South Korea says U.S. troops will stay on the peninsula — even if peace is declared. That’s the latest word out of President Moon Jae-in’s office, following various reports that various people had hinted otherwise. Those include Moon’s special adviser Moon Chung-in in Foreign Affairs on Monday, President Trump in February (reportedly); and SecDef Mattis on Friday. The quote from President Moon comes via the Korea Herald.
Any change in the status of forces would have regional effects. The Herald quotes Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul: “The South Korea-US defense treaty is not solely designed to defend aggressions from North Korea.” More, here.
Diplomacy on fast-forward. Leaders of South Korea, China, Japan will meet in Tokyo next week, AFP reports. “We want to confirm cooperation with President Moon ahead of a summit between the U.S. and North Korea,” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
Let’s take a breath to ask how this all happened. Amid the calls for a Nobel Peace Prize for Donald Trump, should the now-firmly-nuclear state of North Korea conclude a peace treaty with its estranged southern cousin, Van Jackson suggests that the world is playing Kim Jong Un’s game. Writing in Politico, the former OSD policy advisor lays out Kim’s four goals: “1) secure his rule against internal challengers, 2) achieve and demonstrate a reliable nuclear deterrent, 3) improve his people’s quality of life, and 4) elevate North Korea’s international standing as a nuclear state. Until very recently, his priority has been the first two goals. Having made significant progress on them, with his current charm offensive, Kim is now aiming to do the same for the latter two.” Without serious thought about how these goals conflict with U.S. interests, Jackson writes, “Trump could saunter into a meeting with Kim and unwittingly trade away American interests that were long assumed to be important but simply never discussed.”
Among the questions that need public discussion, Jackson writes: “How acceptable, for instance, is a peace treaty if North Korea makes only symbolic progress toward denuclearization? Is an arms control solution—which would leave North Korea the ability to strike regional targets but not U.S. territory—acceptable? Is American strategy in Asia—which necessitates a forward military presence in places like South Korea—more or less of a priority than achieving denuclearization? In short, what alternative futures in Korea most and least serve U.S. interests?” Worth reading in full, here.
Today in national security podcasts: The Arms Control Wonk and his co-host chew over the most significant revelation in Monday’s “Atomic Archive” presentation by Israeli leader Bibi Netanyahu. They take as their text Joshua Pollack’s Tuesday piece (“What’s New and What’s Not”) in Defense One. Read that here, then listen to ACW here.
From Defense One
The US Military Is Funding a Giant Transformer Robot Sub // Patrick Tucker: The future of countermine operations could look like a big bug that can swim for hundreds of kilometers.
The Dead Metaphors of National Security // Josh Kerbel: To grapple with today’s complex security environment, we must first think about it realistically. Our terminology — not our technology — is key.
Why Cities Are So Bad at Cybersecurity // Donald Norris, Anupam Chandler, Laura Mateczun and Tim Finin: Government systems are under near-constant attack from hackers, surveys show, but officials don’t know who’s attacking them or how to respond.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1964: North Vietnamese frogmen sink a U.S. aircraft carrier in Saigon harbor.
RIP U.S. Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde, age 22, from Loveland, Colorado. Spc. Conde died on Monday “as a result of enemy small arms fire in Tagab District, Afghanistan,” the Pentagon announced Tuesday. His unit: 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, out of Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Defense Secretary Mattis on allegations the war in Afghanistan is improving: “I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building, I would not subscribe to that,” he told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon (via Breaking Defense’s Paul McCleary).
Happening this afternoon: Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, along with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller provide a Department of the Navy update for the media at 1:30 p.m. EDT in the Pentagon Briefing Room. The briefing will also be streamed live at the Pentagon’s site or over here with the Navy.
Then a bit later, CNO Richardson takes the stage at the 2018 U.S. Naval Institute’s annual meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 4 p.m. Details, here.
Game on in Syria. The U.S. military says its allied Syrian Democratic Forces are about to clear ISIS out of its last territory near the Euphrates River Valley, officials from U.S. Central Command’s Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve announced Tuesday.
Said Leilwa Abdullah, spokesperson of al-Jazeera Storm campaign and Ahmad Abu Khawlah, commander of Dayr Az Zawr Military Council: “ISIS retains a significant presence near the Iraqi borders from which it seeks to retain safe haven to plan attacks around the world and expand its territory in Syria and Iraq. Over the coming weeks, our heroic forces will liberate these areas, secure the Iraq-Syria border, and end the presence of ISIS in eastern Syria once and for all.”
A word on “stabilization.” The idea needs much more clarity for the U.S. military working in places like Syria. That’s just one takeaway from a new RAND report. More specifically, “DoD should clearly define the specific military tasks and capabilities required for each of the four remaining joint stability functions (public order, immediate human needs, governance, and economic stability).” And that’s just bullet three in a six-bullet series of recommendations on how to more smartly proceed from here — after some 17 years of attempts at stability across Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond. Dive into that report, here.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” That line is from Douglas Adams of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame. But today it could also apply to the White House, which has just missed a deadline “requiring count of civilian casualties in counterterrorism strikes,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday evening.
What is being ignored: A requirement for an annual report, due May 1, “established by former president Barack Obama in 2016 as part of a broader effort to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding drone operations in places such as Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The White House has not formally rescinded the Obama-era executive order but has chosen not to comply with some aspects of it.”
According to a WH spox, this report is currently “under review” and could be “modified” or “rescinded.” More from WaPo, here.
Amnesty International’s reax: “The public has the right to know when and how military operations have caused civilian casualties, where these operations took place, what weapons were used, and if lethal force was used lawfully… Such investigations are necessary to ensure that the United States is complying with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.” That’s according to Amnesty’s Daphne Eviatar, Director of Security with Human Rights.
Worth the click: Artillery’s changing role in the U.S. military. This comes from a former U.S. Army fires officer, Luke O’Brien, writing in The New York Times’ “At War” blog.
His jump: “The 2019 Army ammunition budget allocates more than $376 million toward the purchase of high-explosive and Excalibur rounds, which have been fired more frequently in the fight against the Islamic State than in the previous 40 years. The move is striking, given how marginalized artillery was in America’s post-9/11 wars.”
Contributing factors: “The Islamic State often acts more like a conventional military than an insurgent force — creating conditions that have returned artillery units to traditional roles. With this change, the Army has requested a sharp increase in its annual purchase of high-explosive shells to resupply its Field Artillery Corps. In all, the service is seeking more than eight times the number of artillery shells in 2019 than it has procured in any recent year.” Read on, here.
SecArmy goes to a think tank. There’s little personnel reform in the House’s version of the annual defense policy bill, but Army Sec. Mark Esper told an Atlantic Council audience yesterday it’s still one of his top priorities. He’s been having conversations with the Hill, and here’s what he says he needs from them: “DOPMA reform and ROPMA reform … we want to take some of the shackles off of the current statutory requirements.” Here’s what House Armed Services Committee staffers say they need to get moving on that: A joint report the Pentagon owes to the Hill later this year. “We need to make sure holistically, whatever changes we make are going to impact all the different services the way they need it,” an aide said. “This is not something we can nickel and dime.”
A suicide bomber hit Tripoli this morning, killing at least a dozen people at the country’s electoral commission, Agence France-Presse reports on location. “Four armed assailants attacked the building on Wednesday morning… At least two of the attackers detonated their explosives when the security forces arrived.” No group has yet claimed the attack. More here.
In what appears to be a first, the UK has admitted to a civilian death involving a Reaper drone in Syria back in March, Deborah Haynes of London’s The Times reports this morning from the British Ministry of Defence, which called the incident “deeply regrettable.”
Known-knowns: “Civilian on a motorbike crossed into [the] strike zone on 26 March at last moment & was killed… despite careful targeting. Identity of victim not yet known. Death identified in post-strike analysis.”
A bit more: The “strike was Hellfire from RAF Reaper drone. It is 1st time MOD has identified a civilian casualty since OpShader began 4 years ago.”
Speaking of drones, the UAE released footage of Chinese-made UAV strike in Yemen in late March. Foreign Policy has more on the Chinese-made Blue Arrow 7 system used in that strike, here.
Rubles and sense. Russia’s military reduced its spending by 20 percent last year, “its first drop in nearly two decades,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday off the new annual report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Broader trends: “Russia’s sharp military cutback occurred while military spending reached a post-Cold War high elsewhere around the world in 2017, led by higher spending in the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, the report said. While global military spending rose by 1 percent to $1.74 trillion, Russia’s spending fell 20 percent to $66.3 billion… As a result, Russia dropped to fourth place in the ranking of the world’s biggest military spenders, overtaken by Saudi Arabia.” More here. Or read the report for yourself, here.
For your ears only: “Pentagon’s No. 2 Watches The Money — And The Future.” NPR’s Steve Inskeep sat down at the Pentagon with Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
The set-up: “As the deputy to Mattis, Shanahan is charged with making the military more ‘lethal,’ keeping an eye on emerging threats and assuring the money is spent wisely. Shanahan is essentially the chief operating officer for the Pentagon. He handles everything from supplies for American troops in Syria, to fixing problems with the Navy’s new aircraft carrier to keeping pace with the Chinese military.” That seven-minute conversation begins, here.
Finally this HumpDay: “Why an expert in counterterrorism became a beat cop.” We’ve been watching former CIA-er Patrick Skinner’s Twitter feed for months. There, he’s often broken down encounters with suspects, linking policing considerations with lessons he learned, sometimes the hard way, sometimes not, in the Middle East. His feed has been a welcome addition to the seemingly standard cynicism and vitriol of social media.
But this week, The New Yorker steps in to tell the story of Skinner’s path “running assets in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Iraq” to now working Savannah, Ga.’s Third Precinct. This one’s a #LongRead, so grab a drink and settle in to the story of perhaps one of the most self-reflective police you’ll ever meet, here.