North Korea launched two more short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast early this morning in its second weapons test in less than a week, South Korea’s military announced shortly afterward.
The two launches occurred about 20 minutes apart, and “Both are estimated to have flown about 250 kilometers (155 miles) at an approximate altitude of 30 km” and in a northeasterly direction, according to Yonhap News Agency and the Wall Street Journal, citing data from Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff — data Reuters assembled in a comparative chart of the two recent launches, here.
To put it mildly. The joint chiefs’ official response: “Successive missile launches by North Korea are not conducive to efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we call for a halt to these acts.”
Reminder: President Trump said last week the North Koreans “really haven’t tested any missiles” other than “smaller ones, which is something lots [of nations] test.”
Like last week’s launches, “Wednesday's missiles were fired from a transporter erector launcher,” Yonhap reports, which can make the detection process for South Korea and its allies more difficult than tests from a static launch pad.
But unlike last week, today’s missiles travelled a shorter distance and at a lower altitude (last week’s numbers were closer to 600 km distance at an altitude of about 50 km). And those different numbers lead South Korean officials to conclude today’s launches were an additional test of a new, possibly guided missile (KN-23) North Korea has developed.
Bigger picture: "Pyongyang’s state-run media has grown angrier in recent weeks despite an impromptu meeting late last month between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump at the Korean demilitarized zone," the Journal writes. "South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said hours after the Wednesday launch that North Korea should be considered an adversary if it continues to threaten the South."
As for what’s next, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had planned to travel to Bangkok “to attend a conference organized by Southeast Asian countries to discuss economic and security issues in the region,” according to the Journal, but that visit doesn’t include any planned talks with North Korean officials. Some of those meetings begin tomorrow; read a bit more about that meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations over at Reuters, here.
By the way: Ahead of that ASEAN meeting, China is warning participants to lay off the South China Sea criticism — and “not deliberately amplify such differences or disputes,” AP reports today from Thailand.
Related: “Congress is worried that President Trump and his trade advisers might try to placate Beijing” by delaying F-16 sales to Taiwan in order to strike a new trade deal with China, the New York Times reported Tuesday off input from concerned U.S. lawmakers.
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CBP Wants Technology To Spot Everything Crossing the US Border // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The single solution should be able to detect anything crossing the northern or southern borders between ports of entry and immediately alert border patrol agents.
The Missing Debate About Afghanistan // Joshua C. Huminski: The president’s talk about “wiping” the country “off the face of the earth” highlights the need for a serious talk about U.S. goals and strategy.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress commissioned 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette as a major general in the Continental Army. Bonus trivia: He accepted the commision without pay.
President Trump wants his next spy chief to “rein in” America’s intelligence agencies, he told reporters Tuesday. CNN: “The comments are the latest evidence of Trump’s long-running hostility and distrust of his own intelligence community and are raising concerns that the President may be trying to bring US officers to heel by politicizing agencies that are meant to stand apart from partisanship or politicking.”
To that end, he has chosen Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, whose obvious qualifications for the job end with loyalty to Trump.
Charted: Ratcliffe’s “unusually thin resume,” by the Washington Post.
Exaggerated: Ratcliffe’s actual involvement in anti-terror cases that he has repeatedly cited as evidence of his bona fides. See, for example, this Dallas Morning News piece.
Invented: Ratcliffe helped launch “one of the right’s most easily debunked conspiracy theories about the investigation into the president and Russia, offering what he presented as evidence of an anti-Trump ‘secret society’ operating within the FBI,” as the Daily Beast puts it.
Reminder: Trump first became furious with the intelligence community in January 2017, when it reported on Russia’s efforts to help him win the presidency. His ire spiked again in January, when DNI Dan Coats and others told lawmakers that pressing threats to America include North Korea and Russia and not migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Just 35% of Republicans say Russia’s power and influence is a major threat to America’s well-being, compared with 58% four years ago, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. For Democrats, the 2019 numbers are 65% compared to 50% in 2015.
On China: “54% say China’s power and influence are a major threat, up from 46% in 2017….The share of Republicans who say China’s power and influence is a major threat has increased 10 percentage points among Republicans (from 48% to 58%) and 9 points among Democrats (43% to 52%).”
On Iran: “somewhat more Americans say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran (49%) than to take a firm stand against Iranian actions (44%)....A slightly larger share of adults also say that Iran’s nuclear program is a major threat compared with 2017 (53% then vs. 57% today).”
On North Korea: In October 2017, “75% of adults saw North Korea’s nuclear program as a major threat.” (Recall the “fire and fury” messaging from POTUS45 in August 2017.) “Today, just 53% say this.”
On ISIS: “In 2017, nearly seven-in-ten (68%) viewed ISIS as a major threat to the U.S. Today, only about half of Americans (53%) express this view.”
As for climate change, 84% of Democrats say it’s a major threat; 27% of Republicans and Republican-leaners agree.
The biggest threat of all? Cyberattacks, say 74% of those surveyed. Dig into the full results, along with the methodology, here.
In case you missed it Tuesday, a new UN report this week flagged “a big increase in the number of casualties caused by government and foreign forces” during the conflict in Afghanistan this calendar year. According to Reuters, “It said pro-government forces killed 717 Afghans and wounded 680 in the six months to June 30, a 31% increase from the corresponding period in 2018.” By contrast, “Taliban and Islamic State fighters killed 531 Afghans and wounded 1,437 between Jan. 1 and June 30.”
Also: “The Army has identified the two U.S. soldiers killed in a reported insider attack Monday,” Military Times reported Tuesday.
"Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, 20, of Stryker, Ohio, and Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, of Chicago died in Afghanistan while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Both soldiers were members of Company B., 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division when they were killed by small arms fire... in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province." RIP Kreischer and Nance. Read a bit more about each soldier, here.
And on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the “Senate has confirmed David Norquist to be the deputy secretary of defense, locking in the Pentagon’s top two leaders for the first time in 2019,” Defense News reported Tuesday evening. “While the role of the deputy secretary varies from person to person, Norquist is expected to take over as the point man for the department on big-picture budget and technology issues. He is also expected to take a hard look at the proposed Raytheon and United Technologies merger, which if approved would create one of the largest defense firms in the world.” More to that development, here.
“The amount of money being spent on tech and IT for the US government border operations is insane,” Vox’s Ben Pauker tweeted Tuesday after publishing this Rana Molla report with Recode.
The quick read, after Molla submitted FOIA requests for “all of ICE’s current technology,” involves this: “ICE contracts with major tech companies like Dell and Microsoft, but also with numerous companies you may never have heard of” with its $8.8 billion budget. That includes “500 different contracts, current as of June 2018, with nearly 200 companies.”
In fact, Molla put all of the known contracts in a table that’s 27 pages long, and which you can review (and search) for yourself, here.
We could see some changes in immigration flows at the U.S.-Mexico border after the recent deal reached between the U.S. and Guatemala, the WSJ reports today.
Background: “Under the ‘safe third country’ agreement, Hondurans and Salvadorans would be required to apply for asylum in Guatemala instead of in the U.S. Asylum seekers from those countries apprehended at the U.S. southern border, mostly families, would be returned to Guatemala, U.S. and Guatemalan officials say.”
However, “If the accord is implemented,” and it may not be — since Guatemala’s “top court is expected to soon rule on two injunctions filed against the deal,” then the Journal writes “it would likely deter migrant families from Honduras and El Salvador,” instead reviving “old patterns in which migrants are predominantly single adults, mainly men, as the journey becomes more perilous and costly.” A bit more behind the paywall, here.
Don’t miss this take from Susan Gzesh of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago, writing in Just Security Tuesday.
Her task: assess the known-knowns of that “safe third country” deal, which she writes “is certain to be challenged in U.S. courts,” too.
After Iran entered talks with the UAE over maritime security on Tuesday, Tehran is today signaling it would also talk to Saudi Arabian officials, too, if they wanna, AP and Reuters report separately.
But don’t get too excited since Emirati officials told AP Tuesday’s chats were “nothing new.”
Extra reading: Review the ways U.S. Marines and Sailors carry out petty microwars with each other aboard the USS Boxer as its crew plies the waters of the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The WSJ’s Rory Jones hopped along for a ride not long ago and filed this report from his trip.
And lastly today: Candidate questionnaire. Nine of the 25(!) Democratic candidates have responded to the Council on Foreign Relations’ questionnaire about foreign-policy and national-security views. The dozen questions range from Will you support the replacement for the TPP (the anti-China pan-Pacific treaty that Trump scuttled) to “What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?” Read, here, and stay tuned to see who else responds.