North Korean Update
North Korean Update
In response to North Korea’s test-fire of a Hwasong-12 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) that flew over Japan’s northern island Hokkaido two days ago, two US nuclear-capable, strategic B-1 bombers, and four F-35 fighter planes, conducted a joint operation with South Korean fighter aircraft on Thursday.
On the military front, the joint air exercises were geared to demonstrate the two countries abilities to carry out a decapitation strike on the North Korean leadership. North Korean state controlled media attacked the US saying, "The wild military acts of the enemies are nothing but the rash act of those taken aback by North Korea's missile launch." Japan's Defense Ministry said that it will request its largest-ever annual budget, some 5.26 trillion yen ($47.9 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2019, just days after nuclear-armed North Korea fired a rocket over the country. The UK Royal Navy warship, HMS Argyll, has been directed to join military exercises with Japan amid escalating tensions in the region as the British and Japanese announced new defense cooperation. It is important to note that regular annual military exercises between South Korea and the US are scheduled to end today.
Meanwhile on the diplomatic front, US President Donald Trump tweeted that, “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” US Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said that the US is, "never out of diplomatic solutions.” The US called on Wednesday for “concerted action” by the international community to pressure North Korea into abandoning its banned nuclear and missile programs and said it was working on new sanctions that would include targeting North Korea’s oil supply and its laborers working abroad. The new sanctions are being developed by the US, UK, Japan, and South Korea, but are likely to fail at the UN Security Council.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, on Wednesday that punishing North Korea with additional sanctions would be “counterproductive and dangerous.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said Thursday that economic pressure and sanctions alone would not resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman, Colonel Ren Guoqiang, said that all parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that escalate tension and that “military means cannot be an option for resolving this issue.” Both Russia and China can veto the new sanctions proposals at a UN Security Council vote leaving the US and its allies with the choice of status quo or going it alone.
Lastly, on the intelligence front, General Paul Selva, the US Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that while North Korea’s military power is growing its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) technology still has technical hurdles to overcome. Not surprisingly, Selva revealed that North Korea would have to deploy a guidance and stability control system to direct long-range ballistic missile thousands of kilometers accurately without breaking apart, develop a robust re-entry vehicle to survive launch and hitting the atmosphere, and the capability to miniaturized a nuclear warhead to field an effective ICBM force. The excellent US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS said that it cannot corroborate recent news stories coming out of South Korea based on commercial satellite imagery that North Korea is doing anything new to execute a new nuclear test. In their view, the North Korean Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site remains ‘mothballed’ and ready for activation at any time by the North Korean leadership but they see little in terms of recent activity to indicate that a nuclear test is imminent.