As Talks with China Loom, White House Still without North Korea Strategy

Trump struggles to sound tough with China - “President Donald Trump says that the United States is prepared to act alone if China does not take a tougher stand against North Korea’s nuclear program,” reports Catherine Lucey for the AP. “Trump’s comments in an interview with the Financial Times come just days before he is set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida. The two are expected to discuss a number of issues, including North Korea, trade and territorial disputes in the South China Sea during their meeting on Thursday and Friday.”

--“‘Yes, we will talk about North Korea,’ Trump told the newspaper for a story that appeared Sunday on its website. ‘And China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.’” Still, Trump said that “the United States could ‘totally’ handle the situation in North Korea without China’s help. Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: ‘I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.’” Full story here.

British PM tries to rein in Trump - “Theresa May has warned Donald Trump against taking unilateral action against North Korea, arguing that the US president should instead try to work with international organisations and partners,” write Harriet Alexander and Nicola Smith for The Telegraph. She said “I think what is crucial - and where we have been working, and will continue to work through the United Nations Security Council, through resolutions which we have supported there, and with the United States - is to encourage China to look at this issue of North Korea and to play a more significant role in terms of North Korea.”

--“Mr Trump’s National Security Council has prepared a report for the president with his options to deal with North Korea. The report, it was claimed on Sunday, was accelerated to have it ready before Mr Trump's summit with Mr Xi, and it includes a range of economic and military measures… But, rather than advocating military means, the report leans towards new sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its neighbour.” That is understandable considering that “scenarios for possible military action are apocalyptic, not only in terms of civilian and US troop casualties, but also for the economic impact on South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, and the surrounding region.” Full story here.

See Also - “The Guardian view on Trump and North Korea: the risks are growing. There are no good options for tackling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. But the military ones are by far the most alarming.” Read the full piece from The Guardian editorial board 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 seventeen 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.

A new nuke policy for DPRK - “North Korea’s advancing nuclear and ballistic missile programs are the most urgent nuclear proliferation challenges today. The new administration of President Donald Trump, along with U.S. allies and partners in Northeast Asia, have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to pull back from potential escalation and war and pursue a diplomatic course that halts and eventually reverses Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program,” writes Daryl Kimball for the Arms Control Association. “A new policy that tries negotiations first and then puts pressure on North Korea if its intransigence scuttles diplomacy will not guarantee success, but it offers the best chance for curbing the North Korean nuclear threat.”

--”To move forward, Trump should take note of Pyongyang’s statement from July 2016, which called for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, to make clear that the United States remains committed to denuclearization as the end state of the process. If North Korea is willing to negotiate, initial talks should focus on obtaining a moratorium to prevent additional nuclear and ballistic missile tests in order to buy time for a more far-reaching and lasting solution… For the full article, click here.

INF withdrawal would disastrous - “An American decision to withdraw from the treaty, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F., would be disastrous,” writes the New York Times Editorial Board. “Efforts by the Obama administration to persuade Russia to move back into compliance failed. While American experts don’t consider the new missile a significant military threat, there is no doubt that President Vladimir Putin of Russia saw the new missile as another way to stoke fears in the members of NATO, an alliance which President Trump has recklessly sown doubts about.”

--“All of this is playing out in a confused environment in which Russia has been accused of interfering in the American election and Mr. Trump has been an apologist for Mr. Putin, while the Pentagon and the intelligence community are ringing alarm bells about the Russian threat. How Mr. Trump handles the treaty violation will say a lot about whether he is prepared to confront Mr. Putin’s malign meddling.” For more information click here.

See Also - “U.S. signals policy decision soon on Russian arms treaty allegations,” by Phil Stewart and Kylie MacLellan for Reuters here.

Russian INF violation testimony - “The United States should have three priorities for addressing Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty, and all three must be factored into any response for it to benefit US and allied security. 1) The US approach should maximize NATO and East Asian alliance unity; 2) Russia should gain no military advantage from its violation of the INF Treaty; and 3) any response should not further undermine crisis stability,” testified Jon Wolfsthal before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade on Thursday.

--“The risks of conflict with Russia are real and growing. The danger of an accidental or unintended conflict, or military engagement driven by concern over short decision times, miscommunication or mechanical malfunction are as high as they have been since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We have the most to lose form nuclear war and open conflict, and we should take the steps we need to take in order to protect ourselves and our allies while preserving crisis stability and ensuring we have the means and the time to react rationally and firmly in a crisis… We should be careful not to undermine those goals through our response to the INF issue.” Full testimony here.

Vatican: nuke ban a “moral obligation” - “‘The threat of mutually assured destruction through nuclear weapons cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states,’ the Vatican’s delegate said in an address to a UN session on nuclear disarmament. Archbishop Bernardito Auza called the attention of UN members to the call by Pope Francis for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. He said that all states have a moral obligation to stop nuclear proliferation and to destroy their own stockpiles of nuclear arms.” For the full essay by Catholic World News, click here.

Tweet - @NukeStrat: But "should we modernize or not" is wrong question; rather, it's how much is needed for what mission and how much can we afford.

And you think your commute is bad now - “Every day, nuclear weapons are transported on our nation’s highways by an underfunded agency with an overworked staff, ageing trucks and a desperate lack of attention from Congress,” write Geoff Wilson and Katherine McMullen for The Hill. “The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Secure Transportation (OST) is tasked with operating a fleet of tractor-trailers, staffed by heavily armed couriers, that transport nuclear weapons and components across the nation’s aging highways — often through densely populated areas. But according to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times, the OST has been ‘struggling with problems of forced overtime, high driver turnover, old trucks and poor worker morale,’ for years.”

--“By cutting the size of our nuclear arsenal, the president can solve the nuclear transportation problem. In the short term, the OST is still going to have to move warheads in order to get them to their retirement facilities. But in the long term? Fewer bombs means fewer transport requirements. Fewer transport requirements means less overtime and driver burnout (not to mention a smaller budget). And less driver burnout means fewer chances of having a 475 kiloton nuclear weapon getting involved in a fender-bender on the freeway during rush hour.” Full story here.

India-Pakistan Arms Race Escalating - “The nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan is intensifying, with new weaponry and more aggressive doctrines that are stoking tensions between two powers at growing risk of confrontation,” writes Saeed Shah for The Wall Street Journal. “The neighbors, which have fought three wars and many skirmishes, have in recent months adopted dueling steps aimed at gaining strategic advantage. Each has more than 100 nuclear warheads and new ways to deliver them from land, air and sea.”

--“Among rival developments, India tested interceptor missiles twice this year as part of its plan to develop a ballistic missile-defense shield. Pakistan in January tested a missile with multiple warheads capable of evading it. India said last year it began testing its first homemade nuclear-powered submarine at sea and a nuclear missile capable of striking all of Pakistani territory from far offshore. Then Pakistan this year said it had tested its own undersea nuclear missile capable of carrying out a retaliatory strike.” Full piece here.

New sanctions threaten Iran Deal - “The most imminent danger to the JCPOA is the Senate bill–the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S.722), co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ),” argues Tyler Cullis for LobeLog. “The proposed Senate legislation would risk upending the U.S.’s obligations under the JCPOA and undoing the long-term restrictions the JCPOA imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, all the while setting the stage for renewed conflict between the two countries.”

--“Passage of the Senate bill would thus render the U.S. non-compliant with its JCPOA obligations, while also providing an effective stamp of approval to President Trump to utilize his sanctions authorities to target Iran in ways that could fatally undermine the JCPOA and pave the path towards war. Important revisions will need to be made in the weeks ahead if Congress intends to avoid responsibility for unraveling the Iran nuclear accord.” For the full article, click here.

Quick Hits:

--“Did North Korea Show Off Its Ability to Make a Hydrogen Bomb With an Online Ad?” by Rhett Jones for Gizmodo. Article here.

--“Chinese wary about U.S. missile system because capabilities unknown: experts,” by Greg Torode and Michael Martina for Reuters. here.

--“Trump’s Budget (Like His Temperament) Is Exacerbating the Danger of Nuclear War,” by James Carden for The Nation. here.


--“Increasing the Effectiveness of Non-Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran,” a joint hearing held by House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade and Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance featuring Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD; J. Matthew McInnis, AEI; Emanuele Ottolenghi, FDD; and Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution. Tuesday, April 4, 2:00pm at 2128 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington. Details here.


Nuclear Football in Mar-a-Lago Lost and Found - “‘You’d think whoever it belongs to would have realized that they lost it by now,’” said Mar-a-Lago’s Assistant Manager Chris Mahoney. “‘Well, I’ll give it a few more weeks—if no one claims it after 60 days, it’s up for grabs, and I can see if someone on my staff wants it.’ At press time, a man had mistakenly claimed the briefcase as his own before getting home to discover all the unfamiliar buttons inside.” For the full article on The Onion, click here.

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