North Korea warned Saturday that it was “not too far away” from testing a long-range missile capable of hitting the continental U.S. amid an unprecedented pace of weapons tests by the nuclear-armed nation.
“The series of recent strategic weapons tests show that we are not too far away from test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile,” the state-run Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial.
Pyongyang has unleashed a string of missile launches and tests of other advanced weaponry in recent weeks as it seeks to highlight its progress toward mastering the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
In a New Year’s Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed that the North was in the “final stages” of developing an ICBM.
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that a launch of a long-range missile by Pyongyang “won’t happen” on his watch.
Echoing a post-World War II climate of fear that the world was meant to forget, a small Japanese fishing village has reinstituted early-warning evacuation drills, only too aware of how close North Korean ballistic missiles await.
About 500 miles from Pyongyang, residents in the tiny western Japanese village of Abu have, on Tokyo’s recommendation, begun holding evacuation drills, training themselves to hunker down at a signal, in the event that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) makes good on its continual threat to fire off nuclear weapons at its numerous enemies, real and imagined.
Japanese children and their parents, grandparents and other village dwellers, after hearing the singsong siren alert, quickly congregated at the school gymnasium in the coastal village, assembling everyone in a remarkable three minutes, while town elders made a head count.
Locals commented on the new directives, with one 10-year-old student remarking that the siren “rang all of a sudden while we were picking grass, so that scared me,” according to Deutsche Welle.
An aboveground gymnasium may not provide adequate protection from a nuclear warhead delivered by a ballistic missile, according to one local parent, who observed that while the drill “didn’t feel very realistic, it was a good way to understand how to evacuate.”
Located on the southwest coast of Japan, Abu is close to the Korean Peninsula. Military observers calculate about 10 minutes for a missile launched by Pyongyang to strike the Japanese coast — a figure that does not account for several minutes that would be required by the government to become aware of the attack and to initiate the alert system.
The DPRK claim that its weapons development plan is necessary.
One month ago, when we first discussed that in addition to the CVN-70 Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group, the US was deploying two more carriers toward the Korean peninsula, some took the Yonhap-sourced report skeptically: after all, what’s the incremental symbolic impact of having three, or even two aircraft carriers next to North Korea when just one would more than suffice. Then, two weeks ago, the report was proven half right when US officials announced that in addition to the first US carrier already on location, the US Navy is moving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula, where it would conduct dual-carrier training exercises with the USS Carl Vinson.
Aircraft carrier CVN-76 Ronald Reagan
After completing its maintenance period in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Ronald Reagan departed for the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, according to the Navy. “Coming out of a long in-port maintenance period we have to ensure that Ronald Reagan and the remainder of the strike group are integrated properly as we move forward,” Rear Adm. Charles Williams said in a press release. Once it arrives in the region, the carrier will conduct a variety of training exercises but primarily focus on certifying its ability to safely launch and recover aircraft, the service said. In other words, training for combat missions involved the North Korean capital.
We concluded our report from mid-May by saying that the US Navy may soon “further deploy the CVN-68 Nimitz, which was the third carrier reported to be eventually making its way toward Korea.”
To the extent that Donald Trump had a case for becoming America’s president and commander-in-chief, it was that his business success would position him to make better international deals for his country. The argument was that Trump as a master negotiator would drive a harder bargain with adversaries than his conflict-averse predecessor, Barack Obama, by bringing more credibility and unpredictability to the table, while using his leverage and deal-making skills to gain concessions.
Where North Korea was concerned, this meant putting down a marker that Obama’s failed policy of “strategic patience” had ended, that the U.S. would not tolerate the further development of Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear capability, and that if China did not join the U.S. in pressuring North Korea, it would also pay a major price.
The approach sounds good in theory, but it is highly unlikely to work in reality. By proclaiming ambitious goals he is almost certainly unable to reach, making threats he is almost certainly unwilling to carry out, and signaling to China and others how badly he wants their help, Trump is setting himself up for an embarrassing climb down — one that will undermine his credibility not only with North Korea but with other global powers. Pyongyang further upped the ante with its latest missile test, on May 14, by launching what it claims is a new type of rocket capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead.
The warning comes as the Pentagon begins an extensive review of its nuclear arsenal.
On Sept., 26, 1983, shortly after midnight, the Soviet Oko nuclear early warning system detected five missiles launched from the United States and headed toward Moscow. Stanislav Petrov, a young lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Force, was the duty in the Serpukhov-15 bunker that housed the Oko command center. Petrov was the man in charge of alerting the soviets about a nuclear attack, which would trigger a retaliatory strike. He determined that the Oko had likely malfunctioned and the alarm was false. The Americans would not start World War III with a quintet of missiles (risking total annihilation.) It was a daring judgment call. He was, of course, right. As the U.S. prepares to undertake a new nuclear posture review to determine the future direction of the nation’s nuclear weapons, a report from a United Nations research institute warns that the risks of a catastrophic error — like the one that took place that early morning in 1983 — are growing, not shrinking. Next time, there may be no Lt. Col. Petrov in place to avoid a catastrophe.
On Monday, the U.S. Defense Department commenced a new, massive study into its nuclear weapons arsenal, looking at how weapons are kept, how the U.S. would use them in war and whether they present an intimidating enough threat to other countries not to attack us. The review was mandated by President Trump in a Jan 27, memo.
The Pentagon is scheduled to complete the review by the end of the year, an essential step as the military seeks to modernize different aspects of its nuclear deterrent. But a new report from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, or UNIDR, argues that as the modern battlefield becomes more technologically complex, crowded with more sensors, satellites, drones, and interconnected networks, the risks of another nuclear accident are on the rise.
“A greater reliance on automated systems can lead to misplaced confidence while introducing new points of vulnerability,” says the report. Those new points of vulnerability include so-called “hidden interactions.” That means a sensor or computer program misinterpreting some bit of data and possibly presenting false information in a way that could cause an accident.
The 1987 incident provides a good case in point. Oko satellites mistook a very unusual sunspot on top of a high altitude cloud as a missile strike, hence the false alarm.
Take those satellites, combine them with sensors on drones and data from other sources as well, including new, perhaps unproven technologies to detect missile launches and the picture becomes much more crowded and murky.
While US and North Korean officials have traded verbal missiles in the past few days, China has been noticably quiet. However, that just changed as a prominent Chinese expert told The Nikkei that China likely will halt crude oil exports to North Korea should Pyongyang conduct its sixth nuclear test, signaling a tougher attitude by Beijing toward its rogue neighbor.
North Korea relies almost entirely on China for oil. The Asian giant shipped about 500,000 tons of crude to the North each year until 2013, according to the Chinese customs agency. Bilateral ties cooled that year after Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test, and exports officially have remained at zero since 2014. But China is believed to still provide crude to North Korea off the books. A complete freeze would impact the North Korean economy.
A nuclear test or the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, and China is certain to respond with additional sanctions, said Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School and noted authority on North Korea.
The option to cut off the North’s crude supply will be put on the table, Zhang said, while stressing that the Chinese government will ultimately decide its course of action.
Diplomatic sources have also suggested a halt to crude exports and financial exchanges. The Global Times, an affiliate of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, recently published editorials arguing that North Korea’s nuclear experiments must be stopped, and that China should make clear that it will cut off crude exports in response to further tests.
However, even if China says it has stopped all crude exports to North Korea, such a claim cannot not be verified, given that past shipments have not been reflected in official data. Some also argue that it is technologically difficult to completely shut off the pipeline between China and the North. It remains unclear just how serious Beijing has become toward handling Pyongyang’s threat.
According to a report by Korea JoongAng Daily, China appears to be preparing measures in case North Korea tests a nuclear device or performs another provocation, including possibly suspending oil to the regime, and adds that relations between Beijing and Pyongyang appear frostier than ever before.
Additionally, the Korea publication references the Chinese-language Boxun News, which cites a Beijing source, according to whom Chinese President Xi Jinping attempted to send Wu Dawei, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, to Pyongyang after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-un allegedly rejected Wu’s visit.
Boxun adds that it was unclear if North Korea did not conduct a sixth nuclear test last Saturday because of Beijing’s warning not to do so, however it adds that according to “analysts” there’s a high likelihood of a provocation on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People’s Army next Tuesday and the days leading up to the South Korean presidential election on May 9.
Citing its Chinese source, Boxun said that “China believes there is the “highest possibility” of a nuclear test on April 25, but “does not leave out the possibility it might take action in early May.”
One assumes the Carl Vinson, wherever it may be in the world currently, will eventually make it to North Korea by then.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials cited by JoongAng Daily confirmed that Wu, China’s top nuclear envoy, during a visit to Seoul last week said he proposed to visit Pyongyang in person to persuade the North to refrain from further provocations but he was spurned.
In its first official comments on Sunday morning’s failed missile launch, South Korea said the latest North Korean provocation threatens the entire world, and warned of a punitive action if it leads to further actions such as a nuclear test or a long-range missile launch.
“North Korea showing a variety of offensive missiles at yesterday’s military parade and daring to fire a ballistic missile today is a show of force that threatens the whole world,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We have to warn again that if this leads to a strategic provocation of a nuclear or ICBM test, the North will face strong punitive measures that it will find hard to endure.”
Shortly after the failed test, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touched down in South Korea Sunday for his first visit in a five-leg trip to the Asia-Pacific region, being the highest-level official from the Donald Trump administration yet to arrive here amid escalating tensions with the North. The arrival marked Pence’s first-ever visit to the South, and was nine hours after North Korea conducted its fifth ballistic missile test this year earlier in the morning, though it ended in failure.
Pence arrived at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, at 3:30 p.m. but has yet to make any public remarks. A joint statement between him and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who concurrently serves as acting president, is expected to come this afternoon after the two leaders discuss North Korean issues at Hwang’s office in central Seoul.
“This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day,” Pence told a fellowship of U.S. soldiers and Koreans at a dinner in Seoul.
Amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, a U.S. aircraft carrier-led strike group has altered plans and headed toward the Korean Peninsula.
The USS Carl Vinson had just been in Busan, South Korea, in mid-March to participate in Foal Eagle, an annual U.S.-South Korea exercise. Afterward, the 6,000-crew warship moved to Singapore and was scheduled to make a port visit to Australia.
Instead, Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command — which oversees all U.S. forces in the Pacific — instructed the Carl Vinson Strike Group on April 8 to sail north once again.
It is the latest measure taken by the Donald Trump administration to show the world, especially China, that the U.S. strategy toward North Korea has changed. North Korea has recently repeatedly tested ballistic missiles, threatening to test a intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. Trump is signaling that his administration is not shy to use force to prevent such development.
A mobile naval base, capable of carrying 90 aircraft to the enemy, the aircraft carrier is the Navy’s most visible display of power. Accompanying the Carl Vinson are the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy, as well as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain.
Yesterday’s snap deployment of the US THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea has led to significant reverberations among the region, with not only North Korea, but also Russia and China slamming the move.
As reported last night, various equipment including 2 launch pads for U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD arrived in South Korea on Monday and will continue to be brought in, Yonhap News said.”Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander, US Pacific Command, said in a news release.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and South Korean Defense Secretary Han Min-koo spoke over the phone last week and agreed that THAAD should be deployed “ASAP.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer signaled the deployment Monday when he told reporters that the United States is “taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Korea.” U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC News on Monday night that that meant delivery was already under way — not that the United States was simply restating its previous promises to send the system to South Korea sometime in the future.