base in California to successfully shoot down a U.S.-launched mock intercontinental ballistic missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific in May.

The U.S. currently has 36 such interceptors deployed and plans to have 44 in place by the end of 2017, based at Vandenburg and in Fort Greely, Alaska.

Congress in 2013 required the Defense Department to research a third site for ground-based interceptors to defend the U.S. East Coast, in addition to the silos in Alaska and California.

This year, House Republicans proposed that the Pentagon conduct research and development on space-based missile defense interceptors — a version of the “Star Wars” system that President Ronald Reagan championed in the 1980s as a deterrent against Soviet nuclear missiles.

Also this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to review the nation’s overall missile defense strategy.

North Korea’s nuclear-capable missile arsenal includes an estimated 1,000 missiles, plus hundreds of thousands of conventional rockets aimed at U.S. and its allies’ military and civilian targets in South Korea, Japan, Guam and at sea in the region.

Arrayed against that force is a layered defense of short- medium- and long-range interceptors. These systems are being upgraded to make them faster, with more range and greater accuracy.

Here is what else is in the works:

Next generation satellites

Current satellite technology recognizes a missile launch and a general “fan-shaped” area that it is likely to target, said retired lieutenant general Henry “Trey” Obering III, a former head of the Missile Defense Agency who is now executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Satellites “do not provide precision tracking and targeting today,” Obering said.

The Missile Defense Agency plans to launch a “constellation” consisting of multiple small satellites. These would augment a series of ground-based monitors and provide enough tracking information to target threatening missiles while they are outside the atmosphere with one of the military’s interceptors.

The new satellites would enable multiple attacks on the same threatening missile if necessary, Obering said.

Multiple-warhead kill vehicles

The Missile Defense Agency also is developing multiple kill vehicles that would allow each ground-based interceptor to attack multiple missile threats, said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.

The drawback of such efforts, Reif said, is that they could influence the types of weapons that far more powerful adversaries Russia and China develop. That would lead to an “increased risk of arms racing,” he said.

Space-based interceptors

The military is researching the use of chemical rockets or lasers that would fire at missiles from orbiting satellites.

According to a study by the Center for International and Security Studies, such a scheme would require at least 30 satellites for an area the size of North Korea because the satellites would only be in range for a short while on each low-altitude orbit.

Lasers

Obering, who heads the directed energy team at Booz Allen Hamilton, led the Missile Defense Agency in 2010, when it used a chemical laser carried on a Boeing 747 to shoot down a missile in a test.

That program ended because the Defense Department judged it to be impractical: The laser’s effective range was too short, the aircraft flew too low, and the program was expensive.

New solid-state electric and hybrid electric-chemical lasers are now smaller, more powerful and lighter, and can be carried on high-altitude drones that can patrol at 60,000 feet above North Korea for days during a crisis, Obering said.

The U.S. is about five years from developing such a weapon, which could attack North Korean missiles in the most vulnerable boost phase, when they’re moving relatively slowly and have yet to separate into multiple parts, he said.

“It’s based on how much money we’re putting into that program,” he said.

(by USA Today)

There are 3 big reasons South Korea’s new president wants talks with North Korea

Faced with a North Korea that seems both increasingly unpredictable and increasingly militarily capable, South Korea’s new government has made a formal proposal: It’s time for new talks.

Suh Choo-suk, South Korea’s vice defense minister, announced the proposal Monday, suggesting that the two neighboring nations could meet in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss military and humanitarian issues. If the North agrees (it so far has issued no response), it would be the first talk between the two governments since 2015.

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The news comes in the wake of a number of key developments in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — including, most shockingly, the July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit Alaska. But talks have long been touted as an option for South Korea’s liberal new president, Moon Jae-in, when it comes to dealing with the North.

“I will meet Kim Jong Un when preconditions of resolving the nuclear issue are assured,” Moon told The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield and Yoonjung Seo in May, days before he entered office.

Will a policy of dialogue work? Right now, that’s impossible to say, but Moon’s push for it comes down to three stark reasons.

1. Any military conflict with North Korea would be disastrous for the South

Internationally, a lot of attention is paid to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its advancing missile technology. The fear is that once North Korea has the ability to launch a nuclear weapon that could target the mainland United States, it would be a major deterrent against any future military action.

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But for Seoul, the deterrent is already there. South Korea’s capital city sits just 30 miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The city, which has a metropolitan area of around 25 million, is within easy reach of North Korea’s artillery guns. If North Korea decided to use these weapons, they could cause huge damage in a short amount of time.

One study from 2012 estimated that 64,000 people could be killed by this artillery in the first day. Even if South Korea and its American allies could destroy these weapons quickly, it would likely not be quick enough to stop massive bloodshed — including considerable losses among U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

Worse still, North Korea now has nuclear weapons that it can likely mount on missiles that could likely reach South Korea, raising the possibility of a conflict of incredible destruction. Many of these nuclear weapons are hidden away, meaning a preemptive strike would be unlikely to disable them.

2. Sanctions don’t appear to be changing North Korea’s behavior

The other big option for dealing with North Korea is to apply economic pressure, rather than military pressure, in the hope of convincing North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. There is evidence that in some cases such a policy can work: Sanctions certainly played at least some role in bringing Iran to the table to negotiate its own treaty on nuclear weapons.

But here, too, there’s a problem. North Korea is already under sanctions and it has been for years. And during that time, it appears to have become more determined to pursue its weapons system. So far, at least, sanctions have not worked on North Korea.

Experts say that North Korea has become adept at evading these economic restrictions placed upon it, often using illicit networks to organize its trade. “The sanctions were perfunctory,” Ri Jong Ho, a former North Korean official who defected in 2014, recently told The Post.

Sanctions do still seem to be the favored option for the United States. There are signs that the Trump administration is hoping to increase sanctions effectiveness by getting more creative — targeting Chinese firms and individuals involved in trade with North Korea, or smaller countries like Sudan that still have an economic relationship with Pyongyang. However, it’s still hard to imagine China or Russia getting fully on board with more economic pressure. Both countries share borders with North Korea and have little desire for it to collapse. Even being charitable, Beijing and Moscow’s commitment to sanctions has been halfhearted.

Moon still supports sanctions, suggesting that new ones were needed when he appeared in Berlin with German leader Angela Merkel shortly after the July 4 ICBM test. But he is also seeking to improve Seoul’s relationship with Beijing, currently under huge strain due to THAAD, a U.S. missile system recently installed in South Korea and viewed as a threat by China.

3. Previous talks have produced some results

Moon is far from the first South Korean leader to seek dialogue with North Korea. Two of his liberal predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, implemented what was known as a “Sunshine Policy” between 1998 and 2008. The policy was designed to soften Seoul’s stance toward Pyongyang, encouraging political interaction and economic agreements.

Moon knows the policy well — he was Roh’s campaign manager during his election bid and a close aide during his time in office. After a decade of attempts at reconciliation, many viewed the Sunshine Policy as a failure. Critics suggested that North Korea had used it for financial gain without making real concessions in important areas such as its nuclear program or human rights. South Korea returned to conservative rule in 2008. Under the leadership of Lee Myung-bak and later Park Geun-hye, most of the key elements of the policy — such as the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Region — have been shut down or scaled back.

But now, after another decade of a new, harsher policy failed to curb Pyongyang’s antagonism, some argue it is time to revisit the merits of a Sunshine Policy. There is also a groundswell of support behind Moon after a huge scandal led to Park’s impeachment — one poll showed Moon with the highest approval rating ever for a South Korean president this early in their first term — and there is a desire for stability after so much domestic political upheaval.

Moon may be able to win some short-term agreements from North Korea, which also made a call for talks in 2016. Both sides could scale back the tension along the DMZ or reintroduce a military hotline cut off by North Korea last year. The South Korean Red Cross Society has also proposed an attempt to set up reunions for families split between the North and South — an emotional issue in both countries. Similar reunions have not taken place since 2015.

A recent poll found that nearly 76.9 percent of South Koreans favored a return to inter-Korean dialogue. It’s not clear how they would feel if Seoul offered too many concessions or North Korea failed to live up to its side of the bargain or act belligerently. But right now, many liberal South Koreans seem to feel that talks are the best option of a bad bunch.

(by Washington Post)

As the US Threatened North Korea, 122 Countries Voted to Ban Nuclear Weapons

On July 4, North Korea conducted a missile test that, according to most analysts, demonstrated continued progress towards fielding an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. Shortly thereafter, the US and South Korean militaries conducted a highly visible missile exercise of their own, launching accurate tactical missiles that could quickly strike targets throughout much of North Korea, perhaps even threatening North Korea’s leadership. Responsible US diplomacy is urgently needed to de-escalate this potentially catastrophic nuclear flashpoint.

Recent alarming actions have continued rounds of threat and counter-threat that have gathered momentum since early this year, with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests alternating with massive joint US-North Korea military exercises, deployments of US naval and air forces close to North Korea’s shores and flight tests of US ICBMs — systems already fully tested, deployed and capable of raining hundreds of nuclear warheads on North Korea in short order. Although typically described as “routine,” the US government uses these tests to send a message. Prior to a similar test in early 2016, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told reporters, “We and the Russians and the Chinese routinely do test shots to prove that the operational missiles that we have are reliable. And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.”

These bellicose acts have been accompanied by equally bellicose rhetoric. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that, “The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces.” This is dangerous language when talking about one of the most militarized conflict zones in the world. Russia and China, the second and third most powerful nuclear-armed countries, share borders with North Korea. Each already has a tense relationship with the United States, and sees the presence of large and capable US forces in the region, including such steps as the deployment of advanced US missile defenses to South Korea, as a potential threat.

In a joint statement, Russia and China called on North Korea, the United States and South Korea to ratchet down the confrontation, with cessation of testing of nuclear weapons and potentially nuclear-capable missiles by North Korea, and a moratorium on large-scale joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea. This approach seems a sensible first step, and a necessary one to avoid a conflict cycle that easily could get out of hand, with disastrous results. It also is consistent with the requirements of the United Nations Charter, which do not allow the resolution of threats to peace, short of imminent threat of aggression, by the unilateral threat or use of military force.

At the same time that one nuclear-armed country was threatening another in the United Nations Security Council, two floors down in the same building, more than 120 nuclear weapons-free countries were polishing the text of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. On Friday, July 7, 122 countries present voted to approve the text, which prohibits the possession, development, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, with only one opposed and one abstaining. The treaty will open for signature on September 20, 2017.

With the nuclear-armed states opposed to any such treaty, it will be a long road to the elimination of nuclear arsenals, via a route still largely uncharted. One might ask why the countries that don’t have nuclear weapons thought an agreement negotiated in the absence of those that still brandish them is worth the effort. They did so because they know that the effects of nuclear warfare know no boundaries, and make no distinction between soldier and civilian. They did so because they know that any large-scale nuclear war would endanger the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings, and that nuclear war among the most powerful states would threaten the foundations of all human civilization. And they did so because they know, and we all should know, that a crisis like the one now growing in Northeast Asia could leap from a spark to an uncontrollable conflagration in unanticipated ways.

The Cold War should have taught us that we were fortunate to have escaped the threat of nuclear annihilation once. It also should have taught us, through the slow mutual education of the superpowers in their arms control negotiations about the immense complexities and unforeseeable dangers that nuclear arsenals pose, that talking to adversaries is of the first, the utmost importance, even when prospects for resolution of conflicts seem most dim. Our nuclear-armed governments must stop threatening and start talking to each other directly and constantly, before it’s too late. It is incumbent on the governments that are most powerful — and hence the most threatening — to take the initiative.

It is time for diplomatic overtures to replace threats. The United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities.

The US should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks.

The United States and all states in the region should refrain from military actions that could be interpreted as provocative, including such actions as forward deployment of additional military forces by the United States, and the testing or assertion of territorial claims by deployment of military forces in contested areas by any state.

Finally, the United States and its allies should be prepared to offer the North Korean government meaningful assurances regarding its sovereignty, including a willingness to end the armistice that for over half a century has frozen in place the massive confrontation at the demilitarized zone that splits the Korean Peninsula by negotiating a peace treaty ending the Korean War.

(by Truthout)

North Korea is sending ‘slaves’ to Russia to make money for their regime

North Korea is transporting citizens to Russia in what is being labelled a new ‘slave trade’.

Shocking revelations have exposed the transportation of workers.

Taken north, they are kept in ‘slave’ conditions and forced to hand money over to their Korean overlords.

Human rights groups have hit out at the practice, which gives Kim Jong-un hard currency from Russia.

The dictator has worried observers following recent tests of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).

There are now 50,000 or more North Koreans working in low-paid manual labour jobs across Russia.

They are worth an estimated $120m (£91.66m) to their home nation each year, according to the Data Base Centre for North Korean Human Rights.

The charity, based in the South Korean capital, revealed their findings to Fox News.

Russia has benefited from the cheap labour – providing a ‘willing’ workforce for a St Petersburg football stadium.

Treated appallingly, critics point to one of the workers dying on site and a further two being found in squalid living conditions near the building.

Far eastern ports in Vladivostok use the workers to paint ships, paying them less than £650 a month.

Workers find their salary creamed off by the Workers Party, the ruling group in North Korea, and cruel Russian bosses, according to the New York Times.

North Korea has long sent workers to horrific logging camps in central Russia, in places compared with Communist concentration camps like the Gulag.

The hermit nation was once totally subsidised by their northern Soviet neighbours.

Yet after the collapse of the USSR, North Korea was left destitute and thousands died in a crippling famine.

Since then, aggressive jingoism has characterised the nation with their global partners.

Donald Trump had pledged to deal with the threat they posed saying they were ‘on notice’.

The American president, however, has blamed Chinese authorities for not working with him, a claim denied by Beijing.

However, there is no doubt that the Chinese use the cheap labour force – as do Gulf allies like Qatar.

The US has long known of the conditions but no credible action has been taken.

This year, the American State Department announced: ‘Credible reports of slave-like conditions of North Koreans working in Russia.’

While the UN fails to act, North Korean workers continue to suffer the consequences of inaction across Asia.

(by Metro)

A surgical strike against North Korea? Not a viable option

North Korea’s July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit American soil has renewed talk of military intervention, with the notion of a surgical strike on Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal once again gaining resonance. But an effective limited military strike with minimal collateral damage and no escalation simply won’t work.

Despite recent statements by top Trump administration officials, there are no neat or efficient military solutions to the mounting threat posed by the regime of Kim Jong Un. A major stumbling block is that North Korea appears to have dozens of military bases with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and we likely don’t know the precise locations of all of them.

A further significant complication is that nearly all of the North Korean bases are at least partly underground and have multiple entrances. Fully neutralizing their weaponry could take weeks of missile and air attacks by the U.S. and South Korea. Some of the facilities may be so deeply submerged that only nuclear force would destroy them.

Even if only one base is struck, the consequences could be catastrophic. North Korea has threatened large-scale retaliation for a single attack and South Korea would bear the brunt of its fury. North Korea has pointed thousands of artillery tubes and rocket launchers at South Korea and has vowed to turn the urbanized areas within range—with more than 20 million residents, including tens of thousands of U.S. citizens—into a “sea of fire.” With its chemical weapons, used with deadly efficiency on Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong-Nam in February, the North could wreak unimaginable death and suffering on its enemies.

The scenario only worsens from there. If North Korea executes even a modest retaliation on South Korea, Seoul would be impelled to fire back, probably escalating the conflict into a major, protracted war that would involve much of the U.S. military. North Korea would likely lose, but not before it inflicts immense damage.

As U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis recently warned, North Korean retaliation would spur “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” Such a war is unlikely to end decisively and cleanly. It would probably transition to an insurgency that could exceed the U.S. experience in Iraq.

If the U.S. opts for a military response to North Korea’s mounting aggressions, war would appear inevitable. So far, no American president has been willing to risk that outcome. President Trump, however, has conveyed his dissatisfaction with avoiding military options, tweeting recently that the “era of strategic patience with the North Korea regime has failed.” What steps he may be willing to make are unclear, but two days after Kim’s July 4 fireworks Trump said he was considering “some pretty severe things.”

Left alone, North Korea will probably expand its nuclear force of 10 to 50 weapons today to 100 to 200 in the next decade or so. Simultaneously, North Korea’s ICBM development apparently seeks to decouple U.S. security interests from those of its regional allies, South Korea and Japan. If the North succeeds, at some point it could issue South Korea an ultimatum to “surrender, or else.” The North may see such an approach as its best option for unifying Korea under North Korean control. The U.S. and South Korea should view such a prospect as a disaster, one which can be avoided only by reining in the North Korean nuclear weapon program now. Time is not on our side.

Convincing North Korea not to pursue such developments requires a U.S./South Korean approach in which the costs imposed exceed the benefits that Kim seeks (the essence of deterrence). The only thing the Kim regime values so highly is its own survival. The U.S. and South Korea could seek to prod Kim toward nuclear disarmament through intensified information operations targeting the North Korean public, particularly dissatisfied elites.

From my RAND research, based in part on extensive interviews with senior North Korean defectors, I have reason to hope that the impetus for such change could come from within if prompted and supported by U.S. and South Korean information operations.

Among North Korea’s elite class—high-ranking diplomats, military officers, scientists and wealthy entrepreneurs—many would reportedly like to see Kim gone. These influential Northerners view Kim as a weak and ineffective leader, and those who are already capitalists regard him as a hindrance in their drive for Western-style economic rewards. My discussions with the defectors strongly suggest that many elites believe Kim’s regime will probably collapse in the coming years. Given the right assurances through a robust information campaign, the North Korean elites might be emboldened to pursue regime change.

Defeating decades of North Korean indoctrination is itself a formidable challenge. After seven decades of North-South strife, war could still come. But a growing hunger for change among North Korean elites presents an opening that should not be overlooked. Their changing attitudes could help hasten Kim’s tumble from power and pave the way for a more agreeable government to form. The alternatives are staggeringly grim.

(by Fox News)

NEWS JUL 15 2017, 5:03 AM ET North Korea May Have More Nuclear Bomb Material Than Thought, Says Think Tank

Thermal images of North Korea’s main nuclear site show Pyongyang may have reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought that can be used to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

The analysis by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korean monitoring project, was based on satellite images of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant from September until the end of June, amid rising international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The think tank said images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon could also indicate operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium, its other source of bomb fuel.

There were signs too of at least short-term activity at North Korea’s Experimental Light Water Reactor that could be cause for concern, 38 North said.

The images of the radiochemical laboratory showed there had been at least two reprocessing cycles not previously known aimed at producing “an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile,” something that would worry U.S. officials who see Pyongyang as one of the world’s top security threats.

It was unclear if the thermal activity detected at the uranium plant was the result of centrifuge operations or maintenance.

It said the thermal patterns at the plant’s isotope/tritium production facility suggested it was not operational and was therefore not producing tritium, an essential isotope used in boosted yield and hydrogen weapons.

North Korea manufactures atomic bombs using uranium and plutonium and has tested five nuclear bombs. Officials and experts say it could test a sixth at any time, despite U.S.-led international efforts to curb its program.

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Pyongyang said its penultimate test in January 2016 was of a hydrogen bomb, something experts have treated with skepticism.

North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and last week tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts said could hit all of Alaska and parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Frustrated that China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has not done more to rein in Pyongyang, the Trump administration could impose new sanctions on small Chinese banks and other companies doing business with Pyongyang within weeks, two senior U.S. officials told Reuters this week.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been seeking to overcome resistance from China and Russia to a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing stiffer international sanctions on Pyongyang.

Experts at 38 North estimated in April that North Korea could have as many as 20 nuclear bombs and could produce one more each month.

(by NBC News)

Try diplomacy first on North Korea, even though it probably won’t work

Every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has tried to slow or stop North Korea’s nuclear advance, mostly through economic sanctions and negotiations. It is clear that this policy, dubbed “strategic patience,” has failed. The recent test by North Korea of what appeared to be a long range ballistic missile settled the debate.

The isolated, highly militarized country ruled by the grandson of its first leader is months or at most two years away from being able to miniaturize nuclear bombs and place them on missiles with the range and accuracy to hit the United States in an attack that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans.

The question is what we do next.

It comes down to three choices. The first is to reluctantly accept what North Korea has accomplished. The United States could fall back in large part on deterrence. We could make clear to North Korea that any use of its weapons would meet a response that could be nuclear or, even if not, would bring about the end of North Korea as an independent country along with the end of its leadership. Missile defenses would also be deployed as something of an insurance policy if deterrence broke down.

The problem is that it is impossible to know if rationality (which is at the heart of deterrence) will prevail in a country that often defies rationality. Mutual assured destruction is no more appealing now than it was with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moreover, missile systems cannot be counted on to work perfectly. Also arguing against this option is that other countries might follow the North Korean example. There is as well the possibility North Korea might be tempted to sell a weapon to a terrorist group.

A second option would be to use military force to destroy a good part of North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenal. One shortcoming is that no strike could be guaranteed to succeed, as many of these weapons are hidden and protected deep underground. An even bigger issue is that North Korea would likely retaliate against South Korea using its extensive conventional (non-nuclear) forces that include artillery, special operations troops and shorter-range missiles. Hundreds of thousands of people in the capital of Seoul would likely lose their lives in such a scenario; also at risk would be the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as well as the more than 100,000 American civilians living there.

The United States is also committed to South Korea’s security, something that could require dispatching many more forces and military equipment. The first Korean War, triggered by a North Korean invasion of the South in 1950, ended up claiming millions of Korean lives over three years. More than 30,000 American soldiers were killed in a conflict that left the peninsula divided at the 38th parallel. Talk of surgical strikes or limited war is mostly talk.

A third option would be to attempt to negotiate an outcome acceptable to the countries most involved: the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States. North Korea would have to accept a freeze on production and testing of its nuclear weapons and missiles and agree to inspections that would confirm it was living up to its side of the bargain. In return, it might receive diplomatic recognition, partial relief from sanctions, and some reduction in the number or scale of U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Such an accord would not solve the problem posed by North Korea (it would never agree to give up its nuclear and missile forces, which it sees as central to its survival) but negotiations could limit the threat.

Many are skeptical diplomacy could succeed given its checkered history. A big factor would be China’s willingness to use leverage it derives from the fact that North Korea’s economy is heavily dependent on Chinese support. China, however, is reluctant to apply too much pressure for fear it would lead to North Korea’s collapse — leaving China without the benefit of a buffer state on its border. Introducing ever tougher U.S. sanctions against China in an effort to persuade it to pressure North Korea is a risky strategy given the many ways the American economy depends on good relations with China.

All of which is to say diplomacy may fail once more. This is not to argue against trying, as it would be important to show it has been explored before turning to alternatives. To be sure, the main alternatives — living with a North Korea that poses a direct threat to the United States or attacking it knowing a large and costly war could ensue — are each even more unattractive, if for different reasons. But this could well be the choice we will need to make, a reality that argues for at least exploring diplomacy first.

(by USA Today)

EVEN KIM JONG UN’S WIFE CAME OUT OF HIDING TO CELEBRATE NORTH KOREA’S MISSILE TEST

North Korea’s leadership has been in a celebratory mood since the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week that the country said meant it had “risen to become one of the few nuclear weapons states.” There is so much joy, in fact, that even the wife of leader Kim Jong Un has come out of hiding.

Public appearances by Ri Sol Ju have become increasingly rare within the past two years. But she was by Kim’s side as the pair attended a banquet in Pyongyang Monday to pay tribute to the developers of the recently launched missile. It was the first time she has been seen in public since early March, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

The festivities saw vociferous applause whenever Kim’s face appeared on screen as well as a live band playing to a video of the missile launch accompanied by loud cheers from those in attendance. Video of the celebrations shows Ri largely observing impassively next to her husband. When Kim offers toasts to the missile developers, the head of whom was promoted to the role of colonel general, Ri moves into the background, without a glass in hand.

Ri was first seen by Kim’s side in 2012, shortly after he had succeeded his father as the country’s leader. It wasn’t until after her appearance, though, that North Korean state media confirmed her name and the fact that she was Kim’s wife. The wedding is believed to have taken place in 2009, when Ri was said to be 23. Little, however, is known about her.

A former member of a renowned orchestra, Ri was, though, seen in public on numerous occasions through 2012, 2013 and 2014, something which in itself was a break from tradition. The wives of Kim’s father and grandfather were never seen in public.

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But sightings have declined substantially since, and there were fears for her safety when she went more than eight months without appearing in public before reemerging last December. Some speculated that she had fallen foul of Kim’s increasingly influential sister, Kim Yeo Yong. Other rumors stated that Ri might be pregnant again. The couple is known to have one child, a daughter who was confirmed by the unlikely source of Dennis Rodman following his visit to North Korea in 2013.

Kim, though, is believed to be desperate for a son to continue a family dynasty that has ruled the country since Korea was officially split into two states, in 1948.

While North Korea was celebrating the success of its missile launch, South Korea’s intelligence service said Tuesday that it didn’t believe the missile was capable of re-entry into the atmosphere, a feature that would be necessary for it to hit targets in the United States.

(by Newsweek)

Beijing hits back at United States on North Korea, says ‘the China responsibility theory’ has to stop

Beijing has hit back in unusually strong terms at repeated calls from the United States to put more pressure on North Korea, urging a halt to what it called the “China responsibility theory” while adding that all parties needed to pull their weight.

US President Donald Trump took a more conciliatory tone at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, but he has expressed some impatience that China, with its close economic and diplomatic ties to Pyongyang, is not doing enough to rein in North Korea.

That feeling has become particularly acute since Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that some experts believe could have the range to reach Alaska, and parts of the US West Coast.

Asked about calls from the United States, Japan, and others for China to put more pressure on North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was not China ratcheting up tension and the key to a resolution did not lie with Beijing.

“Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory’,” Mr Geng told a daily news briefing, without naming any parties.

“I think this either shows lack of a full, correct knowledge of the issue, or there are ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility.”

China has been making unremitting efforts and has played a constructive role, but all parties have to meet each other half way, Mr Geng said.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests, it also blames the United States and South Korea for worsening tension with their military exercises.

China has been upset with the US deployment of an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea too, which it says threatens its own security and will do nothing to ease tensions.

Additionally, Beijing has complained about Washington putting unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals for their dealings with North Korea.

Mr Geng questioned how China’s efforts could bear fruit if, while it tried to put out the flames, others added oil to the fire, and if, while it enforced UN resolutions, others harmed its interests.

Everyone needed to accept their responsibilities to get the North Korea issue back on the correct track of a peaceful resolution through talks, he added.

“The ‘China responsibility theory’ on the peninsula nuclear issue can stop,” Mr Geng said

(by ABC News)

North Korea missile lacks re-entry capability, South Korea says

Despite its long range, the North Korean missile fired on July 4 is not capable of a key process that would allow a nuclear weapon atop the projectile to hit its target, South Korea’s intelligence service told lawmakers Tuesday.

After the test launch last week, North Korean state media said the ballistic missile was equipped with a stable re-entry system, which allows a warhead to survive the heat-intensive process of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Ballistic missiles follow an arched trajectory, whereas cruise missiles mostly travel parallel to the ground.

“Considering the fact that the missile had been launched from a fixed launcher, the NIS (National Intelligence Service) evaluates the technology is at the beginning stage,” South Korean lawmaker Lee Wan-young said Tuesday.

“The NIS sees North Korea as not yet capable of re-entry technology,” Lee said in a televised news conference after an intelligence briefing.

North Korea said last week it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching Alaska.

The news set off alarm bells as the United States celebrated its Independence Day holiday and as world leaders prepared to gather for the G20 summit in Germany.

Authorities in the United States and South Korea verified the missile had intercontinental range but provided few other details.

‘A matter of enough trial and error’

Acquiring a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that can hit the United States is a top priority for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang looks at leaders such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who gave up his nuclear program for sanctions relief but was eventually ousted and killed, and believes the ability to attack the United States with a nuclear weapon is the only way they can deter any American-backed attempt at regime change, analysts suggest.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers in May that the biggest hurdle left in North Korea’s missile program is perfecting re-entry.

“It’s really a matter of enough trial and error to make that work,” Stewart said. “They understand the physics, so it’s just a matter of design.”

At the current rate of progress, North Korea would ultimately succeed in fielding a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States, Stewart said.

US commanders are already operating under the assumption that Kim has the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to place it on a missile.

Analyzing success
North Koreans likely judge the progress of their re-entry vehicle using sensors to gauge if the temperature’s within a suitable range, said Tong Zhao, a Beijing-based fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy’s Nuclear Policy Program.

But last week’s test involved a whole host of scenarios that could have altered its performance, including launching the missile at lofted trajectory to ensure it didn’t travel too far.

Other countries have gone back and retrieved their re-entry vehicles after launch to examine them, but North Korea doesn’t have the logistical capability to do so, Zhao said.

“I think the South Koreans were saying, look, this is not the most reliable way to prove the technology. You can only guess to some extent, you can never know for sure if everything will work.”

Zhao said he believes the only way to know Pyongyang’s operational capability is if the country actually fielded a nuclear warhead atop a missile.

He and other North Korean watchers are concerned that if the world keeps insisting North Korea does not have an ICBM and has not perfected its re-entry technology, Pyongyang could launch a missile with a nuclear warhead just to prove the efficacy of its weapons.

“This will encourage the North Koreans to really want to demonstrate to the international community that they can; therefore, they might actually one day detonate a warhead on top of a missile test,” he said. “There is a risk if we keep saying the North Koreans can’t achieve the capability.”

US envoy’s trip to Singapore and Myanmar

The announcement from South Korean authorities comes as US ambassador Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korea policy, is on his first day of a weeklong visit to Singapore and Myanmar.

Both of those countries have been previously tied to North Korea’s illicit finance activities, which help fund Pyongyang’s weapons programs, among other things.

Myanmar has in the past been accused of purchasing weapons from North Korea, and shipping companies with ties to North Korea have been found operating in Singapore, according to the United Nations.

(by CNN)