The Cable

Security Brief: North Korea Summit Back On; End of the Korean War?

American and North Korean diplomats scramble to make arrangements for June 12 summit.

President Donald Trump stands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, on the South Lawn of the White House on June 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
President Donald Trump stands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, on the South Lawn of the White House on June 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

It might actually happen. American and North Korean negotiators met for a fifth round of preparatory talks at the border village of Panmunjom on Monday, days after President Donald Trump abruptly declared that the canceled summit meeting with his North Korean counterpart is back on.

As American and North Korean diplomats scramble to arrange an agenda for the summit set for June 12 in Singapore, U.S. officials continue to drive a hard line on the need for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. “North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday.

“We can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road” to the summit, Mattis added.

South Korean officials, meanwhile, are arguing for a more open-minded stance. “Just because we have been tricked by North Korea in the past doesn’t guarantee that we will be tricked in the future,” South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Saturday.

While a huge gap remains between American insistence that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons and Pyongyang’s obvious reluctance to do so, the June 12 summit may end up focusing on formally ending the Korean War.

“Preparations are already underway for President Moon to declare a formal end to the Korean War with the two leaders on June 12, the date of the North-U.S. summit, or the next day on the 13th,” a diplomatic source told Korea JoongAng Daily. “Singapore has already begun preparations to host President Moon.”

On Friday, Trump hosted North Korea’s former intelligence chief at the White House and emerged from the meeting speaking of the need for a peace treaty.

“We talked about ending the war,” Trump said. “And you know, this war has been going on — it’s got to be the longest war — almost 70 years, right? And there is a possibility of something like that.”

Welcome to this Monday morning edition of Security Brief. As always, please send your tips, questions, and comments to elias.groll@foreignpolicy.com.

Assad to North Korea. Syrian President Bashar al Assad said he plans to visit North Korea, according to the North’s state media. Syria and North Korea are believed to actively cooperate on chemical weapons development.  

Musical chairs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced the top three officials in the country’s armed forces, in a move that appears to further consolidate his control over the army at a critical juncture. “The United States is seeking a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and U.S. officials believe there was some dissension in the military about Kim’s approaches to South Korea and the United States,” Reuters reports.  

NK Leadership Watch has more details on what is known about the newly elevated officials.

So, you’ll get this, right? With American and North Korean officials scrambling to get the logistics squared away for a possible summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, diplomats working at the summit site in Singapore have stumbled on a surprising snag: Who will pick up Kim Jong Un’s hotel tab?  “The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night,” the Washington Post reports.

Does Kim want Trump’s help? Trump administration officials have repeatedly dangled economic aid as a prime motivator for North Korea to come to the table. But a close look at North Korea’s official statements indicates that the country “has been emphatic that it will not give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for American economic aid,” the New York Times reports.

Will the U.S. sanction European energy companies? With transatlantic relations under strain already, the Trump administration is considering taking a step that would strain it further — sanctioning German and other European energy companies in order to target a Russian natural gas pipeline, Foreign Policy reports. Nord Stream 2 would deliver gas from Russia to Europe, but the U.S. worries it would come at Ukraine’s expense.

Google ices Maven. Facing an employee revolt over its artificial intelligence work on behalf of the Pentagon, Google executives said last week that they will not renew their contract for the DoD’s Project Maven, which uses AI technology to analyze drone video, according to Gizmodo. Google’s move deprives the Pentagon of arguably the most sophisticated AI-company in the United States, represents a major setback for Defense Department’s efforts to forge a closer relationship to Silicon Valley, and marks a major turning point in the debate over the ethics of marrying artificial intelligence to defense technology.

The job no one wants. The Department of Defense will take over principal responsibility for investigating security clearance applications for the federal government, the Associated Press reports. “Pentagon officials said that over the next three years, the Defense Department will take responsibility for all background investigations involving its military and civilian employees and contractors. But according to a U.S. official, the White House is expected to soon give the department authority to conduct security reviews for nearly all other government agencies as well,” according to the AP.

Mattis throws some zingers in Singapore. Speaking at the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore last week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis called out Beijing for “intimidation and coercion” in the Pacific region, emphasizing the United States will continue to maintain its presence there. “China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes. It calls into question China’s broader goals,” Mattis said. China didn’t miss the opportunity for a few barbs of its own; one Chinese general slammed the United States for “disinviting” China from the RimPac naval exercises.

U.S. may increase patrols in the South China Sea. As Beijing has continued to construct military facilities on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, the Pentagon is considering upping the number and size of patrols it sends through the region, Reuters reports. The United States has regularly conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to ensure that no nation is attempting to block maritime activity there.

Arms race. The countries of Southeast Asia are caught in a losing arms race with  a resurgent China, and they must seek a diplomatic solution to the brewing conflict, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told the Financial Times.

“They can come and go in our West Philippine Sea unimpeded because we don’t have the wherewithal to confront them,” Lorenzana told the paper, referring to the South China Sea by its Philippine name. “China is actually using its military might to intimidate countries.”

Sputnik moment. China is making significant investments in basic science research and is increasingly able to lure top scientific talent away from American universities, the Washington Post reports.

“The United States spends half a trillion dollars a year on scientific research — more than any other nation on Earth — but China has pulled into second place, with the European Union third and Japan a distant fourth,” according to the paper. “China is on track to surpass the United States by the end of this year, according to the National Science Board. In 2016, annual scientific publications from China outnumbered those from the United States for the first time.”

Naval drone swarm. A new video shows off a neat bit of Chinese drone technology: naval unmanned vehicles conducting swarm maneuvers. The video is the latest example of China’s major investments — and advancements — in drone technology.

Zuck, call your office. Facebook has a possible new privacy scandal on its hands. “Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — over the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, ‘like’ buttons and address books, the New York Times reports.

You’re not paranoid. Devices for snooping on cellular phone calls and texts have been spotted around Washington, D.C., including near the White House, according to a newly revealed federal study. It is unclear exactly who operated the devices, but they could be the work of one or more foreign intelligence services.

“The discovery bolsters years of independent research suggesting that foreign intelligence agencies use sophisticated interception technology to spy on officials working within the hub of federal power in the nation’s capital. Experts in surveillance technology say that IMSI catchers — sometimes known by one popular brand name, StingRay — are a standard part of the tool kit for many foreign intelligence services, including for such geopolitical rivals as Russia and China,” the Washington Post reports.

Get one of these for the coming nuclear winter. New details are trickling out about Russia’s arctic combat vehicle, which is essentially a dune buggy equipped with skis and machine guns. “Some of Russia’s most elite troops appear to be eying a variant of the Chechen-made Chaborz M-3 combat buggy modified for Arctic operations,” the Drive reports. “Looking like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster or better suited to carrying around action figures, the vehicle is the latest indication of the country’s steadily expanding presence in the highly strategic Arctic Region.”

Cyber in warfare. American commanders are beginning to describe how cyber operations figured into the campaign to defeat the Islamic State. American forces successfully located the Islamic State’s primary command posts but could not track their subcommands, so the United State used “capabilities from space and cyber to deny the enemy’s primary command post, forcing him to move and unveil his alternate command posts,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, the Army’s former head of the anti-Islamic State taskforce, told a conference. After Islamic State forces left their primary command posts and revealed their other locations, the American task force attacked.

What’s in a name? U.S. Pacific Command has a new name: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The move is a not so subtle jab at China. The name signals that no country, no matter its size, is “bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in announcing the change.  

Saber strike. Some 18,000 troops began annual drills in Poland and the Baltic on Sunday. This year’s exercise comes as Polish officials are agitating for a permanent U.S. military presence there, a base that the government says it is willing to pay up to $2 billion to fund.  

But the ground is the F-35’s natural environment!  The availability of F-35 fighter jets is suffering as the plane’s maintenance crews can’t get the parts they need to keep the advanced planes in the air, Defense News reports.  

Train and equip SNAFU. A new Government Accountability Office report on American foreign military training operations will make for unhappy reading at the Pentagon. With nearly $2 billion being poured into 21 projects in 2016 and 2017 to train foreign foreign militaries and provide them gear, a mere eight of those projects improved the capabilities of the local force, Military Times reports.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan. A new report paints a dismal picture of the state of education in Afghanistan. “Nearly half all children in Afghanistan are out of school due to conflict, poverty, child marriage and discrimination against girls, the number rising for the first time since 2002,” Reuters reports.  

Still fighting. Undeterred by their failure so far to block the Trump administration’s pursuit of a new low-yield nuclear weapon, some House Democrats are still fighting to kill the proposal. Rep. Barbara Lee, the California Democrat, has offered an amendment that would end funding for the weapon as part of the 2019 Energy and Water appropriations bill, Defense News reports.  

Major missile news. The U.S. Navy has selected a new over-the-horizon anti-ship weapon, and it’s the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile, Defense News reports. The weapon will replace the Harpoon on some ships, and represents a major victory for its designers, Kongsberg and Raytheon. The contract could be worth as much as $848 million over its life.  

Hypersonics for subs. Russia’s next generation of submarines may be equipped with hypersonic missiles, according to a report in Russian media.

“Little is known about the Husky-class submarines. They’re called fifth-generation multipurpose submarines in the Russian press and are being designed by the Malakhit design bureau in St. Petersburg, but there is not yet a finalized version of the boat’s design,” Defense News reports. “According to TASS, the Husky class will feature a typical ― or rather typical for Russian subs ― dual-hull design, with a 12,000-ton displacement.”

Lawfare. The Department of Justice decided that President Donald Trump’s May strikes on Syria were legal in large part because “the anticipated hostilities would not rise to the level of a war in the constitutional sense,” the Washington Post reports. The broad interpretation of executive authority asserted that Trump had the power to launch the strikes in the “national interest.”

Agni 5 test. Indian armed forces claimed to have successfully tested the Agni 5 missile, a three-stage long-range weapon capable of hitting targets within a 5,000 km range, NDTV reports.

Back to the mothership, drones! The U.S. Navy and researchers at Florida Atlantic University are researching an unmanned naval drone that would serve as a mothership for other, smaller drones, Defense One reports. The Navy is trying to speed up the way it develops and deploys drones.

The U.S. is considering taking a Yemeni port by force. The United Arab Emirates has asked the Trump administration for help capturing Yemen’s main port Hodeidah from Houthi rebels, the Wall Street Journal reports. House lawmakers have called American intervention in the Gulf conflict unauthorized.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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