The Cable

SitRep: South Korea and the Military Option

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Pacific fleet commander speaks in Seoul. On Tuesday, just two days after North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test to date, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, called the regime of Kim Jong-un regime “irrationally self-destructive,” which takes “actions and behaviors that defy logic and ...

EAST SEA, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 06: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, a South Korean navy ship fires a missile during a drill aimed to counter North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 6, 2017 in East Sea, South Korea. The U.S. Army and South Korean military responded to North Korea's missile launch with a combined ballistic missile exercise on Wednesday, into South Korean waters along the country's eastern coastline. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
EAST SEA, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 06: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, a South Korean navy ship fires a missile during a drill aimed to counter North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 6, 2017 in East Sea, South Korea. The U.S. Army and South Korean military responded to North Korea's missile launch with a combined ballistic missile exercise on Wednesday, into South Korean waters along the country's eastern coastline. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Pacific fleet commander speaks in Seoul. On Tuesday, just two days after North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test to date, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, called the regime of Kim Jong-un regime “irrationally self-destructive,” which takes “actions and behaviors that defy logic and explanation.”

He spoke as South Korean news outlets were reporting that a North Korean ICBM appeared to be moving into position for another test, following last week’s launch that flew over Japanese airspace.

Swift, seeking to reassure South Korea and other regional allies, said that the U.S. would continue deploying heavy firepower to the region, including “carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups, AEGIS ships, the world’s most capable submarine force and advanced aircraft like the F-35, P-8 and MH-60R…Let our potential adversaries take pause and note that the only naval force more powerful than the U.S. Pacific Fleet is the entirety of the United States Navy.”

Arms race. But just in case, South Korea is kicking off an internal debate over whether to buy new submarines, increase missile payloads, and whether to go for its own nuclear arsenal. The debate comes amid several other dramatic moves, like South Korean Defense Minister Minister Song Young-moo telling Defense Secretary James Mattis that redeploying American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula — removed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 — is “an alternative worth a full review.”

The test has also prodded President Moon Jae-in to overcome his previous hesitance about U.S. anti-missile systems, with the South now moving to deploy four additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries on a temporary basis. South Korean warships also conducted live-fire naval drills on Tuesday in another show of force.

Where’s China? The AP files a report from Beijing: “Kim’s nuclear and missile tests have alienated Chinese leaders, who supported last month’s U.N. sanctions that slash North Korean revenue by banning sales of coal and iron ore. President Donald Trump and others have called on China to use its leverage to do more to halt the North’s nuclear development.

Beijing tried to head off the latest nuclear test , conducted Sunday, by warning Pyongyang that such an event would lead to even more painful penalties. Still, Chinese leaders worry about instability on the Korean Peninsula if Kim’s regime collapses, which would eliminate a buffer between China and South Korea, a heavily armed U.S. ally with American troops on its soil.”

Twitter diplomacy. President Trump huddled with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and other military leaders Sunday, followed by on on-camera statement from Mattis on the White House lawn. Mattis warned of “a massive military response” if North Korean rockets threatened the U.S. or its allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stayed in character, saying nothing and staying away from the cameras, not even issuing a written statement about the nuclear test, despite Mattis and others saying that diplomacy is the only way out of this mess.

But president Trump has his own way of doing things, and his tweets criticizing South Korean leadership in recent days have worried allies. The AP reports from Seoul: The tweets “feeds a growing worry that has many in South Korea and Japan asking a startling question. Could Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un want the same thing, namely a separation, or ‘decoupling,’ of the decades-old security alliance between the United States and its top Asian allies, South Korea and Japan?”

Haley in town. U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said over the weekend that Pyongyang is “begging for war.” She’ll have a chance to back that up on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. when she appears at the American Enterprise Institute to talk about the Iranian nuclear program (and we assume other things…) Livestream here.

We got a little old convoy. An Islamic State convoy wandering the desert in Syria is proving to be a magnet for targets of opportunity. The U.S.-led coalition has refrained from hitting the convoy, which consists of 600 Islamic State fighters and their family members allowed to flee under an agreement with Hezbollah. But it has been hitting Islamic State fighters trying to resupply the convoy as it moves across the Syrian desert. Some fighters from the convoy, however, appear to have made it to Iraq after splitting up.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Taliban goes tacticool. The Taliban’s latest propaganda video “Caravan of Heroes 13” shows that at least some of the Afghan militant group are a bunch of special operations wannabes. Military Times reports that the video features Taliban fighters brandishing weapons and employing tactics used by American special operators.

Landlord issues. The long running diplomatic real estate feud between the U.S. and Russia continues with a row over the State Department’s eviction of Russian diplomats from consulates in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC. The State Department says the two countries carried out joint inspections of the properties before the Russians turned over the keys, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the U.S. moves “a provoking act” and  “state hooliganism.”

Famine. World Food Program executive director David Beasley says Saudi Arabia alone should pick up the tab for famine relief in Yemen after the war has plunged the country’s civilians into hunger. “Either stop the war or fund the crisis. Option three is, do both of them,” Beasley said.

Deir ez-Zor. Russia’s defense ministry announced that two Russian troops were killed by artillery rounds in Deir ez-Zor. The incident comes as Assad regime forces advance closer to the provincial capital, coming with just a few miles of the city’s western flank.  

Azerbaijan. A new report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project alleges that a money-laundering operation run by people close to the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The fund handled $2.9 billion, which records show ended up in the hands of companies and private citizens around the world, including European politicians and at least one journalist.

Rohingya. The European charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which has carried out rescue operations to help refugees in the Mediterranean, is setting up shop off the coast of Myanmar in order to provide assistance to Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in the country.

Burundi. Investigators from the United Nations says Burundi’s security services and arms of the ruling Imbonerakure party have committed crimes against humanity, torturing, killing, and disappearing dissidents and political opponents.

Colombia. Colombia is making peace with another insurgent group, negotiating an agreement with National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels. The agreement includes a truce lasting through January 2018 and follows a permanent peace deal recently enacted between the government and FARC rebels.

 

Photo Credit: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

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