Situation Report

The Korean Peninsula, more rhetoric, not more dangerous; Explainer: the North’s air defenses; Karzai “not crazy”; Dunford doesn’t need a Plan B; Where did Petraeus’ picture go? And a little more.

The Korean Peninsula, more rhetoric, not more dangerous; Explainer: the North’s air defenses; Karzai “not crazy”; Dunford doesn’t need a Plan B; Where did Petraeus’ picture go? And a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The situation on the Korean peninsula is getting more serious, but there are still no signs the North is changing its "military posture." Amid all the scary-sounding rhetoric, there haven’t been any detectable mobilizations of any scale within North Korea. But yesterday, news came that the Navy had sent the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. That came after the arrival Sunday of two F-22 stealth fighters as part of an exercise in South Korea. The jets will remain on static display for now. But the overall picture was one of using U.S. military hardware to urge restraint – and to take some of the pressure off South Korea, which is growing more and more edgy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, yesterday: "Well, I would reiterate that we haven’t seen action to back up the rhetoric in the sense that we haven’t seen significant changes, as I said, in the North in terms of mobilizations or repositioning of forces, and that is important to note. And what that disconnect between the rhetoric and action means, I’ll leave to the analysts to judge." WH briefing transcript here.

Pressure on North Korean ally China will grow. As the stakes get higher, the U.S. and allies will lean more heavily on China to see if its leaders can tamp down tensions on the Korean peninsula, experts say.

MIT’s John Park tells Situation Report that it’s likely we’ll see that pressure increase. China will be told: "Either coddle your North Korean ally or reign it in," Park said. But while there is an "asymmetry of interests" between the U.S. and allies and China with regard to North Korea, that only lasts to a point. China signed on to U.N. sanctions against the North, with U.N. Resolution 2094, earlier this month. But Park warns of the three-month "honeymoon period," after which China typically loses interest and reverts to a status quo relationship with the North. "There are a number of things that China is alarmed about, but at the end of the day, there is no fundamental change in its approach to dealing with North Korea."

What do North Korea’s air defenses look like anyway? Killer Apps’ John Reed asked that very question. Reed: Sure, North Korea is said to have one of the densest air defense networks on Earth. But it’s largely made up of 1950s-, ‘60s-, and ‘70s-vintage Soviet-designed missiles and radars — the type of weapons that the U.S. military has been working on defeating for decades via a combination of radar jamming, anti-radar missiles and stealth technology. In fact, the B-2 and F-22 were designed in the 1980s and 1990s specifically to evade such defenses, and the ancient B-52s could simply fire AGM-86 cruise missiles at North Korea from well beyond the range of the country’s air defenses." Reed looks at the SA-2 Guideline, the SA-6 Gainful, the SA-3 Goa, the SA-13 Gopher, the SA-16 Gimlets, and the SA-4 Ganef.

FP also looks at how the U.S. is running out of fancy planes to send to Korea. FP’s John Hudson: "[W]ith Sunday’s mobilization of F-22 stealth fighter jets, the U.S. military has quickly hit its ceiling of awe-inspiring next-generation aircraft." Hudson looks at B-52 bombers, B-2 bombers, and the F-22.  

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where testing is never required — we still don’t use horsemeat. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

A picture of Petraeus seemed to come down in the D-Ring. Just a week after David Petraeus began to orchestrate his return to public life after falling, hard, from grace, the Pentagon removed a picture of him from the walls in the building’s press area and replaced it with a new one of Chuck Hagel. The pictures, of various defense leaders in the last few years, had been placed on the walls within the last year as part of a refurbishing of the inner-corridors in the area. The roughly 1′ x 2′ poster boards included two of Petraeus. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber writes: "The Petraeus picture and other photos depicting current or former senior Pentagon officials were taken down late last week or early this week. It appears the pictures were rotated out and replaced with newer photos of DoD officials, a practice that is typical throughout Pentagon hallways." We’re told the picture of Petraeus wasn’t taken down altogether, but just moved down the hall.

Hagel is headed to Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next month, the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports.

What’s Ash Carter doing today? Glad you asked. At 10:30 this morning Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will attend at ceremony at National Defense University to honor the 19th SecDef, Bill Perry. The Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies will be renamed in honor of Perry and Carter is giving the keynote.

Ron Neumann is optimistic about the possibilities for Afghanistan. Former Afghanistan Ambassador Ron Neumann was one of four analysts who returned from Afghanistan late last month, including Mike O’Hanlon from Brookings, Tony Cordesman from CSIS, and Michele Flournoy, free agent — though she recently re-joined the CNAS board as a co-chairman. Each has published something on their trip in recent days that portrays a mix of hope and optimism tempered with challenges and the need for U.S. commitment. "I think Afghanistan has a chance to muddle through and not disintegrate," Neumann told Situation Report. With U.S. aid and support, the Afghans can work on professionalizing the army and work on governance, he said. But he fears, as many do, that Afghanistan will misinterpret signals from the U.S.  about its withdrawal and plans for a post-2014 presence and respond in the wrong way. "They will only work on those things if they think we’re going to stay on it," he said. "If they think we’re bailing out, they will go to hedging behavior and survival behavior." So much of Afghanistan’s own decision-making is based on U.S. decisions — they are inextricable. So as the White House seeks to "guard the president’s freedom of decision" on Afghanistan policy, that can send signals to the Afghan government that undermine that very same policy, he says.

Emerging theme from the White House? Neumann says there is gradual recognition that November 2016 isn’t far away and that the Obama White House doesn’t want to be seen as having lost Afghanistan. Thusly, the next presidential election may be an increasingly large factor to what the White House does on Afghanistan over the coming year, he says, in terms of drawdown but also the post 2014 presence.

Neumann on President Hamid Karzai: "He’s not crazy. He has reasons for everything he does. It’s useful to remember that everything he h
as fits about are things that have been on his agenda for six or seven years. He has the feeling that we don’t listen to him unless he screams. So now he screams first."

Almost the four amigos. The four analysts have traveled before to Afghanistan extensively in the past, though not always all together, Neumann said. But give or take some members, roughly the same contingent have visited together over the years. This 10-day trip included visits with Gen. Joe Dunford, political leader and former presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah, President Karzai, a number of other political leaders and others. ISAF supported but did not pay for their trip, he said. Neumann paid for his costs himself, he said.

Girls only! The actress Angelina Jolie opened a "girls only" school in Afghanistan, the Times of India reports. "Jolie plans to fund more schools by selling her own self-designed accessories collection, the Style of Jolie, to retail stores for the first time with 100 per cent of the profits going to her new foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict."

ICYMI: ABC’s Martha Raddatz’ interview yesterday morning with Gen. Joe Dunford on needing a plan B for Afghans to provide their own security. Raddatz: "When asked if there’s a ‘Plan B’ in case Afghanistan isn’t capable of providing for its own security by 2014, Dunford replies without hesitation that ‘it’s going to work.’"

Dunford: "I’m confident that we have a plan in place right now to grow the Afghan security forces to the level they need to be at in order to secure the country." And, on the need for sustainability: "The critical piece is to ensure that the Afghan security forces do have the sustainability in the future where they can continue to secure the people and allow the political transition to take place as well as development."  On the tough fight this season: "We’ve seen some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year, particularly conducting high profile attacks and assassinations of Afghan leaders to try to erode the will of the coalition… we’ll be able to provide the Afghans the support they need to be successful this summer."

The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation is getting in on the Africa action. USGIF is creating a new Africa working group, the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports. They are looking to enhance the U.S. government’s Africa expertise and steer AFRICOM’s attention further south, beyond the conflicts in North Africa that are commanding headlines. Keith Masback, the nonprofit’s CEO, on AFRICOM’s focus on North Africa: "It’s top heavy, in terms of diplomacy and engagement…. We gotta get smart about that continent if we’re going to operate there." The working group will reach out to a variety of government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as outside development groups, U.S. special operations forces, and AFRICOM.  

Why the focus? "You start peeling back the proverbial onion on Africa and it doesn’t get simpler," Masback said.

Islamic militants messed with the wrong city this weekend, according to a dispatch from Timbuktu. In a bigger post on what we reported yesterday from Mali, FP contributors Matt Trevithick and Daniel Seckman write that the Malian Army and citizens inside Timbuktu were effective in ridding the city of Islamic militants who attempted to take it over. "Timbuktu citizens played an integral role in repelling the fighters, with men, women, and children forming mobs that chased the Islamists through the city. Armed with sticks and stones, approximately 75 civilian residents angrily denounced the attackers and provided critical information, including Islamist locations, to the Malian Army."

The Pivot

  • HuffPo: North Korean photographer offers glimpse inside country.
  • AP: North Korean nuclear threat not a game, UN chief says.
  • CNN: North Korea says it plans to re-start shuttered nuclear reactor.   
  • BBC: Why China’s military has turned to gaming.

Noting

  • Buzzfeed: The sequester isn’t a joke for Jeff Maryak.
  • Danger Room: Need ships? Try a 3-D Printed Navy.   
  • Duffel Blog: Petraeus apologizes for affair, asks auditorium of 600 if he can crash on anyone’s couch tonight. 

Into Africa

  • Al-Jazeera: Mali’s ethnic tuareg accuse army of abuse.
  • Time: Jihadi strike in Timbuktu reflects changed terrorism threat in Mali.
  • AP: Central Africa Republic: coup leader solidifies rebels’ grip on government.