North Korea Continues to Challenge Trump with New Missile Tests

DPRK testing maneuvers, not missiles - “North Korea was practicing to strike United States military bases in Japan with its latest barrage of missiles, state media in Pyongyang reported Tuesday, and it appeared to be trying to outsmart a new American antimissile battery being deployed to South Korea by firing multiple rockets at once,” writes Anna Fifield for The Washington Post. “Kim Jong Un presided over Monday’s launch... [of] four ballistic missiles... launched by the elite Hwasong ballistic missile division [and] ‘tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan,’ KCNA said.”

--“Three of the four missiles flew about 600 miles over North Korea and landed in the sea, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone... Analysts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California said [the missiles] were extended-range Scuds capable of flying more than 600 miles. North Korea has tested these types of missiles before, so the point of Monday’s launches was not to see if the rockets would fly, but to test how quickly the unit could set them up and deploy them — classic training for a wartime situation, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute.” Full story here.

See also - For a comprehensive look at North Korea’s missile tests, see “A Timeline of North Korea’s Missile Launches and Nuclear Detonations,” by Sam Kim for Bloomberg.

U.S. weak response to North Korea - “The threat posed by North Korea to the US and its allies has entered a ‘new phase’, Donald Trump said on Tuesday, a day after the regime test-launched four ballistic missiles towards Japan,” writes Justin McCurry for The Guardian. “In phone talks on Tuesday, Trump told Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that the US stood ‘100%’ with Tokyo after three of the intermediate-range missiles landed in the sea off Japan’s north-west coast.”

--“The comments came as the US said the ‘first elements’ of its controversial missile defence system had arrived in South Korea on Tuesday. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system is meant to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights, the US Pacific Command said in a statement... South Korea’s Yonhap news agency... said the system could be operational as early as April… Trump has not publicly commented on Monday’s missile launch, but his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Twitter that the world ‘won’t allow’ North Korea to continue on its ‘destructive path’.” Full story here.

Why North Korea is scary - “Not because it has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, in fact, it has the smallest. And it’s not because it could actually hit the United States with a weapon, it can’t, but it’s because they have clearly accelerated their nuclear and missile programs over the last couple of years and have a very determined effort to build a long range ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear weapon to the United States,” explains Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione in a new interview with Majority60. Full interview here.

U.S. cyber efforts against Pyongyang’s missile tests - “Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds,” write David Sanger and William Broad for The New York Times. “An examination of the Pentagon’s disruption effort… found that the United States still does not have the ability to effectively counter the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Those threats are far more resilient than many experts thought… and pose such a danger that Mr. Obama, as he left office, warned President Trump they were likely to be the most urgent problem he would confront.”

--“Once the United States uses cyberweapons against nuclear launch systems — even in a threatening state like North Korea — Russia and China may feel free to do the same, targeting fields of American missiles. Some strategists argue that all nuclear systems should be off limits for cyberattack. Otherwise, if a nuclear power thought it could secretly disable an adversary’s atomic controls, it might be more tempted to take the risk of launching a pre-emptive attack… The White House is also looking at pre-emptive military strike options, a senior Trump administration official said... [or] putting American tactical nuclear weapons back in South Korea… even if that step could accelerate an arms race with the North.” Full story here.

See also - “Is It Wise to Foil North Korea’s Nuclear Tests With Cyberattacks? ‘This could set off very serious alarm bells in Beijing and Moscow,’” by Kaveh Waddell for The Atlantic.

Tweet - @Cirincione: Cyberattacks on an adversary's nuclear weapons is definitely not a good idea. #blowback

Sanction dodging - “North Korean weapons barred by UN sanctions ended up in the hands of UN peacekeepers in Africa, a confidential report says. That incident and others in more than a half-dozen African nations show how North Korea… continues to avoid [sanctions] on the world’s most impoverished continent with few repercussions,” writes the Associated Press. “The annual report by a UN panel of experts on North Korea illustrates how Pyongyang evades sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes to cooperate ‘on a large scale’, including military training and construction, in countries from Angola to Uganda.” Full story here.

Tweet - @GlobalZero: Focusing on diplomacy w. NKorea could save the world a lot of pain. It's on @realDonaldTrump to take the high road.

The ‘now what’ moment on DPRK - How should the President respond to DPRK? “First, it is time to staff up,” answers Blake Narendra for The Hill. “The president confessed in a recent interview that hollowing out the senior most levels of the federal bureaucracy is anything but accidental. However, prolonged vacancies in senior posts in Foggy Bottom, as it is the case in the Pentagon, prevent key inputs from entering into the policy debate on North Korea... Second, President Trump needs to stop with the nuclear bravado. ”

--“Bombastic statements from the president that the United States will be ‘top of the pack’ on nuclear weapons... run afoul of the decades-long U.S. commitment in word and deed to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military strategy... The United States can more forcefully call out North Korea... if it makes a show of fully honoring its own treaty obligation to pursue nuclear weapons reductions. [And] third, the Trump administration should resist calls from some in Congress to restrict funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.” Full op-ed 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.

Time to stop MOX - “What does it take to get a wasteful government project canceled? That’s the question the Washington, D.C.-based Project On Government Oversight, my employer, has been asking for years about the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility — the infamous MOX project,” writes Lydia Dennett for War is Boring. “With luck, a scathing evaluation by the National Nuclear Security Administration about the contractor in charge of MOX  will be the final straw.”

--“MOX was designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for U.S. commercial nuclear reactors... But in 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced he would be withdrawing from the non-proliferation agreement that was the basis for building the MOX facility... Adding to the project’s woes is the fact that it’s astronomically over budget, behind schedule and lacks even a single potential customer for the nuclear fuel... Completing construction of the facility alone has gone from $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion — more than 10 times the original estimate... Independent estimates have found that, over the facility’s lifetime... MOX will cost taxpayers $110 billion.” Full story here.

New START is (still) a good start - “A top Air Force officer today defended the New START treaty as a major component of America’s strategic security, a week after the agreement with Russia was blasted by President Trump,” writes Aaron Mehta for Defense One. “Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said Thursday that the agreement was of ‘huge value’ to the U.S., adding that it has ‘been good for us’... The general’s comments were in stark contrast to those of Trump, who in a Feb. 22 interview with Reuters called the New START treaty a ‘one-sided deal’ and a ‘bad deal.’”

--“Signed in 2010, the treaty limits both the U.S. and Russia to limit their deployed forces to 1,550 warheads over 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and bombers, by 2018.” Gen. Weinstein continued, “There is a dialogue that we still have with the Russians, where we do New START treaties, Russia is still inspecting our facilities and we are inspecting Russian facilities, so there is a [dialogue] going on between the United States and Russia because we still have the New START treaty... I think there is a huge value for that.” Article here.

See also - “Why Mess With a Nuclear Treaty, Mr. Trump?” by The Editorial Board of The New York Times.

Dealing with Russia’s INF Treaty violation - “Three weeks ago, The New York Times reported that Russia has deployed the missile [that is banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty],” writes Steven Pifer for The Hill. “This is a serious matter. The Russian violation threatens international security and undermines a milestone arms reduction agreement… [It] remains strongly in the U.S. interest, as well as the interest of America's allies in Europe and Asia, that neither Russia nor the United States possess ground-based, intermediate-range systems. That means preserving the INF treaty and bringing Russia back into full compliance.”

--“At a minimum, Washington should mobilize international political pressure on Moscow, particularly from those countries that will be targeted by the Russian missiles, and proceed with deployable, effective conventional weapons systems that would strengthen U.S. capabilities in Europe and Asia… Unfortunately, the evidence is growing that Russia intends to break free of the INF treaty. That requires a U.S. response. Designing such a response is not easy, given the realities of the budget and alliance relations.” Full list of recommendations for United States’ response to Russian violation of the INF Treaty can be found here.

See also - “Russia Has Deployed a Treaty-Violating Missile. Here’s What the US Should Do About It,” by Michael Krepon for Defense One.

Trump’s budget proposal - “President Trump's $603 billion budget proposal for defense won't be enough to pay for the massive buildup in military might that he envisions,” writes Rebecca Kheel for The Hill. “‘The amount of defense funding you need should be determined by strategy and what you want the military to be able to do,’ said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘The Trump administration has not given us a clear defense strategy, so it's difficult to judge [whether $603 billion is enough] if you don’t know what the defense strategy is.’"

--“'Barring some miracle efficiency saving, Trump’s not going to be able to increase the size of the military like he said he was going to,’ Harrison said. Harrison predicted most of the $54 billion above budget caps in Trump’s base budget would go to items generally considered part of readiness, including more troops... and maintenance backlogs. ‘Whatever’s left over will be sprinkled around to a few high priority acquisition programs.’” Full story here.

Limited nuclear war isn’t viable - “Last month, it was revealed that a Pentagon advisory committee authored a report calling for the United States to invest in new nuclear weapons and consider resuming nuclear testing. The report even suggested researching less-powerful nuclear weapons that could be deployed without resorting to full-scale nuclear war. This is terrifying and deserves a swift, full-throated rebuke,” writes Senator Dianne Feinstein for The Washington Post.

--“Let me be crystal clear: There is no such thing as ‘limited use’ nuclear weapons, and for a Pentagon advisory board to promote their development is absolutely unacceptable... When it comes to nuclear weapons, victory is not measured by who has the most warheads, but by how long we last before someone uses one. This latest proposal may lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and the secretary of defense would be wise to reject it.” Full op-ed here.

Dems: Without the deal, Iran could get nukes - “Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) is warning President Trump of the consequences should he fulfill his campaign promise to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal,” write the staff of The Hill. According to Foster, “What I hope has happened is that whoever is having conversations with the president said, 'If you follow through with your campaign promise to walk away from deal, within one year or maybe two we will be facing the choice of nuclear-capable Iran or a war.’”

--“Foster, the only member of Congress with a doctorate in physics, penned a letter to Trump arguing the U.S., Israel and the world are safer today because of the nuclear deal. He also outlined the steps Iran has taken to comply with the deal... Foster’s letter to Trump was signed by 60 Democrats but no Republicans.” Full story here.


Quick Hits:

--“India, Pakistan Escalate Missile Rivalry,” by Kelsey Davenport for Arms Control Association.

--“Senators Markey and Franken Call for Bold Approach to Restrain and Reverse North Korea’s Nuclear Progress,” by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) published on Senator Ed Markey’s official website.

--“Is Russia a Threat?” by Steve Pifer for The Brookings Institution.

--“US Urges More China Pressure on NKorea Nuke Program,” by Matthew Pennington for The Associated Press.

--“Senate votes to confirm former Texas governor Rick Perry as energy secretary,” by Steven Mufson for The Washington Post.

--“Podcast: UN Nuclear Weapons Ban with Beatrice Fihn and Susi Snyder,” by Ariel Conn for Future of Life.

--“Tillerson holds Iran deal talks with IAEA chief,” by Guy Taylor for The Washington Times.


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

--"Global Nuclear Weapons Environment," Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that will be held on March 8, 2017, 2:30 p.m. The hearing will include, Robert Kehler, USAF (Ret.), Keith Payne, Missouri State University, and Gary Samore, Harvard Kennedy School. Located at Senate Armed Services Committee, SR-222, Russell Senate Office Building, Washington. Webcast on the committee website.

--“Short Course on Nuclear Weapon and Related Security Issues,” hosted by The American Physical Society. The course will take place from April 21 to 22, 2017 at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E St. NW Washington. Register for the course here.


You’ve (likely) experienced nuclear fallout - “Between 1945 and 1992, the United States conducted 1,032 nuclear tests seeking to get the measure of these enigmatic weapons. Many of these tests would be today be considered unnecessary, overly dangerous and just plain bizarre,” writes Kyle Mizokami for The National Interest. “The majority of U.S. nuclear tests occurred... at the Nevada Test Site... The bulk of the remaining nuclear tests took place in Pacific, at the islands of Bikini, Enewetak, Johnson Island and Christmas Island.” But, tests also took place in Alaska, Mississippi, New Mexico and Colorado, among others.

--“In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that virtually every American that has lived since 1951 has been exposed to nuclear fallout, and that the cumulative effects of all nuclear testing by all nations could ultimately be responsible for up to eleven thousand deaths in the United States alone.” In other words, you’ve come into contact with nuclear fallout, and you’re one of the lucky ones.

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