North-South talks open in Korea; China starts work on 3rd carrier; Power shift in Libya?; Secret satellite lost in SpaceX launch; and just a bit more…

Direct talks begin between North and South Korea. The first fruit of Tuesday’s talks: Pyongyang will send athletes to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, which, given the North’s deadly attempts to scuttle the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, counts as a significant symbolic step.

And the larger questions of war and peace? “We told them that both sides should cooperate, based on mutual respect, and end any acts of raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Chun Hae-sung, the vice minister of unification for South Korea, told reporters Tuesday. “We also called for the resumption of dialogue on denuclearization and peace-building.” New York Times: “The North’s response was not immediately available. The negotiations continued in the afternoon.”

Quick change: “Two weeks ago, such talks would have seemed unimaginable,” writes Krishnadev Calamur in The Atlantic, recounting how sharply rising tension fueled by the North’s nuclear-weapons efforts had suddenly been punctuated by a diplomatic overture from Kim Jong-Un, an agreement between Seoul and Washington to postpone annual wargames, and a mutual decision by the Koreas to meet.

Critics saw “a classic North Korean strategy of trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. But ‘The real question, I think, is how much do we have to worry about that,’” said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “‘Of course, the North Koreans are going to try to divide the U.S. and South Korea. That’s always been part of their playbook… [But] it’s going to be challenging for the North Koreans to be able to pull that off.’” A bit more, here.


From Defense One

Pakistan Will Try to Make Trump Pay // C. Christine Fair: The country has banked on being treated as too dangerous to fail. But this time could be different.

How the Olympics Could Help Defuse the North Korea Crisis // Robert Carlin and Joel S. Wit: The games give Trump a chance to affirm inter-Korean diplomacy while laying the groundwork for talks with the Kim regime.

What to Expect from the Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit // Christopher Preble and Caroline Dorminey: Dramatic surprises are unlikely, but the resulting information should feed better discussions and decisions about national-security spending.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.


The third U.S. destroyer since August — USS Carney — has just entered the Black Sea, Stars and Stripes reported Monday. Background: “In the past, U.S. warships sailed into the Black Sea only sporadically and mostly for allied exercises. But the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Porter and James E. Williams patrolled those waters in August and late November, respectively. Moscow views the increased U.S. presence in the Black Sea as part of Washington’s more aggressive posturing since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.” More here.

China is building its third aircraft carrier, the South China Morning Post reports, citing “military officials.” According to their source, “the shipyard is still working on the carrier’s hull, which is expected to take about two years. Building the new carrier will be more complicated and challenging than the other two ships.”
The first carrier, the Liaoning, is “a repurposed Soviet ship it bought from Ukraine that went into service in 2012,” SCMP writes. The second, China’s indigenously made Type 001A, is expected to go into full service later this year. The sources all said it was too early to say when the third vessel would be launched, but China plans to have four aircraft carrier battle groups in service by 2030.” More here.

Get to better know China’s Type 055 destroyers, which “could potentially rival the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers,” Asia Times reports. “Armored with a total of 112 firepower units and vertical launch systems, the versatile destroyer has air-defense, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities, as well as sea-land warfare, thanks to the surface-to-air HQ-9B and HQ-10 missiles, YJ-18A anti-ship and land-attack missiles, and the newly developed Yu-8 anti-submarine missiles that will form the backbone of the Type 055’s well-rounded assault capabilities.” More where that came from over here.

PACOM commander watch. U.S. Pacific Command’s Adm. Harry Harris is slated to retire in May. And today the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has a preview of some of the names being tossed about for Harris’s replacement.   
In the mix: “Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who is in charge of Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,” the Star-Advertiser writes. “Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran and Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, are also mentioned as possible replacements for Harris.” Read a bit more about those three — though most attention is focused on O’Shaughnessy — here.

In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition said Monday two of its two pilots evacuated after their fighter jet crashed due to “technical failure.” According to a Saudi spokesman, “The Arab Coalition Forces Command implemented a private joint operation to evacuate two pilots in participation of air and land forces where the two pilots were evacuated into the Kingdom’s territories,”
Related question: Did fighters inside Yemen use FLIR infrared cameras to shoot down F-15 Saudi bombers? MidEast watcher Ali AlAhmed thinks that could be the case after spotting these images in a recent Houthi video.

ICYMI: A monumental power shift may be occurring in Libya, al-Monitor reported this past weekend. Their jump: “In a surprising move, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, Libya’s eastern military strongman, announced his acceptance of elections in Libya as a way out of the political deadlock in the war-ravaged country.”
The implications: “accepting the elections to be organized in areas in eastern Libya — which Hifter controls (except in Derna northeast of Benghazi) — means that a major hurdle has been removed, which is likely to enhance the credibility of any elections in the eyes of suspicious voters as well as in the eyes of the international community that has already welcomed the idea.” Read on for how this could be a “game-changer” in Libya — “particularly for Islamist-leaning parties or individuals” — here.

2017’s forecast for civilians in war zones? Not good, says the weapons-watchers of the group Action on Armed Violence. Their jump: “At least 15,399 civilians were killed in the first 11 months of 2017,” which “strongly suggests that 2017 was the worst year for civilian deaths from explosive weapons since AOAV’s records began in 2011.” Many more deadly statistics about conflicts around the globe — the deadliest being in Syria, Iraq and Yemen — here.

Back stateside, 2017 was the “most expensive year on record for US weather disasters, costing $306 billion,” CNN reports off the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. By contrast, “The previous record year, 2005, saw $215 billion in disasters.” CNN has the numbers, sorted neatly and mapped, here.

Remember the classified SpaceX launch we got excited for on Monday? Its secretive payload appears to have gone kaput, The Wall Street Journal reported later in the evening Monday. But since it’s paywalled, we turn to CNET’s short summary: “The classified satellite, codenamed Zuma, failed to separate as planned from the upper stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 after its launch Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s assumed to have plummeted back into the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The problem appears to be the satellite failed “to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket,” CNBC adds.
The response from satellite maker Northrop Grumman: “We cannot comment on classified missions.”
The response from SpaceX: “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.” A bit more, here.

Worth the click: This #LongRead on John Kelly’s tenure as SOUTHCOM chief, and how he evolved in that job “from a warrior to a statesman,” via the Washington Post.

#MeTooMilitary protests come to the Pentagon. “The roughly 35 protesters, organized by the Service Women’s Action Network…were allowed to assemble behind a metal barricade at one of the building’s main entrances from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m., when they dispersed,” U.S. News reported Monday from the five-sided building. “Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White with a female staffer handed out hot chocolate to members of the group who endured sub-freezing temperatures.”
Said White of her gesture: “I brought hot chocolate because it was COLD. I went out not as one of them but to support all of them. The work place should always be a safe environment. Sexual harassment is unacceptable at the Department of Defense.” Read on, here.

Watch those permissions on social media accounts. That’s one takeaway from the uproar created when someone on the U.S. Army’s Twitter account liked a post mocking President Trump’s own tweet about being, “like, really smart,” the New York Daily News writes.

Lastly today: What’s the deal with anti-terror fantasy camps in Israel? Comedian Jerry Seinfeld took his family to find out, Haaretz reported Monday.
A bit more: “Located in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, Caliber 3 is a counterterrorism and security training academy that in recent years has built on its expertise to create a new line of business: special programs for tourists seeking a taste of the Israeli military experience,” Haaretz writes. “Caliber 3 offers a basic package which includes a simulation of a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem marketplace, immediately followed by a stabbing attack, a live demonstration with attack dogs and a sniper tournament.”
Should you decide to plan a trip, a “basic package” costs $115 for one adult and another $85 for your children. And with any luck, maybe your daughter can one day be as proficient in Krav Maga as Jennifer Lopez in her 2002 film, “Enough” — since it’s hard for us to picture Jerry really getting into it.

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