Major exercises with RoK now ‘suspended indefinitely’; China’s island-building ship; Predicting when weapons will break; How to leverage joint exercises; and just a bit more...

SecState Pompeo this morning says North Korea will “completely denuclearize” in a “step-by-step” process (not yet elaborated, or promised in the Trump-Kim agreement), which nonetheless marks “an important step towards bringing lasting peace and stability to Northeast Asia and indeed to the entire world."

The occasion: Pompeo was meeting with South Korea's President Moon and Japan’s foreign minister in Seoul two days after the historic #TrumpKimSummit in Singapore. Moon, recall, wanted a meeting with Trump himself and Kim a day after the meeting — but a visit from Pompeo apparently suited Moon fine.

Said Moon, standing beside Pompeo: “What’s most important was that the people of the world, including those in the United States, Japan and Koreans, have all been able to escape the threat of war, nuclear weapons and missiles.”

So when will North Korea denuclearize? "Most certainly in the president's first term," Pompeo said. “I am confident that [North Koreans] understand what we're prepared to do."

One welcome indicator: “North and South Korea held their first military talks in more than a decade,” Reuters reports this morning from Seoul, with little concrete out of that.

Pompeo also dropped by for a visit with U.S. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, to brief him on "freezing joint military exercises and broaching the possibility of a withdrawal of U.S. forces" at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, wrote at the top of this report — with little additional detail out of that meeting.  

Pompeo then traveled to Beijing, where he told officials there “sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearization, the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”

Critical caveat. Echoing a line Tuesday from the commander-in-chief, Pompeo told Chinese officials, “It could be the case that our effort won’t ... work but we are determined to set the conditions so that we can right this failure of decades and reset the conditions for North Korea’s participation in the community of nations.”

And about those U.S. troops on the peninsula — stay tuned. President Trump told Fox News’ Bret Baier in an interview that aired Wednesday evening, "We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I'd like to get them home...But it is not on the table right now… I would love to get the military out as soon as we can because it costs a lot of money." (Catch the full interview, here.)

The U.S. military’s reax: “We are working to fulfill the president’s guidance,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told The New York Times.

One possible cancellation in the works: The upcoming joint U.S.-South Korean exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, set for August, a “senior administration official” told Fox News late Wednesday. “The official said the Pentagon likely would make the formal cancellation announcement in a press release Thursday.” Tiny bit more to that, here.

UPDATE: A U.S. official says this morning that now “Major military exercises [are] 'suspended indefinitely' on Korean peninsula,” Agence France-Press reports in a developing story.

FWIW: The House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry supports suspending exercises “as the negotiations are being productive.” His gripe there, echoing his president, hinged on the costs of the drills. U.S. Naval Institute News has Thornberry’s Wednesday reax, here.  

So… what’s gonna happen to those 20 to 60 nuclear weapons North Korea is believed to possess? The NYTs takes a look at the prospects of dismantlement given what is known about the North’s nuclear processing facilities.

The context there: “North Korea’s only public pledge so far regarding its nuclear arsenal is contained in a 19-word clause in the joint statement signed by leader Kim Jong Un during Tuesday’s summit with Trump.”

One problem: “In [that statement], Kim vowed to ‘work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ a promise nearly identical to one that North Korean leaders made during previous international negotiations going back to the early 1990s.”

For North Korea’s part, its state-run KCNA news said the country “abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action” in future talks to secure the “peace, stability and denuclearization” of the entire Korean Peninsula, the Times reports. “But the statement made no specific pledges about the destruction of existing weapons or the dismantling of the sprawling network of factories and laboratories for making new ones.”

How to move forward on all that? “For starters, the hyper-secretive North Korean government must produce a verifiable inventory of what it has,” the Times writes. “After that, the world’s most reclusive state must agree to allow hundreds of foreign experts into the country to inspect each building and storage depot in the declared inventory, and at the same time to investigate dozens of suspicious sites that are not on the official list.” More from the Times, here.

The contrarian’s take: “Trump and Kim are working together to pass off their toothless pact as a milestone,” writes William Saletan at Slate. “It’s a con, and [American citizens are] the mark.”

FWIW: Customs and courtesies edition. POTUS apparently saluted a North Korean general during his Singapore swing, according to behind-the-scenes footage released by Pyongyang. Video (salute at 0:55) via the BBC, here.

From Defense One

Predicting When Weapons Will Break is a Hot New Market. Microsoft Wants In. // Marcus Weisgerber: The company touts its commercial artificial intelligence as ripe for the military.

Concession…or Common Sense? Trading Drills for Dialogue // Stimson Center’s James Siebens and Mackenzie Mandile: Except for taking Seoul by surprise, Trump’s decision to halt US-ROK exercises has plenty of precedent.

Yemen Is Not a Sideshow // Barbara A. Leaf, The Atlantic: By indulging a years-long, bloody stalemate there, the United States has breathed life into Iran’s regional meddling.

Donald Trump Actually Seems to Believe He Denuclearized North Korea // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: The president claims the nuclear threat is gone, but that's not what he achieved in Singapore.

Here’s How That $380 Million in Election Security Funding Is Being Spent // Joseph Marks, Nextgov: State election officials are mostly using new election security money to shore up the basics.

Congress May Declare the Forever War // Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic: A proposed law with bipartisan support would dramatically weaken the ability of legislators to extricate the United States from perpetual armed conflict.

Welcome to this Thursday 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. On this day 243 years ago, the U.S. Army was born. And 72 years ago today, the current POTUS was born.

Yemen latest: The United Arab Emirates’ “Operation Golden Victory” to seize the western port city of Hudayda has not yet reached the actual city, The Guardian reports.
For what it’s worth: “UAE-backed forces have been claiming to be roughly five to six miles from al #Hudeida airport for two weeks now,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Yemen-watcher, Maher Farrukh, tweeted this morning. You can read a bit more from Maher, focusing on the run-up to the UAE’s Red Sea Coast Offensive, here.

How to create a fake island. We have a slightly better picture of how China does just that when we learned its 140-meter-long vessel, Tian Kun Hao, "returned to a shipyard in Qidong, in eastern Jiangsu province on Tuesday after completing its first sea trial," Japan Times reports.
China calls the ship “a magic island-maker.” It’s staffed by more than 120 people, and “can dig as deep as 35 meters under the seafloor and dredge 6,000 cubic meters per hour.” A bit more, here.

We’re one week away from the U.S. sending Turkey its first F-35, “despite opposition from some in Congress,” Defense News reported Wednesday.
The short read: “Congress’s opposition to allowing Turkey to purchase the F-35 hovers around two points: the country’s detainment of American pastor Andrew Brunson and a deal to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system. But for now, it appears that the Defense Department has no plans to keep Turkey from getting its first F-35 or to put restrictions on its use at Luke AFB.” More here.
Also on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed its $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for FY19 — $17.1 billion more than last year, The Hill reports. The bill sets aside $606.5 billion for “base discretionary funding” and $68.1 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations funds. The Hill breaks down some of what’s inside there, over here.

The White House wants a new low-yield, tactical nuclear weapon. And now the senate just made it a bit easier, "scuttl[ing] legislation that would have forced the Trump administration to seek congressional approval,” Defense News reports.
New in contracting: A deal to extend the range of the U.S. Navy’s Torpedo Advanced Propulsion System project, “a weapon designed to kill deep-diving Soviet submarines and advanced surface ships,” Defense News reported separately Wednesday.
The deal, worth $2.6 million, goes to Aerojet Rocketdyne. Read a bit more about the Office of Naval Research's new work, here.

How U.S. troops die. “Since 2006, 15,851 active-duty personnel and mobilized reservists have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. But only 28 percent of those deaths came from going to war, a stark reminder of the danger service members face even away from the battlefield,” writes Defense News’ Aaron Mehta off a fact sheet published June 1 by the Congressional Research Service. “Accidents, self-inflicted wounds or illness made up the bulk of casualties.” Read more, here.
Investigate the data yourself. In 2013, the Defense Department created a database of U.S. active-duty military deaths between Jan. 1, 2001, and Nov. 12, 2012, and published it on It’s long since been taken down. But before it disappeared, one of your D Briefers poured the data into an interactive search tool; you can search by cause of death, geographical location, service branch and more, here.
Steady trend: For example, the database says that 18,132 troops died while in uniform between 2001 and 2012 — about 29 percent of them from wounds sustained in combat.

Finally today: An old Navy rank returns. U.S. sailors can now aim for the rank of warrant officer-1, discontinued in 1975 and now restored for cyber specialists, USNI reported Wednesday.
Some of the fine print: “To qualify for consideration, sailors must at least be a petty officer second class (E-5), hold a cryptologic technician networks rating, and have between six and 12 years in service.”
The big picture take: This is “a Navy bid to keep highly sought-after computer technicians and is indicative of the greater challenge facing the service as it seeks to meet growing recruiting and retention targets.” Read on, here.