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.
According to NBC News, the National Security Council has presented the suddenly ragingly bellicose President Trump with several options to respond to North Korea’s nuclear program: put American nukes in South Korea or kill dictator Kim Jong-un.
The scenarios were prepared in advance of Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. The White House has expressed hopes the Chinese will do more to influence Pyongyang through diplomacy and enhanced sanctions, but if that fails, and North Korea continues its development of nuclear weapons, there are other options on the table that would significantly alter U.S. policy.
While Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, maintained on Wednesday that “any solution to the North Korea problem has to involve China” a senior intel official told NBC he doubted U.S. and China could find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. “We have 20 years of diplomacy and sanctions under our belt that has failed to stop the North Korean program,” said the official involved in the review. “I’m not advocating pre-emptive war, nor do I think that the deployment of nuclear weapons buys more for us than it costs,” but he stressed that the U.S. was dealing with a “war today” situation.
The “nuclear” option would mark the first overseas nuclear deployment since the end of the Cold War, a move that would promptly provoke global condemnation, not least of all by China. It was not immediately clear if South Korea’s regime – in turmoil recently following the recent impeachment and arrest of ex-president Park – had been consulted with the proposed strategy. The U.S. withdrew all nuclear weapons from South Korea 25 years ago.
Did you ever notice that when you look at all the failed predictions in any given December, what ended up happening was the opposite of what everyone predicted?
Contrarian Economic Predictions
Given that most predictions end up being wrong, why not just take a look at what passes for conventional wisdom and do the opposite?
Warning: many of these involve Trump.
1. Trump is going to nuke somebody in 2017
It is true that Trump wants to increase, rather than decrease, our nuclear capabilities, which runs pretty much counter to anybody’s idea of what constitutes peaceful behavior in 2017.
The interesting thing about the nuclear threat is that as the popular perception of it has waned since the Cold War, the actual nuclear threat has increased as the number of nuclear weapons has declined.
What if the opposite happens—what if peace breaks out all over in 2017? And what if it is because of Trump?
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran has shown commitment to its end of the nuclear deal struck last year while visiting Tehran December 18.
Iran has complained about the US extending a sanctions package for another decade. The US says these sanctions are unrelated to the deal; Iran disagrees.
“We are satisfied with the implementation of the [nuclear agreement] and hope that this process will continue,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told the press in the Iranian capital, Reuters reports, citing the IRNA news agency.
“Iran has been committed to its engagement so far and this is important,” he said. Amano was in Tehran to meet head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi. After the White House said earlier this week that the sanctions bill would become law even without President Barack Obama’s signature, Iran requested a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commission to discuss the situation and ordered its scientists to start developing nuclear systems to power ships. Salehi presented the maritime nuclear propulsion project to Amano and said the country would provide more details on it in three months, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). The initial outline did include what is so far the most controversial issue of the project: the level of uranium-enrichment powering the ships will require.
The US decision to extend 1979 sanctions against Iran for another 10 years violates the nuclear deal struck by Iran with international powers, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday.
“The path that the US has taken in regard to Iran will lead to a considerable drop in international trust in the American government,” Rouhani was quoted as saying at a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano by Mehr news agency.
He stressed that it was highly significant for all parties to the deal to comply with their commitments, arguing that the US recent decision to prolong Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for another 10 years clearly violated the Iran nuclear deal.
On July 14, 2015, Iran and the P5+1 group of countries — the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom plus Germany — signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ensuring the peaceful nature of Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the gradual sanctions relief. The US sanctions introduced against Tehran in 1979, however, were not mentioned in the document.
As Russia and America creep ever closer to outright conflict, now that the diplomatic facade of the proxy war in Syria falls away with every passing day, one voice if calling for the world to stop and reassess what it is doing. Former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Monday that the world has reached a “dangerous point” as tensions between Russia and the United States surge over the Syria conflict; a conflict which if escalated even fractionally further, could result in all out war between the two superpowers according to General Joseph Dunford.
Gorbachev blamed the current state of affairs between Russia and US on the “collapse of mutual trust” and urged the sides to resume dialogue and push towards demilitarization and complete nuclear disarmament.
“I think the world has reached a dangerous point. I don’t want to give any concrete prescriptions but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake. Now we must return to the main priorities, such as nuclear disarmament, fighting terrorism and prevention of global environmental disasters. Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.” Gorbachev said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Relations between Moscow and Washington, already at their lowest since the Cold War over the Ukraine conflict, deteriorated sharply in recent days as the United States pulled the plug on Syria talks and accused Russia of hacking attacks.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (L) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan begin their mini-summit talks in Reykjavik October 11, 1986.
Following last week’s sharp escalation in diplomacy between the US and Russia, when John Kerry warned of not only breaking off diplomatic relations over Syria with Russia, and threatening to use “military force” including potentially US-based ground forces in Syria for the first time, but also slamming Russian strikes over Aleppo as “barbaric”, Russia responded Monday when Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended an agreement with the United States for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly” acts by Washington, the Kremlin said.
A Kremlin spokesman cited by Reuters said Putin had signed a decree suspending the 2010 agreement under which each side committed to destroy tonnes of weapons-grade material because Washington had not been implementing it and because of current tensions in relations. The deal, signed in 2000 but which did not come into force until 2010, was being suspended due to “the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation”, the preamble to the decree said.
It also said that Washington had failed “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”. The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning in nuclear reactors.
Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries toward a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.
While the media has been mostly obsessing over the recently leaked Colin Powell emails that discuss either Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, or Donald Trump, a just as important, from a geopolitical perspective, email was revealed by the DCLeaks website, in which the former Secretary of State admits that Israel as 200 nuclear weapons “all targeted” at Iran, so Iran can’t use one even if “they finally make one.” Powell’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear capacity comes two weeks after it was revealed that the Obama administration had granted Iran “Secret” nuclear deal exemptions, despite claiming otherwise.
More importantly, however, the email to Jeffrey Leeds, Powell’s business associate and major Democratic donor, finally provided the admission that Israel had nuclear weapons, something the biggest US ally in the Middle East has carefully avoided confirming or denying for years, in a policy dubbed “nuclear ambiguity.”
In the Leeds email dated March 3, 2015, Powell writes that “Iranians can’t use [a nuke] if they finally make one,” in the context of the ongoing talks about Tehran’s nuclear program. “The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands. As [Iranian President Mahmoudin Ahmedinejad said], ‘What would we do with one, polish it?’ I have spoken publicly about both [North Korea] and Iran. We’ll blow up the only thing they care about—regime survival. Where, how would they even test one?”
The email was sent shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had just visited Washington amid deteriorating relations with the Obama administration, and had given a fiery speech before Congress denouncing the proposed deal under which Iran would consent to invasive inspections in exchange for lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions. The deal was finalized in July 2015, despite much ongoing criticism by both Republicans and Donald Trump who has threatened to undo the deal if elected president.
There is another reason why Powell’s email is troubling: a 1976 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act bans any US economic and military aid to countries that deliver, receive, acquire or transfer nuclear enrichment technology without abiding by the NPT. Israel is one of the few countries that did not sign the NPT, along with self-admitted nuclear powers India and Pakistan.
When asked by RT for a comment, US State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to answer whether Israel should face the same treatment as Iran and North Korea – both of which have been sanctioned for alleged or actual violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The leak comes days after US officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding according to which a record $38 billion in military assistance would be provided to Israel over the next decade, with Israelis pledging to spend nearly all of it on US weapons and training.
it is unclear if Powell’s email is the definitive answer of how many nukes Israel has: according to a 2014 report by the Federation of American Scientists, Israel is believed to possess anywhere between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons, with the lower figure considered more likely. Powell’s words carry considerable weight, since he chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War and later helped make the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state.
In the wake of its latest nuclear test, Pyongyang has reportedly increased its uranium enrichment and could have enough radioactive material for roughly 20 bombs by the end of the year.
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. While the yield of that first test was estimated to be less than one kiloton, the DPRK has made significant advancements over the last ten years. Last week’s test was the fifth and is believed to have measured 30 kilotons, twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
While the scope of Pyongyang’s nuclear activities is impossible to know for sure, a new assessment by weapons experts estimates that, in addition to the North’s existing plutonium stockpile, increased uranium production could give the DPRK as many as 20 nuclear bombs by the end of the year.
According to the report, posted to 38 North, experts believe that the increased production, coupled with the North’s bountiful uranium deposits, has likely given the country roughly 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium per year, enough to make seven nuclear weapons. The experts also predict that North Korea has the ability to mount these nuclear devices to missiles.
North Korea has once again showed its fixation on developing combat-ready nuclear weapons — a goal leader Kim Jong Un seems to consider the solution to the country’s military, diplomatic and domestic troubles.
Pyongyang said Friday that it had successfully detonated a nuclear warhead for the first time. The latest nuclear test, North Korea’s fifth, follows just eight months after the previous one in January. South Korean authorities believe Friday’s detonation was the North’s biggest to date.
The United Nations Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York Friday afternoon. The body is expected to discuss issuing a statement condemning the test, as well as the possibility of harsher sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea will now be able to “produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power,” the country said in a statement released Friday.
If this is true, North Korea has made strategically significant progress, South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said, suggesting Pyongyang was one step closer to deploying the weapons.