Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

North Korea targets U.S. bases; U.S. intel botching Asia?; Russia wants talks; Drone art; Prince Harry and more.

By Kevin Baron North Korea announces long-range targeting of U.S. bases. North Korea’s state-run news agency said on Tuesday morning that the regime has ordered its "strategic rocket units" to target "U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam," and train its artillery on U.S. bases nearby in the Pacific. The regime put its ...

By Kevin Baron

By Kevin Baron

North Korea announces long-range targeting of U.S. bases. North Korea’s state-run news agency said on Tuesday morning that the regime has ordered its "strategic rocket units" to target "U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam," and train its artillery on U.S. bases nearby in the Pacific. The regime put its military on the highest state of readiness against "imperialist aggressor troops." The new threat from Pyongyang comes one day after the U.S. and South Korea revealed that on Friday they signed a new plan in case of North Korean attack. North Korea, in its announcement, again complained of B-52s flying over South Korea, which the Pentagon says is part of regular exercises.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where we always find the afikomen. Gordon Lubold is on vacation this week, but I’m your huckleberry. Happy Passover, fellow M.O.T. Follow me @FPBaron and email me at Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and I’ll put you on the list. And as 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. We love candy, all the happenings in the military/natsec world from the ridiculous to the real.

Is U.S. intelligence underestimating North Korea, and China? Tuesday’s threat again highlights the question of whether North Korea’s missiles actually could reach the United States. "I think that North Korea proceeded at a pace faster than we had anticipated," Northern Command’s Gen. Chuck Jacoby told the House last week, of North Korea’s long-range missile capability. The Pentagon is not taking chances, ordering a buildup of ground-based interceptors in Alaska two weeks ago. But last week, a four-star general and an independent panel alleged the U.S. was less than prescient in predicting the speed of military developments in Asia. It’s not a new concern; Defense Secretary Robert Gates notably said in 2011 that the U.S. "underestimated" how fast China would rollout a "stealth" fighter jet, and the chief of naval intelligence at the time said China’s anti-ship missile systems were appearing faster than predicted. Then, in December, the regime successfully sent an object into orbit. That launch, with Pyongyang’s latest direct threats of nuclear war and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld’s announcement that the road-mobile KN-08 missile could reach the U.S. , caused the Pentagon to green-light a $1 billion boost in Alaska-based missile defenses.
We honor that threat.
"There have been several attempts with TD-2 [North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missile] to put a space vehicle into orbit," Jacoby explained. "The intelligence community was mixed on whether they would be successful. And I think that we have to consider that successful and we have to consider it a demonstration of their ability to pursue ICBM technology as reflected in the rollout of the long-range road-mobile missile. And so, from the NORTHCOM perspective now, what that means is we honor that threat."
Doubters not so sure
. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, throws a skeptical wet rag on the fire, questioning exactly what the intelligence community is worried about, and why anyone would be surprised now. "I think one first has to be careful," he said, in an interview. "When it comes down to nuclear threats, we still have not seen anything approaching a mature, functioning system from North Korea. We certainly had always anticipated they might have nuclear weapons, it certainly was working on long-range missiles. If anything many of the estimates were probably premature. People didn’t anticipate the number of failures the North Korean test program would have on the missile side. They’ve been very slow to develop anything approaching an implosion weapon with a relatively high-yield." He continued, "If anything, some of the warnings about North Korean missile development and proliferation have been going on for a decade. Exactly what surprised us, other than the fact that eventually they do make progress, I find a little puzzling."
Robert Carlin, former intelligence official at CIA and the State Department, wrote us from Beijing to add: "The intel community is a funny place — on North Korea (and everywhere else) there’s usually someone who underestimates, someone who overestimates, and someone who gets it pretty much in the ballpark."
But is there enough focus on Asia?
"As for too much attention to the Mideast over Asia," Carlin said, "that’s been self evident for years, though just getting ‘more’ attention to Asia isn’t the solution.  If ‘more’ means more inept, blinkered, two-dimensional analysis and policy, it won’t do much good."
Sequester side-effect? 
Cordesman also questioned the Pentagon’s move to increase the number of GBIs, suggesting the administration was taking advantage of the North Korean boogeyman to keep missile defense alive in the face of budget cuts and sequestration. "These missiles were rushed into service. The boosters, a lot of the technology, quiet frankly isn’t exactly what you’d rush out and buy more of, if you could avoid it. … But deploying a lot of extremely expensive interim systems with uncertain capability might have some kid of theoretical, political deterrent impact, but what it would add to the threat of retaliation, unless its really effective, is to me pretty questionable."
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote last week with the same skepticism, arguing, "A cynic, however, might observe that adding 14 interceptors is a great trade for the North Koreans. They deploy a few missiles with exactly no successful flight tests and watch the United States spend one billion dollars. Hey, at least the ground-based midcourse system works so well! That, by the way, is sarcasm."
They’re still dangerous, but Kim’s not insane.
That’s the bottom-line assertion made in a Tuesday cover story on by Georgetown’s Victor Cha, senior advisor for Asia and Korea chair at CSIS, and David C. Kang, international relations and business professor at the University of Southern California. The duo challenges five common assumptions about the North.

Russians, Hagel agree to restart missile defense talks. As many predicted, within two weeks of cancelling plans to install new anti-ballistic missile defenses in Poland, Russia asked the U.S. for new missile defense talks. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took a phone call from his Russian counterpart, Minister Sergey Shoygu, on Monday. "Minister Shoygu expressed his desire to reconvene missile defense discussions with the U.S. at the deputy minister level," according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. "[Hagel] assured Minister Shoygu that these discussions would continue and be carried forward by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Jim Miller."
Some explaining to do. The backstory is that the Russian and American sides held roughly a half a dozen meetings on missile defense back in 2011, but those slowed in 2012. Credit two things for the desire to restart talks: new defense leaders are now in place, and the U.S. has a new missile defense posture. On March 15, Hagel announced the U.S. was not only boosting the nu
mber of ground-based interceptors in Alaska, but also cancelling the so-called Phase 4 of President Obama’s plan for European missile defense. That final phase would have placed SM3-IIB missiles on Russia’s doorstep, potentially threatening to knock down its ICBMs, so it was blamed for stalling further talks on nuclear arms. Initial reactions in Moscow to the cancellation were skeptical. But with Miller now settled in, and Hagel ready to get it started, the phone lines are back open. 

Reaction to USARPAC’s four-star. Several readers of Monday’s edition wrote us to argue that, North Korean threat notwithstanding, pride among the brass and a service rivalry for tight resources and attention may have as much to do with the decision to elevate the job of U.S. Army Pacific commander to the four-star level. "Shades of Nimitz and MacArthur? I have suspicions that this is ‘scene stealing’ arising from the Army GOMO (General Officer Management Office) and will do little to improve the vaunted ‘Turn West,’" wrote retired Lt. Col. Ralph Trenary, Colorado National Guard.
We love you too, U.S. Forces Korea. Situation Report, for our part, was reporting the pending change in USARPAC’s commander, and the bump from three-stars to four-stars. As part of that change, USARPAC takes command of some duties formerly assigned to the 8th Army, on the Korean Peninsula. Some readers noted that four-star Gen. James D. Thurman already commands all troops in Korea under U.S. Forces-Korea. Of course that’s true. But the change in command applies to the Army across the Pacific, not just troops in Korea.

Shrewd attempt to butter up the brass of the week. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), House Intelligence Committee chairman, in last week’s posture hearing, buttering up Gen. Chuck Jacoby, of Northern Command, and Gen. John Kelly, of Southern Command: "General Jacoby, before I get to my questions, I hope you remember my invitation for you to join me for this fall’s Talladega 500. General Kelly, you come with him. You’ll have a good time."

Drone strikes as art. Terrifying art. Did you see the new, cool and troubling animated chart of all the drone strikes over Pakistan? Called "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," the site allows users to rollover graphics of 3,105 alleged deaths by drone, of which 175 were children. The deliverable moment in the animation — don’t think we’re spoiling anything here — is when you reach the year Obama is elected, the number of strikes skyrockets. The site was built by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a two-year old nonprofit outfit of City University, London, that is lifting the veil of secrecy on remotely unmanned piloted flying machines. The group has dubbed Obama’s tenure "The Reaper Presidency" and maintains a section called "Covert Drone War."

Here comes Harry. Prince Harry, Great Britain’s most famous Afghanistan war veteran, helicopter pilot, and friend of Las Vegas, is returning to the United States for a weeklong tour including a visit to the 2013 Warrior Games. Harry’s schedule mixes charity and polo, of course. From May 6-15, the British Embassy says he will hit Washington, DC to visit Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, attend a landmine clearance event on the Hill, and appear at a hot-ticket reception hosted by the British ambassador. Harry then will head west to Denver and then Colorado Springs for the wounded warriors’ games. The prince will close out the trip in New York City, touring Hurricane Sandy landfall in New Jersey, and playing in Connecticut at the Sentebale Polo Cup.

Karzai tells Kerry what he came to hear. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from meeting President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to say, "I am confident the president does not believe the U.S. has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace and that we are completely cooperative with the government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their efforts and their people." So we’re good now, right?

Carnegie hunkers down on defense spending. The prominent think tank has dedicated five hours today to answer this question: "How can and must US defense policy change to meet new strategic and fiscal realities?" Good luck. Speakers from event-sponsors the Project on Defense Alternatives and the Center for International Policy, will be joined by notables such as budget dean (and FP contributor) Gordon Adams, Amy Belasco of the Congressional Research Service, and NDU’s Gregory Foster.

Out of Afghanistan

  • Guardian: U.S. will spend $6 billion to remove military equipment from Afghanistan by 2014
  • Reuters: Australia to withdraw most troops from Afghanistan by year-end
  • AFP: Afghan insurgency will outlast U.S. withdraw: General

Wonder Women 

  • NPR: As Qualified Men Dwindle, Military Looks For A Few Good Women
  • Washington Times: She has the right stuff: Female combat pilots have been flashing their skills for 20 years

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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