President Donald Trump on Thursday said military action against North Korea remains an option to counter its nuclear missile program, speaking ahead of a weekend when Pyongyang is expected to make another provocative move advancing its effort.
“Military action would certainly be an option,” Trump said at a White House news conference alongside the leader of Kuwait. “Is it inevitable? Nothing is inevitable. It would be great if something else could be worked out.”
Claiming that the U.S. military is stronger than ever with the addition of “new and beautiful equipment,” Trump added, “Hopefully we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea. If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”
He concluded, “North Korea is behaving badly, and it’s got to stop.”
Pressure has mounted on Trump to respond as North Korea appears to be getting closer to building a nuclear weapon small enough to be compatible with a missile that can reach the United States.
North Korea appeared to carry out its sixth and most powerful test explosion of a nuclear bomb on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.
But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.
He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.
“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.
“The country was demolished and Saddam Hussein was hanged. Everyone knows that and everyone in North Korea knows that.”
On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Kim was “begging for war” and urged the UN Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions measures possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
But speaking at the closure of the BRICs summit in Beijing — which hosted the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa — Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.
“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.
The latest escalation of the crisis came on Sunday when Pyongyang announced it had conducted a sixth nuclear test, which it claimed was of a hydrogen bomb. The claim has not been independently verified, but seismological data indicated that the weapon was the most powerful ever to be detonated by Pyongyang.
North Korea claims it now has the capability of mounting a thermonuclear weapon on a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.
Weapons experts say it’s almost impossible to verify if the warhead and missile could be successfully paired unless North Korea were to fire a nuclear-tipped ICBM.
Putin said it was clear that Pyongyang already had a nuclear capability — and in any case, no missile defense system could offer adequate protection against conventional long-range artillery.
“We know that North Korea has nukes, we also know that North Korea has long-range artillery and it has other types of weapons and there are no weapons against long-range artillery — and these weapons can be difficult to locate.
“So we think that this military hysteria will not lead to good results. It could lead to global catastrophe with lots of victims.”
In response to the latest tests, the South Korean Navy announced Tuesday it conducted live-fire drills off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to check its “immediate operational readiness” after the country’s air force and army conducted their own joint drills. It had already mounted a huge show of military force on Monday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed to lift current restrictions on the payload weight of South Korea’s ballistic missiles, according to a South Korean presidential spokesman.
CNN’s Taehoon Lee, Josh Berlinger and Sarah Faidell contributed to this article.
By firing a missile over Japan (a US ally), testing a hydrogen bomb, and now possibly preparing to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile, the North Korean leader is effectively saying he does not believe the US President’s threat to unleash “fire and fury”.
His family’s experience over the last 60 years tells him he is right.
The reason no American president has ordered military action against North Korea in that time remains the same – Seoul and its 10 million residents are well within range of the conventional artillery and rockets already deployed along the border.
Pyongyang doesn’t need nuclear weapons and ICBMs to be able to threaten massive retaliation against an American ally, likely including chemical and biological weapons.
As Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, put it: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
But what if that is also a bluff?
Kim Jong Un is not the cartoon villain caricature he is often portrayed as. We need to move beyond the hair jokes, and the image of the crazy despot.
To be clear, he is a despot, responsible for the brutal repression of his people, and he is running a regime accused of crimes against humanity, but he does not appear to be crazy.
Thus far, I have seen no evidence he is anything other than entirely rational, and playing a bad hand very shrewdly.
So assuming his main goal is staying in power, and staying alive, why are we so sure that no military action is possible and that even a limited strike would result in an assault on Seoul?
Kim Jong Un and his generals must understand that returning fire, with a large-scale attack on civilians in Seoul or Tokyo, would be suicide and that they would be ensuring the end of their regime.
Surely a more logical response would be to accept the strike on the nuclear test facility, or missile launch site, which could be spun domestically as further proof of the aggressive US enemy at the gates its people are already told is poised to attack and invade at any time, and live to rail against the imperialists another day.
The problem is communicating to Pyongyang that this is what is happening, and not the start of an all-out attack, in which case they would have nothing to lose, and would try to get their nuclear retaliation in first.
Despite what Mr Trump might think, China does not have the influence it once did on North Korea – there is mistrust on both sides, and relations have cooled significantly since the days when they were “as close as lips and teeth”.
Without that channel to reliably communicate those intentions, you are counting on Kim Jong Un and his advisers to draw the right conclusion in the critical minutes after the strike, and not to order the counter-attack.
That’s a hell of a gamble to take with 10 million people’s lives.
Which is why Kim’s assessment is probably right – that for all the talk of fire and fury, Donald Trump will ultimately come to the same conclusion as all the others before him: that the risks of military action are simply too great, and these were just empty words.
North Korea has fired a missile over Japan which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the “most serious and grave ever” threat to the country.
The missile was fired just before 6 a.m. in Japan. The launch set off warnings in the northern part of the country urging people to seek shelter.
It flew over Erimomisaki, on the northern island of Hokkaido, and broke into three pieces before falling into the Pacific Ocean, about 1,180 kilometers (733 miles) off the Japanese coast.
The missile was in flight for about 14 minutes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at an emergency press conference. “There is no immediate report of the fallen objects and no damage to the ships and aircraft,” he added.
Pentagon spokesman US Army Col. Rob Manning said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to North America.
Abe told reporters he had a 40-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to discuss the missile launch. The two countries have requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, according to Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Koro Bessho.
“The international community has to put more pressure on North Korea,” Ambassador Bessho said.
The missile was launched near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which is rare.
CNN’s Will Ripley, who is on the ground in Pyongyang, said the news had not been broadcast to people inside North Korea as of 9:45 a.m. local time.
South Korea responded by conducting a bombing drill at 9:30 a.m. local time to test its “capability to destroy the North Korean leadership” in cases of emergency, an official with the country’s Defense Ministry told CNN.
Yoon Young-chan, the head of South Korea’s Presidential Office Public Affairs Office, told reporters that Four F-15K fighter jets dropped eight one-ton MK-84 bombs at a shooting range.
The operation was meant “to showcase a strong punishment capability against the North,” he said.
Notably, however, it is the the first time the country has successfully fired a missile over Japan since 1998, when it sent a satellite launch vehicle over the country.
North Korea also launched satellites into orbit in 2012 and 2016, after which parts of both rockets that carried the satellites fell into the waters to Japan’s east and south. Experts say those satellite launches could be used to test the same technology used in ballistic missiles.
Analysts believe Tuesday’s launch shows a new level of confidence from the North Koreans.
“It is a big deal that they overflew Japan, which they have carefully avoided doing for a number of years, even though it forced them to test missiles on highly lofted trajectories, and forced them to launch their satellites to the south, which is less efficient than launching to the east (due to the Earth’s rotational motion),” said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“This will make it more difficult for the US to get Japanese support for diplomacy, unfortunately, at exactly the time when the situation is heating up.”
US Senator Lindsey Graham quickly weighed in on Twitter, calling the launch a “a big-time” escalation of conflict.
“Trump Admin must forcefully respond to convince N. Korea their efforts to destabilize the region & world will not be allowed to mature,” he said.
Graham made headlines earlier this month after telling NBC’s “Today” show that President Trump assured him “if there’s going to be a war to stop them, it will be over there,” a comment which concerned US allies already in range of much of North Korea’s arsenal.
Minutes after the missile was launched, residents in northern Japan received a text message urging them to seek shelter in a strong structure or a basement. “We were awoken by sirens and messages from the government telling us to take cover,” one local resident told CNN.
The first message came in at 6:02 a.m. Japan time:
“Missile launched. missile launched. It seems that the missile has been launched from North Korea. Please evacuate to building with strong structure or go to the basement.”
The second alert came in about 12 minutes later:
“Missile passed. Missile passed. A minute ago, the missile seems to have pass the airspace of this area. If you find anything suspicious, please don’t come close to it, report to the police and firefighter directly.”
Prime Minister Abe condemned the launch as a “reckless act.”
“We have fully grasped the movement of the missile immediately after their launch and have been taking every possible effort to protect the lives of people,” he said. “It is a serious and grave threat which impairs the safety and peace of the region.”
Pyongyang’s missile tests are banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions, but that hasn’t stopped current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from attempting to rapidly develop his country’s nuclear and missile programs.
Analysts say North Korea believes developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop a missile powerful enough to reach the United States is the only way Pyongyang can deter any US-led efforts at regime change.
The country has long maintained that it will only abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons if the United States ends what Pyongyang calls the American “hostile policy” to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.
“They cross line after line in an effort to say this is the new reality and you should accept it and go easy on us,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “I think that’s a pretty unambiguous signal that they’re no longer going to be restrained by the United States.”
The administration of US President Donald Trump is pursuing what it calls a strategy of “peaceful pressure” to rein in North Korea’s weapons programs. The goal is to put enough diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang in order to push them to the negotiating table.
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump hinted that the strategy appeared to be working.
The launch was also likely a signal to Japan, analysts say, as it comes the day after the Northern Viper military drills ended between the United States and Japan on Hokkaido.
Analysts say it’s likely part of a North Korea strategy to drive a wedge between the US and its two main allies in the region — Japan and South Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters this launch “could endanger peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. It is also very dangerous and problematic in terms of the traffic safety of planes and ships.”
The United States is currently participating in its annual 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea, which began on August 21. Those drills are more logistical and defensive in nature — though Pyongyang sees them as provocative — whereas the Northern Viper drills could be considered more operational, Mount said.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the North Korean launch as “yet another provocation despite grave messages of warning,” in a statement Tuesday.
“The North Korean regime needs to realize that denuclearization is the only true path to securing its security and economic development and needs to come to the path for nuclearization dialogue instead of conducting its reckless provocation,” the statement said.
Hagatña, Guam (CNN) North Korean military figures are putting the final touches on a plan to fire four missiles into the waters around the US-territory of Guam, to be presented to leader Kim Jong Un within days.
In a statement last week, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, said the plan to fire “four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets … to signal a crucial warning to the US” would be ready by “mid-August.”
Recent days have seen a significant escalation of tensions in the region as preparations are put in place for a possible launch in Guam, Japan and South Korea.
A notice put out by Guam’s Joint Information Center Saturday warned residents how to prepare “for an imminent missile threat.”
“Do not look at the flash or fireball — it can blind you,” the note said. “Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.”
On Saturday, some of Japan’s land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors began arriving at Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) bases in three of the four prefectures any North Korean missiles would likely fly over en route to Guam.
Pyongyang identified three of those areas — Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures — in its statement last week.
A spokesman for SDF said the missiles were being deployed not to intercept missiles, but rather “just in case.” He did not elaborate.
Sim Tack, a senior analyst for private intelligence firm Stratfor, said the Japanese batteries are designed for protecting the area where they are deployed, “(they are) not meant to shoot missiles out of the sky as they pass over Japan at high altitude.”
“So unless those North Korean missiles were to fall short, the Patriots shouldn’t have a function to serve in this particular case,” he said.
Aegis is able to track 100 missiles simultaneously and fire interceptors to take out an enemy’s ballistic projectiles.
In South Korea, where both the military and civilians are used to facing threats from North Korea, Defense Minister Song Young-moo warned the country’s armed forces “to maintain full readiness” to “immediately punish with powerful force” any action against the South.
“Recently, North Korea made its habitual absurd remarks that it will turn Seoul into a sea of fire and that it will strike near Guam,” Song said according to ministry official. “North Korea raising tension (on the Peninsula) is a serious challenge against the South Korean-US alliance and the international community.”
Meanwhile, US-South Korean joint military exercises are due to begin later this month. The annual exercises, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, are expected to run from August 21 to 31.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his statement that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continued its threats, saying in a tweet that “military solutions” were “locked and loaded” for use against North Korea.
According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi told Trump in a call between the two leaders Saturday all “relevant parties parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that would escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described escalation as “the wrong answer,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump’s statements were “very worrying.”
Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English criticized Trump’s “fire and fury” comments as “not helpful in an environment that’s very tense.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the international community to work with North Korea to “resume the path of dialogue without conditions,” following a call with Trump Saturday.
Washington has previously said it will consider talks with Pyongyang if it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons program, a pre-condition North Korean officials have described as a non-starter.
At a church in central Guam Sunday, parishioners sang “Lord, we pray for world peace” after discussing the potential North Korean threat.
“There’s a lot of disbelief going on, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Father Paul Gofigan told CNN after the mass.
Gofigan said there is not a lot of panic in Guam, and that people’s faith — the island has been overwhelmingly Catholic since the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 17th century– has been on display in recent days.
“Faith is so deeply rooted into our culture,” he said.
The territory’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, said he spoke with Trump and the President’s chief of staff, John Kelly, on Saturday.
“Both assured me that the people of Guam are safe,” Calvo wrote on Facebook. “In the President’s words they are behind us ‘1,000 percent.’ As the head of the Government of Guam, I appreciate their reassurances that my family, my friends, everyone on this island, are all safe.”
“Nobody really deserves to be caught in the middle of these games,” said Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an activist who campaigns for a lowered military presence.
“You’re playing with people’s lives. We just want peace, we just want to continue to enjoy our lives here.”
James Griffiths reported and wrote from Hong Kong. Joshua Berlinger reported from Hagatña, Guam. CNN’s Steven Jiang, KJ Kwon, Chieu Luu, Brad Lendon and journalist Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting.
MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) – In retrospect, said Vladimir Bogdanov, it was not the best time to start the first passenger-ship service between Russia and North Korea shortly before Kim Jong Un shocked the world by announcing he’s successfully tested a missile capable of striking the US mainland.
“We were in a hurry, thinking we’d be too late. We should have slowed down,” said Bogdanov, who’s organised nine trips since May between Russia’s far east port of Vladivostok and Rajin in North Korea’s Rason special economic zone.
“Still, there’s no turning back” for the service, which is loss-making so far after filling at best a quarter of its 193 places each time, he said.
Economic ties between Russia and North Korea, which share a narrow land border, are similarly beleaguered, with trade down for a third year to just US$77 million (S$105 million) in 2016, according to the Russian customs service.
While the volume is small, it’s becoming a point of tension between President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump, who’s pressing Russia and other powers to ramp up opposition to the Communist regime’s nuclear-missile programme. Russia regards the trade relationship as a means to safeguard its position with Kim in diplomacy to try to defuse the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
“We can’t afford to argue with North Korea because it will completely cast Russia to the sidelines,” said Georgy Toloraya, head of the Russian Academy of Science’s Center for Asian Strategy.
“Our interests will not be considered” if North Korea sees Russia siding with the U.S., he said.
Just as with Iran, when Russia maintained ties amid U.S. and European Union pressure on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, Putin’s unwilling to isolate North Korea completely. He opposes tougher sanctions because he believes they won’t affect the North Korean leadership, said two senior Kremlin officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal policy.
The U.S. is pressing Russia to end a programme for taking 30,000 to 50,000 North Korean migrant workers, in order to “deprive Kim Jong Un of all his money,” Toloraya said.
“This is what they demand from Russia right now, very actively.”
Any country that hosts North Korean workers “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime” that’s “a global threat,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after Kim announced the successful missile test on July 4. Some US officials say it could conduct another missile test to mark the July 27 anniversary of the end of Korean War.
“Russia has never been a supporter of dialogue by sanctions,” which is a “futile approach,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in April. That position hasn’t changed after Putin and Trump met at this month’s Group of 20 summit, he said.
While Trump and Putin had “a pretty good exchange on North Korea,” they differ in tactics and pace for dealing with the threat, Tillerson said after the Hamburg talks.
Russia, China Russia and China, which is North Korea’s closest ally and accounted for nearly 90 per cent of its US$6 billion trade last year, urged restraint and renewed dialogue in a joint statement after the missile test. Kim boasted he’d send more “gifts” to the U.S., which held joint drills with South Korea in response.
Russia and China blocked US-led efforts to expand penalties against North Korea in a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the missile test. While Trump has accused China of doing too little to pressure its neighbor, officials in Beijing said they’ve been “strictly abiding” by UN sanctions and that imports from North Korea fell 13.2 per cent to US$880 million in the first six months of 2017 compared to a year earlier.
“No one has any real leverage on North Korea to convince them to give up nuclear weapons, including the Chinese,” Alexander Gabuev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said. Kim’s regime may earn US$30-US$50 million a year from the migrant workers, who labor in remote Russian forest camps or on construction sites, he said.
Russian imports from North Korea slumped to just US$421,000 in the first quarter of 2017 from the same period last year, while exports, mainly of foodstuffs and fuel, more than doubled to US$31.4 million, according to customs service data.
Nobody knows the real level of trade since many goods go via third countries, though it may be worth $500 million, according to Toloraya.
Migrant workers take the boat between Vladivostok and Rajin alongside Russian and Chinese visitors, according to Bogdanov, who said his business was contracted to run the route by a Hong Kong-registered company through an entity in North Korea that he didn’t identify. The service may break even in a few months and will continue even amid the U.S. demands for isolating North Korea, he said.
“We’re not afraid of Trump,” said Bogdanov. “We see the unanimity of Russia and China in pursuing the route to peace. And our poorly-painted little ship is also a path of peace.”
US intelligence believes North Korea may be setting up for another missile test, possibly as soon as tomorrow.
A US defense official told AFP the latest test could happen as soon as tomorrow, the Victory Day public holiday in North Korea, but other sources say it is likely “within the next two weeks”.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Seoul “had seen North Korea moving transporter erector launchers carrying ICBM launch tubes in North Pyongan province”.
CNN reports US satellites detected new imagery and radar emissions which indicate testing of components and missile control facilities.
Yonhap also reported an 1,800-ton North Korean submarine was spotted in the Sea of Japan which “may be collecting data” to prepare for a test-launch from the North’s largest submarine.
The test will likely be for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or intermediate range missile test. North Korea successfully launched an ICBM on July 4 which had the range to hit Alaska or northern Australia.
Special operations forces are relevant to most operations the U.S. military is involved with and are a good return on the investment, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado yesterday.
Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge interviewed Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III for the forum and he used the occasion to debunk some myths about the command, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
“We are not the world’s cop, we are not a panacea, we don’t do anything by ourselves and we aren’t doing things that aren’t highly supervised, there is no off the reservation activities,” Thomas said.
But special operations forces have been at the heart of most operations against violent extremism, he said, and have been key to turning the tide against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Qaida wherever these groups raise the ugly heads.
“We are relevant to most if not all the national security challenges,” the general said.
The command consumes about 2 percent of the DoD budget and has about 2 percent of the personnel in the department. Some 8,000 special operators are in 80 countries around the world.
The question he gets most often — and Herridge asked a version of it — is whether special operations forces are being overused or overextended? “We are actively trying to work our way out of a job, whether that be in Afghanistan or against ISIS,” he said.
In Afghanistan, the general said, “we’re anxious to finish there. We’re anxious to win.”
Not the Time to Relax
That said, Socom is working with indigenous forces, proxies, allies and conventional U.S. forces to leverage special operations capabilities.
Thomas stressed that the force is having successes, but now is not the time to let up on the pressure being placed on enemy forces. He said the lesson from the Osama bin Laden operation in 2011 was, as good as it was to kill the al-Qaida leader, “if you don’t dismantle the whole network — if you don’t address the ideology — you’ve just killed one guy.”
The territory that ISIS controls is shrinking by the day and Syrian Democratic Forces are closing on Raqqa, the so-called capital of the ISIS caliphate. Thomas said he does not know if ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive, but if he is not dead “there is not a safe place for him on this Earth. We absolutely dismantled his network; everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everyone who stepped to the plate following [him] — dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, at a conservative estimate, 60,000 of his followers — his army.”
Baghdadi declared the caliphate and placed his army on the battlefield “and we went to war with it,” the general said.
Mosul has been liberated, but it is still “dicey” in the old city, he said. There are still pockets of ISIS fighters in Tal Afar and in western Iraq. “We are pursuing these people as hard as we can to affect the physical aspect of the caliphate while we deal with the harder part — the ideological basis of it,” he said.
Socom is the DoD coordinating authority for transregional terrorism and has been for going on two years, the general said. “This was a role and process that didn’t exist,” he said. “It tied together our disparate DoD efforts.”
Previously, Army Gen. Joe Votel would handle special operations in the Central Command region, and Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser would handle Africa Command and Navy Adm. Harry Harris would handle Pacific Command. “They were good, focused activities but without any synchronization at the DoD level,” Thomas said. “We were thrust into that role.”
He said he is not sitting at MacDill moving special operators around the globe, but the change enables the command “to agitate or drive an assessment at the senior DoD level of what are we trying to do, how well are we doing it, and what do we need to change in terms of strategy and resourcing.”
Previously, the only person in the department who could do such a thing was the defense secretary.
He said his mission objectives from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have changed. “It used to be ‘Defeat ISIS,’” he said. “It is now, ‘Annihilate ISIS.’ [Mattis] put a non-doctrinal term out there to amp up the volume a bit, and we all got the message.”
Thomas wants Socom to be more agile and more networked.
He said the command has its eyes on Iran and its stated goal of building a Shia crescent through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon. Iranian officials are all throughout that area now, the general said, adding that they bear special attention.
ISIS is trying to export its “brand” through the world and they seized on Libya as a failed state, which, with its gap in governance could serve as a foothold in the region. In fact, ISIS leaders declared Libya a province in the caliphate, he said, and at its high-water mark in the country had around 2,000 fighters in and around the seaside city of Sirte. “They don’t exist anymore,” Thomas noted.
Special operations forces worked through proxies and surrogates to eliminate the ISIS threat in that area, he said. Still, the general said, Libya is another place that bears watching as some of the fighters escaped to southern Libya and are looking for a time and place to return.
The command is also invested in deterring Russia and there are special operators working with all the nations bordering Russia, Thomas said. “The people [of those nations] enjoy their freedom and want to keep it,” he added.
Herridge asked about the command’s work on the Korean Peninsula. Thomas objected to the argument that there is no military option against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he continues to build a nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. “There is always a military option,” he said. “That’s why you pay $600 billion a year. It is an ugly, ugly option, but you cannot play elements of power and then discount that there is no option.”
“People say that Kim Jong Un can only put a warhead the size of the Hiroshima bomb on a missile,” he continued. “That’s not comforting to me. Everything I am hearing … is that he and the regime are inextricably tied to their nuclear program.”
For the future, the general wants Socom to be able to give decision-makers more options to choose from when a crisis develops. “My biggest concern is the need to transform,” Thomas said.
The general spoke of a senior private industry executive who visited the command and told him that though the command is getting the right people and prototyping new capabilities well, “you suck at deep learning.”
“We are still trying to digest terabytes of data, and this company is way beyond that,” Thomas said. “If we can master that, we become Socom on steroids in terms of Seeing threats, seeing opportunities [and] applying our special capabilities.”
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — When North Korea decided to go nuclear, it committed to a huge investment in a program that would bring severe sanctions and eat up precious resources that could have been spent boosting the nation’s quality of life.
Money well spent?
Leader Kim Jong Un seems to think so.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs have without doubt come at a high cost, but the North has managed to march ever closer to having an arsenal capable of attacking targets in the region and – as demonstrated by its July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – the United States’ mainland.
Good, solid figures for just about anything in North Korea are hard to find. So what follows should be taken as ballpark guesses, at best.
But here’s a look at how much that arsenal might cost Pyongyang, and why Kim might think that’s the price he must pay to survive.
THE NUCLEAR PRICETAG
South Korea has estimated the cost of the North’s nuclear program at $1 billion to $3 billion, with the higher number combining nuclear and missile development.
For context: one nuclear-powered Virginia class attack submarine costs the United States Navy about $2.5 billion. The USS Gerald Ford, America’s newest aircraft carrier, has an $8 billion price tag, not counting development costs.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense estimated the cost of the first 31 ballistic missiles Kim Jong Un test-launched from when he took power in late 2011 until July last year at $97 million. It put the price of each Scud at $1 million to $2 million; each Musudan from $3 million to $6 million; and each submarine-launched ballistic missile at $5 million to $10 million. Up until July last year, Kim had launched 16 Scuds, six Rodongs, six Musudans and three SLBMs.
Including the launch this month of its first ICBM, North Korea has conducted 11 tests, launching 17 missiles, so far this year.
North Korea’s total defense spending is believed to be around $10 billion a year, or somewhere between a fifth to a quarter of its gross domestic product (about $30 billion to $40 billion).
WHERE DOES IT GET THE MONEY?
That’s a matter of heated debate. But the $2 billion it made in exports in 2015 would not begin to cover it. North Korea is also believed to have relied on foreign currency sent by tens of thousands of laborers dispatched abroad, as well as exports of illegal weapons and cybercrime.
Its military-spending-to-GDP ratio far exceeds any other country, but in monetary terms it spends much less than its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan, and its budget is absolutely minuscule when compared to the United States.
Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said that if the South Korean nuclear-program estimate is correct it would be a significant – but not necessarily destabilizing – draw on the North’s economy.
“This is expensive, but probably a cost the country can absorb without fomenting much resentment among North Korean “elites,” he said. “In fact, North Korean elites would probably feel less secure without a nuclear program even if its costs relative to the economy as a whole were higher.”
Melvin said the economic situation for common North Koreans would have to be in near ruin, with domestic resentment among elites reaching dangerous levels, before North Korea would reconsider its nuclear program.
“Current signals indicate that North Korea is nowhere near this breaking point,” he said.
BURDEN OR BARGAIN?
The bottom line is that regime survival is Kim Jong Un’s primary objective.
There is no way North Korea could keep up with its richer and more technologically advanced neighbors in a conventional arms race.
While certainly expensive, the North’s nuclear strategy is in one sense a potential source of savings – once developed, maintaining a viable nuclear deterrent is less costly than paying for its conventional, million-man military. Once it has reliable nuclear arms, Pyongyang could reduce its spending on other areas of the military and redirect those savings toward the domestic economy.
It’s possible Kim Jong Un has already begun doing that.
Officially announced budgets have shown increases in funds for the public good, and Kim has adopted as his guiding policy a strategy of simultaneously developing the country’s nuclear arsenal and the national economy. Outside estimates indicate the North’s GDP has been growing slowly or at least holding steady since he became leader, and there has been visible growth in construction and infrastructure projects, along with the production of consumer goods, over the past five years.
The flip side is the harder to quantify loss in revenue from trade and friendly relationships with the outside world due to sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to denuclearize.
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him of Twitter at EricTalmadge and Instagram.
The United States military stands ready to provide options to President Donald J. Trump, but diplomatic and economic efforts remain the tools of choice to convince North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile programs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters here today.
“The president’s been very clear, and secretary of state’s been very clear that we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts,” Mattis said during an impromptu news conference in the Pentagon. “The military remains ready in accordance with our alliance with Japan, with Korea.”
The secretary stressed that the effort against North Korea is purely diplomatically led. The weapons of choice are economic sanctions, but these will be buttressed by military capabilities. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the administration point man with regard to North Korea. “We stand ready to provide options if they are necessary,” Mattis said.
Diplomacy with regard to North Korea has not failed, Mattis said. He cited Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, saying America and South Korea have exercised extreme self-restraint in avoiding war. He noted the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the sinking of a South Korean ship earlier that year and other provocations at sea, on land and in cyberspace. “Our self-restraint holds, and diplomatic efforts remain underway as we speak,” he said.
The United States is working with allies to influence North Korea. U.S. officials are also working with China – North Korea’s benefactor and largest trading partner – to place more pressure on North Korean leaders to stop the nuclear and missile programs.
Launch Analysis Continues
The secretary said the Defense Department is still analyzing intelligence from the North Korean launch. “It clearly had a booster, which was a new development on a previous missile,” he said.
Mattis said he was not surprised that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched the missile. “We assume these sorts of things from him,” the secretary said. “Right now that’s why we’re called … the sentinels for this country. We were on duty. … The radars were up and operating. We knew it as soon as he fired it that it had been fired — literally.”