North Korea says ‘a nuclear war may break out any moment’

The Associated Press reports: North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador warned Monday that the situation on the Korean peninsula “has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”

Kim In Ryong told the U.N. General Assembly’s disarmament committee that North Korea is the only country in the world that has been subjected to “such an extreme and direct nuclear threat” from the United States since the 1970s — and said the country has the right to possess nuclear weapons in self-defense.

He pointed to large-scale military exercises every year using “nuclear assets” and said what is more dangerous is what he called a U.S. plan to stage a “secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership.” [Continue reading…]

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If Trump doesn’t want a nuclear war with North Korea, a ‘No First Use’ pledge might work better than threats

Steven J. Brams writes: Donald Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury” should it cross some ambiguous tripwire. By being vague about where that tripwire lies, Trump seems to believe that his threat, coupled with harsher economic sanctions, will force Kim Jong Un to back down.

But just the opposite seems to have occurred. Instead, a war of words has broken out between Trump and Kim. This underscores the dangers that arise when there are no clear policy guidelines about what conditions constitute a threat to peace and can lead to war. It also tells us what may happen when each leader plays a “madman strategy” — pretending to be a madman to induce his antagonist to capitulate.

Game theorists such as Thomas Schelling have pointed out that the madman strategy can sometimes get results. It is equivalent to throwing the steering wheel out the window of your car, in sight of your adversary, when playing a game of chicken — showing that you are not going to be able to swerve, so your adversary must do so to avoid a head-on collision. Clearly, chicken is a dangerous game.

On the one hand, disaster might strike if both players stick with the madman strategy of making irrevocable commitments. The personal invectives and threats that Trump and Kim have hurled at each other might eventually be sufficient to cause one of them to escalate to nuclear war. If their posturing becomes real, this strategy’s logic leads to mutual catastrophe. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military to begin drills to evacuate Americans from South Korea

The New York Times reports: The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

It has been conducting similar noncombatant evacuation exercises for decades, along with other joint military exercises with South Korea. But when tensions escalate with North Korea, as they have recently, such drills draw outsize attention and ignite fear among South Koreans, some of whom take them as a sign that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most. [Continue reading…]

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The world once laughed at North Korean cyberpower. No more

The New York Times reports: When North Korean hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve last year, only a spelling error stopped them. They were digitally looting an account of the Bangladesh Central Bank, when bankers grew suspicious about a withdrawal request that had misspelled “foundation” as “fandation.”

Even so, Kim Jong-un’s minions still got away with $81 million in that heist.

Then only sheer luck enabled a 22-year-old British hacker to defuse the biggest North Korean cyberattack to date, a ransomware attack last May that failed to generate much cash but brought down hundreds of thousands of computers across dozens of countries — and briefly crippled Britain’s National Health Service.

Their track record is mixed, but North Korea’s army of more than 6,000 hackers is undeniably persistent, and undeniably improving, according to American and British security officials who have traced these attacks and others back to the North.

Amid all the attention on Pyongyang’s progress in developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental United States, the North Koreans have also quietly developed a cyberprogram that is stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and proving capable of unleashing global havoc.

Unlike its weapons tests, which have led to international sanctions, the North’s cyberstrikes have faced almost no pushback or punishment, even as the regime is already using its hacking capabilities for actual attacks against its adversaries in the West.

And just as Western analysts once scoffed at the potential of the North’s nuclear program, so did experts dismiss its cyberpotential — only to now acknowledge that hacking is an almost perfect weapon for a Pyongyang that is isolated and has little to lose. [Continue reading…]

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Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new poll says. Is it the Trump Effect?

Aaron Blake writes: There was a pretty striking finding in Thursday’s Quinnipiac University poll: Fully 46 percent of Republicans — a plurality — said they would support a preemptive strike against North Korea.

That’s nearly half of President Trump’s party that is ready for war — today — with Kim Jong Un, his nuclear weapons and all. (Forty-one percent said they opposed a preemptive strike.)

It’s no surprise that Republicans are more hawkish on this than Democrats are; that’s generally the case on foreign policy. But basically nobody is talking about the prospect of a strike right now. Even when Trump talks about it, he’s responding to North Korea threatening the United States or its allies.

Yet it also seems possible that Trump’s ramped-up rhetoric on this could be having an effect on his base. Trump in August promised “fire and fury” if North Korea ran afoul of him. Last month, he threatened in his speech at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country — a threat that seemed to tie average North Koreans to their government’s demise. He has repeatedly called Kim “Rocket Man” and generally proved fond of the kind of saber-rattling we expect from the other side of this standoff. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea ready for missile test any time as drill approaches

Bloomberg reports: South Korean military officials are readying for another possible missile launch by Pyongyang as they prepare for a joint military drill with the U.S. on the disputed peninsula this week.

Multiple South Korean media reports citing unidentified military officials on Saturday and Sunday said North Korean missile vehicles “kept appearing and disappearing” from the map and “transporter erector launchers” had been spotted carrying ballistic missiles from near Pyongyang and North Pyongan province.

A joint military drill between the U.S. and South Korea will be held from Monday through Friday, Yonhap reported Sunday, citing an unidentified military source who said Pyongyang was ready to fire missiles “any time.”

“Anything could happen especially before China’s party convention on Oct. 18 and during the time between post-drills and Trump’s visits in the region,” said Shin Beomchul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul. “There is also the possibility for North Korea to test shorter-ranged ballistic missiles, which in the past did not lead to UN sanctions.” Historically, the North had tended not to provoke directly during the military drills. [Continue reading…]

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Bob Corker on Trump’s biggest problem: The ‘castration’ of Rex Tillerson

Jackson Diehl writes: So is Donald Trump really leading the country toward World War III?

That is the warning that lingers from the broadside delivered by Bob Corker (Tenn.) during his Twitter war with Trump. Most Americans already take for granted much of what the Republican senator said — that the president peddles falsehoods online and has to be corralled by the “adults” around him. But the notion offered by the silver-haired, sober-minded chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee that Trump might launch a catastrophic war invites sleepless nights even for those who have already resigned themselves to four years of domestic chaos.

There would seem to be plenty to worry about, from Trump’s insistently hawkish statements about North Korea, including personal insults directed at ruler Kim Jong Un, to his showy announcement of “decertification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday. Yet as Corker sees it, the biggest problem is that Trump is neutering his own chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and thereby inviting “binary” situations in which the United States will have to choose between war and a North Korea or Iran capable of threatening the United States with nuclear weapons.

“You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state without giving yourself that binary choice,” Corker told me in a phone interview Friday. “The tweets — yes, you raise tension in the region [and] it’s very irresponsible. But it’s the first part” — the “castration” of Tillerson — “that I am most exercised about.”

Tillerson gets low marks from many in Washington, both inside and outside the State Department, who think he has cooperated with Trump’s attempt to strip U.S. diplomacy of resources, authority and public profile. But as Corker sees it, Tillerson has been instrumental in opening a path away from confrontation with North Korea through quiet diplomacy with China.

It’s like the movie “Mean Girls,” except it’s in the White House. Unfortunately. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)
“The greatest diplomatic activities we have are with China, and the most important, and they have come a long, long way,” Corker said. “Some of the things we are talking about are phenomenal.” [Continue reading…]

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Amid Trump’s ambiguity on North Korea, is the U.S. practicing for war?

The Associated Press reports: White House chief of staff John Kelly said Thursday that North Korea can’t be allowed to develop the ability to strike the U.S. but the threat is “manageable” for now.

Jim Schoff, a former senior Pentagon adviser for East Asia policy, said it doesn’t appear “U.S. policymakers think we’re on the brink of all-out war.”

But he added that doesn’t mean the administration is bluffing or has ruled out some kind of limited strike in response to a North Korean provocation. He said most telling were the repeated B1-B bomber flights, which he said were not intended just to signal U.S. resolve, but to practice making the long flight from the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam where they are based, and “to get a feel for what kind of air defenses North Korea has and how we see them react.”

Trump on Tuesday discussed with military chiefs, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” the White House said.

“If we made a decision to strike a few strategic targets in North Korea it could happen very quickly,” said Rob Givens, a former Air Force brigadier general who served as deputy assistant chief of staff for operations of U.S. Forces Korea. He said unless the U.S. decided to undertake a visible military buildup to deter Pyongyang, the public was unlikely to see an attack coming. [Continue reading…]

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Trump touts military option for North Korea that generals warn would be ‘horrific’

Foreign Policy reports: The United States can’t rule out military options for North Korea. There’s no military solution to North Korea. Diplomacy is our best bet with North Korea. Don’t waste time with diplomacy.

The world is reeling from the contradictory messages President Donald Trump and his administration are churning out on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threat. That includes Trump tweeting on Oct. 1 that Rex Tillerson, his own secretary of state, was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate an end to the North Korean conflict, and tweeting on Oct. 7 that after 25 years of failed talks, “only one thing will work!”

In the midst of the policy whiplash from the top, the Pentagon and State Department are quietly chugging away at the ground level, where the foreign policy of Trump’s Twitter feed is competing with foreign policy of the rest of the U.S. government.

U.S. military leaders, in particular, continue to insist that any engagement with the North Koreans must be led by the country’s diplomats. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea ‘hackers steal U.S.-South Korea war plans’

BBC News reports: Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the information was from his country’s defence ministry.

The compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

They also include reports to the allies’ senior commanders.

The South Korean defence ministry has so far refused to comment about the allegation.

Plans for the South’s special forces were reportedly accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

Mr Rhee belongs to South Korea’s ruling party, and sits on its parliament’s defence committee. He said some 235 gigabytes of military documents had been stolen from the Defence Integrated Data Centre, and that 80% of them have yet to be identified. [Continue reading…]

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North Korean leader hails nuclear arsenal as ‘powerful deterrent’

The New York Times reports: The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has vowed to build up his country’s nuclear arsenal as a “powerful deterrent” to the United States, state media reported, hours after President Trump said that “only one thing will work” in dealing with the isolated country.

Mr. Kim made his comments on Saturday at a meeting of the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday. He also reconfirmed his policy of simultaneously seeking progress in his nuclear weapons program and pushing for economic growth in the face of expanding international sanctions.

The remarks indicated that Mr. Kim had no intention of retreating under American pressure even as South Korean officials and analysts worry that the North will conduct a major weapons test to observe the anniversary on Tuesday of the founding of the Workers’ Party.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a “powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying, citing “protracted nuclear threats of the U.S. imperialists.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump fires more tweets at North Korea

If this is the calm before the storm, it’s not filled with an ominous silence, but on the contrary, another round of Trump’s seemingly portentous tweets.

He doesn’t seem to recognize that his efforts to promote alarm and uncertainty have become so repetitive that the only reaction they can be expected to provoke is another sigh — here he goes again.

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The world has nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize honors the quest to abolish all of them

The Washington Post reports: An international group dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a recognition of efforts to avoid nuclear conflict at a time of greater atomic menace than any other period in recent memory.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was honored for its work to foster a global ban on the destructive weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. The scrappy civil society movement was behind a successful push this summer for a U.N. treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. It promotes nuclear disarmament around the world.

The award comes amid rising global alarm about a potential nuclear conflagration. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has hurled threats of nuclear missile strikes against the United States, and President Trump has warned he could “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. The barbed exchanges have raised fears among many global leaders of a miscalculation that could end in cataclysmic conflict. [Continue reading…]

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Washington sends indecipherable signals to North Korea on nuclear/missile tests and war

Yesterday the New York Times reported: The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital. [Continue reading…]

This afternoon, State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert reiterated that channels of communication remain open — for now:


And yet Donald Trump says there’s no point engaging in talks:


While the State Department appears ignorant that North Korea has already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities:


And Trump insists he will succeed where Clinton, Bush, and Obama failed:


But as Jeffrey Lewis points out, Trump already failed, having claimed in January that North Korea testing an intercontinental ballistic missile “won’t happen” — until it did happen:


Perhaps the North Koreans have less hesitation about engaging in talks with the U.S. than difficulty believing there is anyone in this administration with whom they can productively engage.

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Why it probably doesn’t matter whether Tillerson stays or goes

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write: In our combined 50-plus years at the State Department, neither of us ever witnessed as profound a humiliation as a sitting president handed his secretary of state Sunday morning.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Even if they’re playing good cop-bad cop, this is a shocker: Donald Trump is basically announcing that any negotiations with North Korea are worthless. This not only undercut Tillerson personally, but also undermines U.S. interests and the secretary of state’s sensible decision to talk to the North Korean regime. To make matters worse, all of this is occurring while Tillerson is in Beijing to prepare for the president’s trip to China next month—so the president kneecapped his own top diplomat in front of America’s chief rival in Asia.

Is this the final straw for Tillerson? The secretary of state clearly has not helped himself. Through his budget cuts, his focus on departmental reorganization at the expense of appointing assistant secretaries, his reliance on a tiny inner circle of outsiders and his maladroit use of the press, Tillerson has isolated himself within his own department. The Beltway foreign policy blob has already written him off as the worst secretary of state in history, and clearly others are hovering (U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley says she doesn’t want the job, but if you believe that, or if John Bolton make similar protestations, we have an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to sell you).

But in all fairness, the former ExxonMobil chief has never been empowered by his president. He’s been undercut repeatedly by this White House—see Kushner, Jared—and by Trump personally, even (especially) when he’s making the right diplomatic moves. And there’s no sign that any one of the vultures circling around Tillerson would be able to change or transcend this dynamic. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions to pressure North Korea

The Washington Post reports: Early in his administration, President Trump signed a directive outlining a strategy of pressure against North Korea that involved actions across a broad spectrum of government agencies and led to the use of military cyber-capabilities, according to U.S. officials.

As part of the campaign, U.S. Cyber Command targeted hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by barraging their computer servers with traffic that choked off Internet access.

Trump’s directive, a senior administration official said, also included instructions to diplomats and officials to bring up North Korea in virtually every conversation with foreign interlocutors and urge them to sever all ties with Pyongyang. Those conversations have had significant success, particularly in recent weeks as North Korea has tested another nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles, officials said.

So pervasive is the diplomatic campaign that some governments have found themselves scrambling to find any ties with North Korea. When Vice President Pence called on one country to break relations during a recent overseas visit, officials there reminded him that they never had relations with Pyongyang. Pence then told them, to their own surprise, that they had $2 million in trade with North Korea. Foreign officials, who asked that their country not be identified, described the exchange. [Continue reading…]

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If North Korea fires an ICBM, the U.S. might have to shoot it down over Russia

Patrick Tucker writes: If Pyongyang fires a missile at the United States, its most-likely trajectory would take it over the North Pole. A U.S. attempt to shoot down that missile would probably occur within Russian radar space — and possibly over Russia itself. “It’s something we’re aware of,” Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said Wednesday. “It’s something we work our way through.”

By year’s end, the U.S. will have deployed 44 ground-based interceptors, or GBIs: 40 at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. If deterrence fails, those interceptors would be the last line of defense against a North Korean missile. Each incoming ICBM might be met with four or more GBIs.

Last week, Joshua Pollack told an audience at the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington D.C. that the most probable intercept route aims the U.S. GBI “into the teeth of the Russian early warning net.”

The actual route will depend on the incoming missile’s course and speed, and just how quickly the U.S. system can react. Pollack, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, elaborated in a subsequent writeup of his presentation. “Defending a West Coast target…means engaging the attacking [reentry vehicle] above the Russian Far East. Yikes.” [Continue reading…]

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