The Cable

SitRep: U.S. Navy Looks to Move in Pacific, Japan Beefs Up Defenses

War in Ukraine gets worse, Saudi opens port in Yemen

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz transit the Western Pacific on Nov. 12. (U.S. Navy)
U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz transit the Western Pacific on Nov. 12. (U.S. Navy)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Nikki Haley vs. everyone. “We will take note of each and every vote on this issue.” That was the message Nikki Haley emailed to scores of members of the United Nations weighing whether to vote Thursday in favor of a General Assembly resolution urging the United States to rescind its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Much more here from FP’s Colum Lynch.

More ships to Western Pacific. The U.S. Navy is considering pushing more ships into the Western Pacific — closer to North Korea and China, the service’s chief said on a visit to Japan.

Given North Korea’s blitz of ballistic missile and nuclear tests this year, “the security environment got more demanding,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told sails aboard the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. “We need more naval power.” Richardson also said he plans to conduct more exercises with partners in the region in 2018.

Hold up. South Korea is pushing the U.S. to postpone joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics as a way to calm the situation with North Korea, the South’s president told NBC News. He hopes the move could turn into a confidence-building measure with North Korea and that any halts to the drills would be dependent on a lull in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

Japan builds up. Staring down both North Korea and China, Japan if beefing up its military posture in a significant way. Tokyo is not only pushing a string of anti-ship and and anti-aircraft missile batteries into its southernmost islands close to China, but it is buying two powerful missile defense sites to be emplaced early next decade that can track and knock down North Korean ballistic missiles.

South Korea fires on Chinese boats. Adding to the tensions in the region, on Tuesday South Korean Coast Guard ships fired about 250 rounds at a group of Chinese fishing boats that were “swarming” the Korean ships. The Chinese boats are part of Beijing’s “maritime militia” which regularly challenges South Korean and Japanese ships, and acts as an arm of the Chinese navy.

War in Ukraine. 2017 has been the deadliest year in the three year Ukrainian conflict, which has pitted the central government in Kiev against Russian-backed rebels, according to Kurt Volker, the State Department’s envoy seeking a resolution to the war. Volker warned a think tank audience in D.C. on Tuesday that the impression the war has “turned into a sleepy, frozen conflict” is “completely wrong” and that the fighting in Ukraine is instead a “crisis.”

Saudi and Yemen: Worse and worse. U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for the top legal advisor at the State Department has acknowledged that Saudi Arabia could be violating U.S. and international law by restricting the flow of humanitarian aid in Yemen, FP’s Dan De Luce scoops. More:

“In written answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month before her confirmation Tuesday, Jennifer Newstead moved away from the State Department’s previous policy and indicated a stricter reading of statutes that prohibit American assistance to foreign countries blocking or hindering the flow of humanitarian aid.”

Some movement? The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has decided to keep Yemen’s main Hodeidah port open for a month, the coalition said on Wednesday, allowing at least some much-needed humanitarian relief to take place.

Drone sales. The United States is looking to make changes to a major international arms control treaty that would open the door for wider exports of military drones, Defense News reports. The proposed change to the Missile Technology Control Regime would make it easier for nations to sell drones.

Who’s where when. The Trump administration sent a few more names to Capitol Hill for confirmation on Tuesday. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty is up for Under Secretary for Nuclear Security at the Department of Energy; Andrea L. Thompson has been nominated for Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security; and Susan A. Thornton has been tapped for Assistant Secretary of State East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Thornton’s nomination can be seen as a win for embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has come to rely heavily on Thornton. Over the summer, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon boasted that he was “changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton out at State.” That plan — among others he has hatched — doesn’t look like it panned out for Bannon.

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

Air for Syria. The U.N. Security Council approved the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders in Syria for another year on Tuesday, with Russia calling for an end to the program. The council voted 12-0 to extend the mandate of the cross-border convoys, with Russia, China and Bolivia abstaining.

Ordinary decent criminals. North Korea is cashing in on its hacking skills and the bitcoin boom with the North’s “Lazarus Group” hacking collective stealing bitcoin from unsuspecting users tricked by spear phishing emails.

Round two on Riyadh. Houthi rebels in Yemen have once again fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital of Riyadh, only a week after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley showed off Iranian ballistic missile components from another missile launched at the city. In a video showing the missile launch, members of the Houthi movement say they targeted a meeting of Saudi King Salman and top officials.

Nikki Haley’s attempts to bring the U.N. Security Council on board with sanctions against Iran for its alleged export of ballistic missiles, however, ran aground against Russian opposition. On Tuesday, Haley seized on a report from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lending credence to the possibility of Iranian missile exports to Yemen, arguing that the Security Council could sanction Iran, its Revolutionary Guard Corps, or adopt new restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programs.

La propagande en francais. The Kremlin-backed RT news channel is bringing its brand of conspiracy content to viewers in France, setting up a French-language footprint in the country where French President Emmanuel Macron has called the channel one of the “organs of influence and deceitful propaganda.”

The cost of Mosul. Somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians died in the fight to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State, according to interviews of morgue workers and gravediggers conducted by the AP.

NATO cyber practice. NATO has been sharpening its cyber skills with a series of exercises, Locked Shields and Crossed Swords. Teams gathered at a NATO center of excellence in Tallinn have been practicing not just how to keep adversaries out of allied networks, but how to penetrate and defeat enemy systems, working in tandem with special operations teams to simulate hacking a moving train to allow commandos to stop it and seize servers onboard.

Stealth tanker. Boeing has shown off its concept for the MQ-25 Stingray, an unmanned stealth tanker which can take off from aircraft carriers and to supply the jets based on board. The sneak peek of the prototype reveals a Cylon Raider-style design, which will go up against entries from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics.

Myanmar journalist arrests. The government of Myanmar has detained two reporters from Reuters and held them incommunicado, prompting calls for their release by the State Department. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert pronounced the department “deeply concerned” about the detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, saying that the U.S. is “calling for their immediate release.”

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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