Limited Window to Avoid Collision with North Korea

Dealing with North Korea before it gets worse - “The assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the older half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un... distracts from the big picture: the US is in middle of a slow-motion train-wreck with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missile program,” writes Philip Yun, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Ploughshares Fund for Medium. “Unless we do something about it now, a ‘metal on metal’ collision could be in the offing — a full-blown crisis marked by more North Korean tests and calls within Washington for military strikes to stop them.”

--Yet, three important events have flown under the radar, “China’s decision… to ban all coal imports from North Korea, the February 11 test launch of a mobile, land-based, solid-fueled missile and, critically, the annual US-South Korean military exercises — Foal Eagle and Key Resolve — happening this month… Given the immense downsides, is there something we can do to keep these military exercises from prompting unnecessary and dangerous escalation? Possibly… [Military exercises] can be modified to reduce perceptions that forces are being configured for a real attack on the North, so long as we don’t lose sight of the need to maintain operational readiness and deterrence, for which there can be no compromise.” Full story here.

See also - For more information on the joint U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, see “South Korea, U.S. begin large-scale annual drills amid North Korea tension” by Jack Kim, Ju-min Park and Phil Stewart for Reuters.

WH considering all options in DPRK - “About two weeks ago, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland convened a meeting with national-security officials across the government and asked them for proposals on North Korea, including ideas that one official described as well outside the mainstream,” write Carol E. Lee and Alastair Gale for The Wall Street Journal. “The request was for all options, ranging from U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state to military action against Pyongyang. Ms. McFarland’s directive was for the administration to undergo a comprehensive rethink of America’s North Korea policy.”

--“The national-security officials reported back to Ms. McFarland with their ideas and suggestions on Tuesday. Those options now will undergo a process under which they will be refined and shaped before they’re given to the president for consideration. The heightened prospect of U.S. military action in North Korea could encourage China, which fears the fallout of a military confrontation with its neighbor, to take steps Washington has long sought to choke off Pyongyang’s economic lifeline.” Full story here.

SecAF nominee overcharged the gov. - “A federal inspector contacted the Energy Department fraud hotline a few years back to flag irregularities in contracts that several nuclear weapons laboratories had signed with a former New Mexico Congresswoman whom President Trump has designated to become the new Air Force Secretary,” write Patrick Malone and Jeffrey Smith for The Center for Public Integrity. “A far-reaching probe… ended in a demand that the weapons labs give back nearly a half-million dollars to the government.”

--“If confirmed, Wilson would oversee billions of dollars-worth of military work by the Lockheed Martin Corp., whose subsidiary ran one of the nuclear weapons labs that hired her from 2009 to 2011, starting a day after she left Congress. Wilson’s work involved using her contacts in Washington to try to gin up new federal business opportunities for the privately run weapons labs... According to investigators, Wilson refused from the outset to provide a detailed accounting — at any time — of how she did her work while earning fees from Sandia and from the Los Alamos National Laboratory totaling $20,000 a month.” Full story here.

Defense budget in simple terms - Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione went on The Bill Press Show to talk about the President’s expanded defense budget proposal. Fun fact? As Cirincione points out, the U.S. already spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. Audio here.

Trump’s military budget and new arms race - “The budget proposal that Donald Trump will send to Congress, proposing to boost the Pentagon’s spending by $54bn next year, is less transformative than the president appears to believe. As Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, swiftly pointed out, the 10% increase is only $19bn more than that forecast by the outgoing Obama administration (out of a total annual spend of close to $600bn).”

--“Mr Trump’s conviction that this will ensure America wins its future wars… suggests a limited understanding of those conflicts… Cuts to the State Department’s budget and foreign-aid programmes would probably reduce America’s influence in the world and undermine attempts to make the world stable… Mr Trump is also in danger of undermining his goal of stronger military forces by what looks like a willingness to trigger a new nuclear arms race with Russia… Should Mr Trump decide to pull out of New START, the likely consequence would not be America racing to the ‘top of the pack’ but a Russian advantage in strategic systems for most of the next decade.” Read the full report from The Economist here.

Cutting State... not a great idea - “If you’re going to cut diplomacy spending, then you better increase defense spending, because you’re going to need it,” commented Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione on Late Night Live while discussing the President’s increased defense budget proposal. Full interview here.

Tweet - @ArmsControlNow: Cost of U.S. nuclear forces over the next 10 yrs projected to be $400 billion, up 15% over previous CBO estimate

Status of Russian nuclear forces - “Russia is in the middle of a broad modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces, including both new programs and some that have been underway for many years,” write Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. “As of early 2017... Russia has a military stockpile of roughly 4,300 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces.... [with] a total inventory of around 7,000 warheads. The modernizations, combined with an increase in the number and size of military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries, contribute to growing concern abroad about Russian intentions.” Full article here.

Nuke waste - “For a decade, CB&I Areva MOX Services has been under contract with the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] to design, build and operate a facility near the Savannah River in Aiken, S.C. Yet the project — designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium and uranium into a mixed oxide fuel for commercial nuclear power plants — has been running far beyond budget and way behind schedule. Estimates now put the price tag at $17 billion,” writes Steven Mufson for The Washington Post.

--“On Dec. 5, the NNSA completed a scathing evaluation that branded several of the company’s claims about the state of the project ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate’ ... The origin of the project lies in the post-Cold War period, when the United States and Russia each agreed to rid themselves of 34 tons of weapons grade material. Yet many nuclear experts say the technology the United States planned to use — known as mixed oxide or MOX — is costly and does not eliminate the risk of weapons proliferation.” Full story here.

IAEA to meet with Trump admin. - “The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog will hold talks on Iran's nuclear deal on Thursday for the first time with senior officials from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump,” writes Francois Murphy for Reuters. “The 2015 deal between Tehran and major powers places restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The accord will be the main topic of Yukiya Amano's talks in Washington.” Article here.

Take action - Ready to restore checks and balances to the nuclear codes? Inspired by the legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Liu and Sen. Ed Markey, Ploughshares Fund, along with fifteen other public interest groups, has created a new petition urging Congress to keep America safe by preventing any U.S. President from unilaterally launching a nuclear weapon. Sign and share the petition today.

Tweet - @plough_shares: 125,000 people have signed. Have you? Stop Trump from Starting Nuclear War.

Democratize our nukes - “The Trump administration and America should not abandon the objective of the 1968 nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty – which is to see that non-nuclear countries do not develop nuclear weapons while nuclear-armed countries move to dispose of theirs – but the possibility of a world without nuclear weapons seems remote in 2017,” reports The Times and Democrat. “What can occur with regard to the U.S. arsenal, however, is further safeguarding against a nuclear launch that results from poor or mistaken judgment.”

--“The U.S. Congress should move to change the system. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., are pushing legislation requiring that any first use of nuclear weapons require a declaration of war by Congress. Thus, a decision to use nukes — except in response to a nuclear attack — would require the approval of elected officials and would not be solely up to the president... A change in U.S. procedure will not prevent action by another country, but it will be insurance against the U.S. arsenal being misused or used by mistake.” Article here.

Quick Hits:

--“Trump and Nuclear Weapons: Is the president right about ‘the nuclear’?” by Jonathan Cristol for Policy.Mic.

--“A visit to Russia's secret nuclear labs,” by Siegfried Hecker for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.

--“NNSA sorting through hiring freeze, budget options,” by Aaron Mehta for Defense News.

--“Don’t Underestimate North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal,” by James Woolsey and Peter Vincent Pry for The Wall Street Journal.

--“Top source: Trump believes North Korea is greatest threat,” by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and Jeremy Diamond for CNN.


--“Nuclear Deterrence Summit,” an event hosted by the Exchange Monitor from February 28 to March 2, 2017 at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. Details here.

--“Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy,” an event featuring four panelists, hosted by the Cato Institute. March 7, 12-1:00pm.CATO Institute, Hayek Auditorium, 1127 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington. RSVP online.

--“Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference,” hosted by the Carnegie Endowment. March 20-21, Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington. RSVP online.

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