We begin our weekend with a fresh Trump threat to North Korea. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” President Donald Trump tweeted this morning from his golf club in New Jersey. Trump continued, “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
The current “path” of North Korea’s own latest threat — launching a missile near Guam at some point in “mid-August” — is charted in three images. Drawn up by 3D modeler Nathan Hunt, they illustrate the “flight corridor over Shimane, Hiroshima, and Kochi Prefectures of Japan should DPRK conduct test they have put forwards.”
Trump was asked Thursday if he thought his “fire and fury” line from earlier this week was too much — perhaps too inflammatory, perhaps ill-timed. Nonsense, the president said. “They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
But wait, there’s more: “The people of our country are safe. Our allies are safe,” Trump continued. “And I will tell you this: North Korea better get their act together, or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world, OK?”
And still more: “He has disrespected our country greatly,” Trump said of North Korea’s leader. “He has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it. This is a whole new ballgame.” The Wall Street Journal picks up the story, here.
But nuclear-policy experts noted, again, that effective deterrence requires an adversary to know precisely where the “red line” is, and what will happen if it is crossed: Mira Rapp-Hooper: “Remedial Deterrence Friday: What is ‘unwisely’ and what is ‘another path’?” Ankit Panda: “Basic starting point: I will use capability X to inflict adverse outcome Y on you if you do undesirable thing Z.”
American missile defenses can intercept North Korean missiles, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, said Thursday at a symposium in Huntsville, Ala. More on that, here.
Trump has “secretive techniques separate from all-out war that the U.S. has spent decades perfecting” to disrupt North Korea’s nuclear program, U.S. News reported Thursday. But every technique carries immense risk. “North Korea has multiple weapons sites and in recent months has been able to move its long-range missiles on mobile platforms instead of being limited to fixed facilities. A successful sabotage mission would rely on being able to neutralize multiple launch sites at once. Such a mission would also require a larger force of highly trained troops, like the U.S. Army Rangers for example, to protect the infiltrating team from local soldiers who would respond to any tripped alarms. Adding further complication is the risk of nuclear contamination.” Read on, here. And the New York Times has a bit more on the risks associated with any U.S. attack, near the bottom of their report, here.
Defense Secretary Mattis’s view: “My portfolio, my mission, my responsibility, is to have military options should they be needed,” he told reporters during a trip to the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley project, DIUx, on Thursday. “You can see the American effort is diplomatically led. It has diplomatic traction. It is gaining diplomatic results. And I want to stay right there right now. The tragedy of war is well enough known; it doesn’t need another characterization, beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”
Here’s a good animated explainer of Pyongyang’s three most recent missile launches, where they went, and what they mean. Complete with North Korea postage stamps issued to mark the occasion. WaPo, here.
Also yesterday: Trump thanked Russian president Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats and cutting local staff in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Congress because of Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election in the United States, the New York Times reports: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.”
State Department officials were (anonymously) aghast: “I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,” one State Department official told Politico shortly after Trump’s comments. “Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.”
From Defense One
When Words Risk Provoking War // Kori Schake: Words especially matter between societies that poorly understand each other’s motivations and intentions, as do North Korea and the U.S.
This week’s Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense stocks soar as Trump, North Korea trade threats; Light-attack fly-off in the desert; Arms exports head toward a new record.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1942: Actress Hedy Lamarr co-patents a frequency-hopping technique to improve torpedoes; today it is used in military radios and Wi-Fi. Have something you want to share? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
China pushes back on the U.S. Navy’s third FONOP under Trump, which took place Thursday near Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. “China holds indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and surrounding waters,” the Chinese Defense Ministry said this morning, according to CNN. “The Chinese military is firmly opposed to such flaunting of force and promotion of militarization in the region by the US, which could easily trigger accidents at sea and in the air.” More here.
China also took a rhetorical swipe at Japan, when its air force chief said “The Sea of Japan is not Japan’s sea,” in response to recent Chinese maneuvers there. The remarks also follow a recent Japanese report on the rising antagonism of Beijing’s military in the region. Reuters has more, here.
In Iraq, ISIS is still putting up a fight inside the city of Mosul, Reuters reports. “West Mosul is still a military zone as the search operations are ongoing for suspects, mines and explosive devices,” a military spokesman said. “The area is still not safe for the population to return.” More from Mosul, where dead bodies still line the streets, here.
American airstrikes in Somalia killed al-Shabab fighters in the south, among them a “high-level leader,” the Associated Press reported Thursday in a very short piece. The location: the Banadiir region in southern Somalia. More here.
In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has asked the UN to run the airport in the capital of Sana’a, Reuters reports. “Should airport management and security be conducted properly, ensuring the safety of all inbound flights and stopping arms smuggling, Joint Forces Command is prepared to restore normal flight activity,” the coalition’s Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement Thursday.
Background: “Fifteen aid groups called on warring parties in Yemen to reopen the airport on Wednesday, saying a year-long closure was hindering aid and preventing thousands of patients from flying abroad for life-saving treatment.” More here.
Flashpoint to watch: the India-China border. “Indian and Chinese troops have been embroiled in the seven-week confrontation on the Doklam plateau, claimed by both China and India’s tiny ally, Bhutan,” Reuters reports from New Delhi. Currently, there are “about 300 soldiers on each side standing a few hundred feet apart, to escalate into a conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962.” China has threatened countermeasures if India doesn’t adjust the posture of its troops. More here.
And finally this week, something to consider if you’ve booked a vacation to Havana: Is there an “advanced sonic weapon” being used on foreign diplomats in Cuba? U.S. officials believe that just might be the case, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Their lede: “The Canadian government said Thursday that at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that U.S. officials believe was caused by an advanced sonic device.”
The context there: “In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case,” AP reports. “Some of the U.S. diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.” Cuba issued a lengthy statement in response, denying allegations. Read the rest, here.