Most Americans worry about full-scale war with North Korea, but lack confidence in Trump to handle issue

Emily Guskin writes: Nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned the United States could get involved in a full-scale war with North Korea, even as a majority lacks trust in President Trump to handle the situation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A new high of 66 percent say North Korea poses a “serious threat” to the United States, up from 54 percent in a 2005 Post-ABC poll and 55 percent in 2003, with concern spanning partisan and ideological lines.

The poll was conducted shortly after North Korea launched its farthest-reaching missile test to date in July with a range experts say could reach Alaska. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the missile test was a new escalation of the threat posed to the United States and the world, and that Washington would bring North Korea’s action before the U.N. Security Council.

The Post-ABC poll finds lagging confidence in Trump to handle the situation, with 36 percent saying they trust Trump at least “a good amount” to deal with the issue, while 63 percent have “just some” or less confidence. Four in 10 say they do not trust Trump “at all” on the issue, nearly twice the number who express “a great deal” of confidence. [Continue reading…]


As many as 64,000 could die in the first three hours of a war with North Korea

David Wroe reports: Robert Kelly is an American living in South Korea. As is well known to the more than 25 million viewers who’ve watched the hilarious video of his children bursting into his BBC interview, the Korea expert has a young family.

While Kelly is sceptical that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program will lead to war, he and his wife regularly discuss what they will do if there is an attack by the North on Busan, where Kelly teaches at the city’s university.

“With a young family I take it seriously and my wife and I talk about it whenever these things pop up – what to do, where to go, what to pack,” he said.

Busan in the south would be in range of the North’s ballistic missiles, including nukes. The THAAD shield system might stop some of them but not all.

There is no such protective shield to defend the capital Seoul against the rain of artillery and rockets that could be fired by the North from the demilitarised zone. In greater Seoul, which the North has threatened to turn into “a sea of fire” if it were ever attacked, there are an estimated 100,000 Americans living among the population of 25 million people.

If Donald Trump lost patience with the North’s recalcitrance over its nuclear program and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against the regime of Kim Jong-un, he would have to consider whether he wanted to see images of hundreds, maybe thousands of dead Americans on CNN on top of the tens of thousands of dead South Koreans.

He could evacuate Americans en masse but that would signal an intention and the North would then probably launch pre-emptively anyway. [Continue reading…]


Scared about North Korea? You aren’t scared enough

Tobin Harshaw writes: No matter how hard Americans may have tried to check out of the real world over this long holiday, their idylls were undoubtedly interrupted by the news that North Korea had successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that could conceivably reach the U.S. If paired with a miniaturized nuclear warhead, it poses the greatest new threat to domestic security since the end of the Cold War. And, oh yeah, the guy with his hand on the launcher is a stone-cold nut job who reportedly likes killing close relatives with anti-aircraft guns.

OK, this is scary, but mostly in a theoretical sense. There remain lots of unanswered questions about the sophistication and reliability of the North Koreans’ weapons, not to mention the odds that the dictator Kim Jong Un would sign his own death warrant by using a nuclear device on South Korea, Japan or the world’s remaining military superpower. To get more concrete answers, I spoke with somebody who knows as much as anybody about the Hermit Kingdom’s mysterious ways: Jeffrey Lewis — or, as he is known to his more than 30,000 Twitter followers, @armscontrolwonk. Lewis is the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, writes for Foreign Policy, and oversees a lively blog on nonproliferation issues — no, that is not an oxymoron — at

I talked with Lewis about the latest North Korean achievement, the history and future of the regime’s nuclear program, and what it’s like to live in the heart of the fallout zone should Kim make good on his threat to turn the Pacific Coast into a “sea of fire.” [Continue reading…]


Why did sanctions against North Korea’s missile program fail?

By Daniel Salisbury, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), allegedly with the capability to hit Alaska, is the latest in a series of significant advances for the country’s missile program.

North Korea has been seeking to develop long-range missile technology for over 20 years. For much of this period, the international community has been trying to stop that from happening.

My research on how states illegally obtain missile technologies and my experience conducting outreach related to U.N. sanctions give me some insight into the methods North Korea used to make illicit procurements and the limitations in using technology-based sanctions to prevent them.

[Read more…]


U.S. plans to test THAAD missile defenses as North Korea tensions mount

Reuters reports: The United States plans to carry out a new test of its THAAD missile defense system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the coming days, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday, as tensions with North Korea climb.

Despite being planned months ago, the U.S. missile defense test will gain significance in the wake of North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4 that has heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.

The test will be the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to defend against a simulated attack by an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), one of the officials said. The THAAD interceptors will be fired from Alaska.

The United States has THAAD interceptors in Guam that are meant to help guard against a missile attack from a country such as North Korea. [Continue reading…]


Angela Merkel uses eyes and hands to try and convince Putin that North Korea fired an ICBM

The determination that North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) this week is based on the extrapolation of its range if aimed on a standard trajectory rather than the very steep trajectory of its actual launch, as illustrated below:

In conversation with Vladamir Putin today, Angela Merkel appears to have had difficulty in pressing home the argument as her eyes tracked the steep trajectory of the missile:

Then she resorted to hand motions:


The message behind the murder: North Korea’s assassination sheds light on chemical weapons arsenal

The Washington Post reports: In a case with a thousand plot twists, there has been but one constant in the murder investigation of Kim Jong Nam: Nothing is ever what it seems.

The victim himself — the playboy half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — was traveling under false papers when he died and had to be identified using DNA. The two women accused of killing him turned out to be hired dupes, paid a few dollars to perform what they thought was a reality-TV stunt.

Stranger still was the murder weapon, liquid VX, a toxin so powerful that a few drops rubbed onto the skin killed the victim in minutes, yet it failed to harm the two women who applied the poison with their bare hands. Even more mysterious: why North Korea would go to extravagant lengths to use a battlefield-grade chemical weapon on foreign soil, only to work equally hard to cover its tracks.

For the prosecutors preparing for the first court hearings later this month, some of the mysteries behind Kim Jong Nam’s death inside a Malaysian airport terminal will likely never be resolved. But nearly five months after the killing, U.S. and Asian officials have a clearer view of the attack’s significance. In carrying out history’s first state-sponsored VX assassination in a country 3,000 miles from its borders, North Korea has demonstrated a new willingness to use its formidable arsenal of deadly toxins and poisons to kill or intimidate enemies on foreign soil, analysts say.

Seen in the light of North Korea’s recent flurry of provocative missiles tests, Kim Jong Nam’s killing now looks to many experts like a proving exercise for a weapons system — in this case, a robust chemical-weapons stockpile that Pyongyang is thought to have built over decades and kept carefully under wraps. [Continue reading…]


North Korea’s newly tested ICBM can likely reach targets throughout most of the continental United States

Jeffrey Lewis writes: it is important to understand that 7,000 km is the range that North Korea demonstrated. It is minimum. Those of us who study proliferation are now in the process of modeling the missile to determine its maximum range. And I don’t like what I see.

The new missile appears to share a lot of common characteristics with the new missile, called the Hwasong-12, tested on May 14. My colleagues at the Middlebury Institute, along with friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists, have been modeling this missile very carefully. We measured its length and width, located the weld lines that showed where the propellant tanks are located, estimated its weight by analyzing the crane that lifted it into place, and determined the power of its engine by tracking the missile’s acceleration down to the tenth of a second.

We concluded that this missile is larger than most experts initially thought. Moreover, it has a much better engine and more efficient airframe than anything North Korea has ever built.

The Hwasong-12 was large. The Hwasong-14 is larger still. It appears to be wider than the Hwasong-12, and has a second stage—a missile on top of a missile—that extends its range. Although it is too early to offer a definitive judgment about the full capability of the Hwasong-14, a two-stage missile of this size and sophistication should be able to deliver a nuclear weapon-size payload much farther than just Alaska, to targets throughout most of the continental United States.

It is possible that North Korea’s Hwasong-14 underperformed. But it is more likely that North Korea simply did not test the missile to its full range, wanting to bring it down into the sea. That is fairly straightforward for rockets that use liquid fuel, where it is possible to simply stop the engine to reduce the range.

China, for instance, conducted several reduced range tests of its DF-5 ICBM before conducting a full-range test in 1980. Another test fell short because the second stage engine turned off a few seconds too soon. Whatever happened, the capabilities demonstrated this week are probably not the full capability of the missile.

The bottom line is that there is no reason at this point to conclude that the Hwasong-14 has a range of “only” 7,000 km or that it is just Alaska that is within range. The technologies on display in the Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 suggest that the latter is much more capable. And there is no reason to think that North Korea cannot build an ICBM that can reach anywhere in the United States.

That isn’t a reason to panic. But it is a reason to face squarely the reality that North Korea is a nuclear-weapons state that can target the United States. [Continue reading…]



Pentagon is confident that U.S. might be able to intercept an incoming North Korean nuclear missile

Reuters reports: Not everybody asserts as confidently as the Pentagon that the U.S. military can defend the United States from the growing threat posed by North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

Pyongyang’s first test on Tuesday of an ICBM with a potential to strike the state of Alaska has raised the question: How capable is the U.S. military of knocking down an incoming missile or barrage of missiles?

Briefing reporters on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said: “We do have confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat, the nascent threat that is there.”

Davis cited a successful test in May in which a U.S.-based missile interceptor knocked down a simulated incoming North Korean ICBM. But he acknowledged the test program’s track program was not perfect.

“It’s something we have mixed results on. But we also have an ability to shoot more than one interceptor,” Davis said.

An internal memo seen by Reuters also showed that the Pentagon upgraded its assessment of U.S. defenses after the May test.

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent on a multi-layered missile defense system, the United States may not be able to seal itself off entirely from a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile attack. [Continue reading…]


How Trump could tweet his way into nuclear war with North Korea

Laura Rosenberger writes: North Korea’s apparent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile puts it closer to having the ability to hit the United States with a nuclear warhead. This is an extraordinarily dangerous development.

I worked on North Korea policy in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, at the State Department and on the National Security Council, so I know firsthand just how difficult the challenges posed by North Korea are to deal with. I know how constrained the policy options are, and I’m familiar with the many difficult choices involved in selecting from a menu of bad options. And I know the incredibly complicated coordination — both within our own government, and with our allies and partners — that is necessary to implement a strategy to handle it.

But President Trump’s reaction to North Korea’s missile test was to immediately reach for his phone and sound off with chest-thumping statements on Twitter. This is a very reckless reaction, and one that risks miscalculation by adversary and ally alike.

North Korea will parse every word of Trump’s Twitter statements to try to understand what they mean. That’s because North Korea uses its own propaganda mouthpieces in an intricate way to signal its intentions to both internal and external audiences. As a government official working on North Korea, I spent hours working with analysts poring over North Korean statements to understand Pyongyang’s thinking — whether and how it differs from past statements — and cutting through the bluster to identify the core point it was communicating. Its words are carefully chosen, and it uses different formulas to send different signals.

We know from watching Pyongyang’s reactions to previous U.S. statements that it read our words in a similar way. North Korean officials will look for clear signals of intention in Trump’s tweets. The problem is, it’s not clear that Trump has any idea what his intentions are. He is sending signals that foreign officials will attach meanings to — meanings he may not have intended and might not even realize he’s sending. [Continue reading…]


Four things to know about North and South Korea

File 20170705 21675 xudwrd
People watch news of missile test on a public TV screen in North Korea.
AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin

By Ji-Young Lee, American University School of International Service

Editor’s note: North Korea tested what it claims was an intercontinental ballistic missile at 9:40 a.m. Pyongyang time on July 3. Some analysts say this is evidence that Alaska is now within striking distance of nuclear weapons held by strongman Kim Jong Un.

In response, the U.S. conducted joint military exercises with South Korea, and President Donald Trump accused China of supporting the North Korean government through trade.

Professor Ji-Young Lee of American University answers four questions to help put this conflict into context.

Why is there a North and a South Korea?

Before there was a South and North Korea, the peninsula was ruled as a dynasty known as Chosŏn, which existed for more than five centuries, until 1910. This period, during which an independent Korea had diplomatic relations with China and Japan, ended with imperial Japan’s annexation of the peninsula. Japan’s colonial rule lasted 35 years.

When Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the Korean peninsula was split into two zones of occupation – the U.S.-controlled South Korea and the Soviet-controlled North Korea. Amid the growing Cold War tensions between Moscow and Washington, in 1948, two separate governments were established in Pyongyang and Seoul. Kim Il-Sung, leader of North Korea, was a former guerrilla who fought under Chinese and Russian command. Syngman Rhee, a Princeton University-educated staunch anti-communist, became the first leader of South Korea.

[Read more…]


Why there is no realistic option of a ‘surgical strike’ on North Korea

The New York Times reports: The standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program has long been shaped by the view that the United States has no viable military option to destroy it. Any attempt to do so, many say, would provoke a brutal counterattack against South Korea too bloody and damaging to risk.

That remains a major constraint on the Trump administration’s response even as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, approaches his goal of a nuclear arsenal capable of striking the United States. On Tuesday, the North appeared to cross a new threshold, testing a weapon that it described as an intercontinental ballistic missile and that analysts said could potentially hit Alaska.

Over the years, as it does for potential crises around the world, the Pentagon has drafted and refined multiple war plans, including an enormous retaliatory invasion and limited pre-emptive attacks, and it holds annual military exercises with South Korean forces based on them.

But the military options are more grim than ever.

Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties, because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South. Though the arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, recently warned that if North Korea used it, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

Beyond that, there is no historical precedent for a military attack aimed at destroying a country’s nuclear arsenal.

The last time the United States is known to have seriously considered attacking the North was in 1994, more than a decade before its first nuclear test. The defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for a “surgical strike” on a nuclear reactor, but he backed off after concluding it would set off warfare that could leave hundreds of thousands dead.

The stakes are even higher now. American officials believe North Korea has built as many as a dozen nuclear bombs — perhaps many more — and can mount them on missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea. [Continue reading…]


‘Self-restraint’ is only thing stopping war with North Korea, U.S. general says

The New York Times reports: “Self-restraint” is all that is keeping the United States and South Korea from going to war with the North, the top American general in South Korea said on Wednesday. His comment came as the South’s defense minister indicated that the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile had the potential to reach Hawaii.

The unusually blunt warning, from Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of American troops based in Seoul, came a day after North Korea said it successfully tested the Hwasong-14, its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

Washington and its allies confirmed that the weapon was an ICBM and condemned the test as a violation of United Nations resolutions and a dangerous escalation of tensions.

Although doubt remained whether North Korea had cleared all the technical hurdles to make the Hwasong-14 a fully functional ICBM, the launch prompted the United States and South Korea to conduct a rare joint missile exercise off the east coast of the South on Wednesday. The drill involved firing an undisclosed number of ballistic missiles into the sea.

“Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” said General Brooks, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders. [Continue reading…]


Trump’s lack of a North Korea strategy is drawing China and Russia closer

Isaac Stone Fish writes: In a dramatic change, the most shocking response to North Korea’s 3 July missile test – which some analysts think demonstrates Pyongyang’s ability to strike Alaska or Hawaii with a ballistic missile – came not from Donald Trump, but from Beijing and Moscow.

Trump’s Twitter response to the launch contained his typical combination of bluster, insult and prodding. “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life,” Trump said on 3 July, probably referring to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, adding, “perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

By a happy coincidence for the two countries, the launch occurred during Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow. Hours before the launch, the Chinese Communist party secretary told Russian media that Sino-Russian strategic ties “are at the best point in history”, and the launch offered the two sides an occasion to demonstrate their closeness.

In a joint statement, China and Russia’s foreign ministries warned the situation on the Korean peninsula was so tense “it could lead to an armed conflict”. And it chastised the “relevant parties” – Trump, as well as Kim – to “refrain from provocative actions and warlike remarks”.

The striking thing about their statement is not only the language – mild when compared with Trump’s tweets, but surprisingly strident from China’s normally staid foreign ministry – but that Moscow and Beijing took the unusual step of issuing one together. [Continue reading…]


Did North Korean missile test trigger Trump’s ‘red line’?

VOA reports: In January, Donald Trump drew what appeared to be a “red line” for North Korea: testing a ballistic missile that could reach parts of the United States with a nuclear warhead.

“It won’t happen!” insisted then President-elect Trump in a statement he posted on Twitter.

Except early Tuesday, it did happen, according to North Korean state television, which reported Kim Jong Un “personally observed” the test of the Hwaseong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile.

The North’s claims were bolstered by the U.S. military, which tracked the missile for 37 minutes, and independent analysts, who estimated its range at 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) — far enough to reach Alaska, and an apparent violation of Trump’s “red line” warning.

In international geopolitics, a “red line” signifies an unequivocal threat; it could also be described as “a line in the sand.” Breaking the limit set by the “red line” would incur the full fury of the state that issued the threat.

The successful test of an ICBM (generally defined as a rocket with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers, or 3,400 miles) would represent a major challenge for Trump, who has warned the U.S. is willing to act alone to stop the North Korean nuclear threat. [Continue reading…]


South Koreans more scared of Trump than North Korea, says Australia’s former foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans

ABC News (AU) reports: Despite North Korea announcing it has successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Koreans consider Donald Trump to be a bigger threat to their security than Kim Jong-un, according to former foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans.

“Kim Jong-un’s behaviour is often rather idiosyncratic, it’s also often very ugly but I don’t think anybody thinks he’s nuts,” he told 7.30.

“It’s very clear that South Koreans are more worried about Donald Trump than they are about the North Koreans in terms of what might trigger an actual conflict in which they’d be caught up and devastated.”

While he believes a deliberate nuclear strike by either the US or North Korea is unlikely, Mr Evans said he was worried about how the US President may respond to future provocations. [Continue reading…]


Kim Jong Un has nukes, now he has an ICBM, and he will use them to threaten the U.S.

Jeffrey Lewis writes: North Korea wanted a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States for a very simple reason: Kim Jong Un and his cronies in Pyongyang watched as the United States assembled a massive invasion force against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, then used airpower to aid the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. The latter was especially frightening for the North Koreans, because Gaddafi had abandoned his WMD programs in a disarmament deal and was then offered up by the Bush Administration as an intermediary who would vouch to North Korea that the U.S. keeps its promises.

The deal ended with Gaddafi’s gruesome death on camera. North Korea doesn’t plan to wait around like Saddam or Gaddafi. Instead, once a war starts, North Korea plans to hit U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan with everything it has, including nuclear weapons, hoping to shock the United States and blunt an invasion. U.S. officials often dismiss that possibility by saying it would be suicide for Kim. But Kim is counting on nuclear-armed ICBMs that can target the United States to ensure that Trump realizes that suicide would be mutual.

Trump doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do about this. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, having said we are done talking about North Korea, said nothing. But then again, I am yet to be convinced Tillerson is actually alive and this isn’t some reboot of the Weekend at Bernie’s franchise set at the State Department. Nope, there is no plan.

To the extent that there is any coherent Trump approach, one might infer from his tweets that he believes his new friend, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will bail him out like his Korea policy was an underwater condo development. But Xi’s interest is transactional and it isn’t clear to me that China is worse off if North Korea can threaten the United States with nuclear weapons. Moreover, if Beijing had so much sway over North Korea, Kim wouldn’t have sent to two assassins to rub VX in the face of his half-brother living under Chinese protection.

It’s not just Trump, though—the Obama Administration didn’t know what to do, either. The idea that the United States could work through China or use cyber-attacks to halt North Korea’s missile program was just a collective exercise in denial that our effort to prevent a nuclear-armed North Korea was an abject failure. For eight damned years, I kept hearing about strategic patience in one form or another.

While I think we did have a chance to pick some different outcome in the mid-1990s, the window for denuclearization closed a long time ago. If Kim Il Sung once calculated that he could trade nuclear weapons he had not built for international recognition of his bizarre little dictatorship, his grandson has clearly decided that real nuclear weapons are a lot better than promises on paper. That is our new reality. [Continue reading…]