US Strategic Assets To Participate In Joint Exercise with ROK Forces This Week

There is going to be a lot of firepower in the Korea area of operations this week so it will be interesting to see what North Korea’s reaction to this will be:

This photo, provided by the U.S. military Oct. 13, 2017, shows the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) arriving at the southern port of Busan in South Korea. (Yonhap)

The United States is poised to show off its military might this week through joint drills and a defense exhibition in South Korea, deploying an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered submarine, stealth fighters and other strategic assets.

The show of force comes amid growing tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea expected to engage in additional provocations in protest against the South Korea-U.S. military drills  (…..)

The allies’ militaries are set to hold a joint exercise in the East and West Seas from Monday to Friday, during which the U.S. will deploy its nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

It is one of America’s key power projection means of countering military threats in a volatile region.

The 333-meter-long, 100,000-ton Nimitz-class flattop is stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the Seventh Fleet in charge of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The Reagan has a deck the size of three football fields, with some 70 aircraft on board, ranging from fighter jets to helicopters.

During the maritime drills, the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the airborne battle management aircraft, is expected to be deployed. It is capable of monitoring North Korea’s ground force movements and coastal artillery.

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) has already arrived at the southern port of Busan as part of a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific, military officials said.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

South Korea’s Special Presidential Advisor Renews Opposition to THAAD and Hints at Ending US-ROK Alliance

The Steve Bannon of the President Moon administration may be putting out a trial balloon of the North Korea policy the ROK President may ultimately move towards:

Moon Chung-in

Meanwhile President Moon has declared a commitment to avoiding war no matter what, and last week Moon Chung-in, his special envoy for unification issues, approvingly stated that many South Koreans are ready to decouple the alliance in order to keep the peace. The Yonsei professor also renewed his opposition to the stationing of THAAD and called for recognition of the North as a nuclear power. While claiming not to speak for the president, despite his special status, he made sure to add that many people in the Blue House agree with him.

Let there be no doubt that Professor Moon is saying what President Moon would say if Kim Jong Un could just bring himself to sit quietly for a month or two. The envoy’s apparent function (his famous bluntness precluding any traditionally diplomatic one) is to habituate a domestic audience to messages the Blue House will issue in due course.  [B.R. Myers]

I highly recommend reading the entire article by ROK Drop favorite B.R. Myers at the link.  However, is anyone else seeing a possible perfect storm of events that could lead to a massive shake up in the US-ROK alliance?

American and Russian Analysts Expect North Korea to Test ICBM Soon

I found it interesting in the below article how the North Koreans have pretty much told the Russians they plan to conduct a ICBM test in the near term.  If so it will be additionally interesting to see what trajectory they use to test its full capability because if it lands too close to Hawaii or Alaska it could give the Trump administration the excuse it needs to conduct an attack to destroy their nuclear and missile programs:

The next rocket launch by North Korea could be another Hwasong-12 (HS-12), which is a mobile, solid-fueled, nuclear-capable medium-range ballistic missile, or the Hwasong-14 (HS-14), first tested in July, which is believed to be a two-staged version of the HS-12, giving it a longer and intercontinental range.

“I think they are not done with testing the HS-12 into the Pacific. They also have yet to start testing the HS-14 at anything like its full range,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

“Once they have done that a couple of times, I would be concerned about the potential for an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific,” Pollack, also editor of the Nonproliferation Review, told VOA.

Russian media on Friday quoted a lawmaker in Moscow as saying North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile able to reach the West Coast of the United States.

The comment was made by Anton Morozov, a member of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, who was among lawmakers who returned home Friday after a four-day visit to Pyongyang for “high-level meetings.”

“They are preparing for new tests of a long-range missile. They even gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the West Coast of the United States,” Russian media quoted Morozov, a member of a right-wing populist party, as saying.

“As far as we understand, they intend to launch one more long-range missile in the near future,” Morozov explained. “And in general, their mood is rather belligerent.”  [VOA News]

You can read more at the link.

Should the US Pursue a Free Trade Agreement with North Korea to End Nuclear Standoff?

I will give economist Mr. Harry Broadman the author of the below article credit for being creative.  However, for his idea to work the US would have to be willing to accept goods made by near slave labor and the enrichment of a regime that will continue military preparations to conquer South Korea:

Harry Broadman

At the risk of being cast as a dreamer, for the sake of argument I’ll posit an objective that has concrete, recognizable features for which in the long run one might dare to aim: a U.S.-North-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (USNSK-FTA).  Since the current U.S. administration has called the existing U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS-FTA) a ‘bad deal’ and has already signaled to Seoul that Washington will re-negotiate the agreement, maybe President Trump should completely catch Kim Jong-un off-guard and invite him to the negotiating FTA table?

This will sound very far-fetched to most. But compared to the current dangerous stalemate with the threatened use of nuclear weapons, maybe it’s not so nutty.  [Forbes]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Says Direct Talks Being Held With North Korea Over Nuclear Program

This is not surprising to me, the only thing surprising is that the US Secretary of State is admitting to the talks:

The United States is communicating with North Korea as it seeks to encourage the regime to abandon its build up of nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

Mr Tillerson made his comments in Beijing after holding talks with Chinese leaders on Saturday amid rising concerns over Pyongyang’s military programme.

Washington is known to have back channels which it uses to help negotiate the release of US citizens who have been held captive in the North.

But Mr Tillerson’s disclosure suggests US officials are also using secret talks to convince Pyongyang to hold official negotiations aimed at easing tensions.  [The Telegraph]

You can read more at the link.

Russia and China Successful In Efforts to Water Down UN Sanctions on North Korea

As expected the United Nations sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear test have been watered down by the Russians and the Chinese.  The cuts in oil imports and ban on textile exports will inconvenience the Kim regime, but I see nothing in these sanctions that will be a game changer in regards to changing the current status quo on the peninsula which is what the Chinese and Russians want to maintain:

Nikki Haley, left, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Liu Jieyi, right, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, vote in favor of a Security Council resolution to impose fresh sanctions on North Korea over its latest nuclear test at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday. [XINHUA/YONHAP]

The UN Security Council on Monday unanimously adopted new sanctions against North Korea following its sixth nuclear test, imposing a cap on exports of crude oil to the country, though it fell short of a complete ban.

The 15-member council based in New York approved Resolution 2375, which imposes a cap on the supply, sales or transfer of crude oil to North Korea to the level of the past 12 months, some 4 million barrels, and limits exports of refined petroleum products to the country to 2 million barrels a year. It also bans the sale of condensates and natural gas liquids to the North.

However, the latest resolution fell short of the complete oil embargo called for in an earlier U.S.-drafted resolution, which would have needed the support of veto-wielding members China and Russia.

The resolution, though considered a watered-down version of the U.S. draft, will reduce oil provided to North Korea by around 30 percent, according to the U.S. mission to the United Nations, and cut off over 55 percent of refined petroleum products going to the country. China is the largest supplier of crude oil to the North.

It also includes a ban on North Korean textile exports, which was the country’s second largest export category in 2016 after coal and other minerals, and is expected to reduce its revenues by up to $800 million.

The latest resolution does not include North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or his sister on its blacklist, as initially proposed.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

Dennis Rodman Wants To Help Ease Tensions Between US and North Korea

Peace in our time with North Korea is just around the corner, US ambassador to North Korea former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman is on the case:

With tensions brewing between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, one man believes he can help keep the peace.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman hopes to “straighten things out” between President Donald Trump and supreme leader Kim Jong Un, two men Rodman calls friends.

He appeared on “Good Morning Britain” via satellite from Los Angeles on Wednesday and was asked about his relationship with Kim and the multiple trips to North Korea.

However, Rodman feels if Trump makes the first move, positive results could come of it.  (………)

“I think if the president even tries to reach out for Kim, I think it would be a great possibility things can happen,” he said, adding that Trump and Kim don’t have to be friends, just start a dialogue.  [Star-Telegram]

You can read more at the link.

Blue House Says American Tactical Nuclear Weapons are Not Coming to South Korea

Considering that the Blue House cannot even get the remaining four THAAD launchers to the site at Seongju blockaded by protesters, could you imagine the size of the blockade that would happen to any location hosting tactical nuclear weapons?  However if the US and the ROK wanted to get China and North Korea’s attention reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons would be one way doing it:

Two B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam and four F-35B stealth fighter jets from U.S. bases in Japan fly over Japan’s air space on Thursday after the United States deployed its strategic assets to South Korea for a live firing exercise near the inter-Korean border, in response to the North’s intermediate-range ballistic missile launch Tuesday. [YONHAP]

The Blue House dismissed the possibility of bringing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea after reports got out that Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo mentioned the idea in a meeting with his counterparts in Washington.

“We have not discussed anything related to the tactical nuclear weapons in this administration,” said a senior government official of the Blue House. “The Korean government respects the international efforts on nonproliferation and its policies have been and will be in line with these efforts.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

World Responds to Sixth Nuclear Test Conducted By North Korea

So what is South Korean President Moon Jae-in going to do after this latest provocation?  Just last month he said a red line for him would be if North Korea developed a nuclear weapon that could be outfitted on an ICBM and that is what the Kim regime is claiming they have done:

North Korea said Sunday that it has successfully conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded into its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in what could be the most powerful detonation.

In an “important” announcement, North Korea said that it carried out the sixth nuclear test at 12:00 p.m. (Pyongyang Time), calling it a “perfect” success.

The announcement came hours after an artificial earthquake with a 5.7 magnitude was detected near North Korea’s nuclear site in the northeastern area.  [Yonhap]

Here is what Moon Jae-in’s response is to crossing a “red line”, more sanctions:

South Korea strongly condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear test Sunday, vowing to push for fresh and the most powerful sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to completely isolate the communist state.

“President Moon Jae-in said the country will never allow North Korea to continue advancing its nuclear and missile technologies,” Moon’s key security adviser Chung Eui-yong said at a press briefing on the outcome of the National Security Council (NSC) meeting held earlier in the day.  [Yonhap]

The Japanese Prime Minister’s word are in line with Moon’s in regards to taking North Korea to the UN Security Council:

The nuclear test was confirmed by the Japanese government, which said the North had conducted the blast, but criticism of the test was rife around the globe.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed the test as “absolutely unacceptable” and vowed a tough response at the United Nations.  [Japan Times]

Some how I doubt the Kim regime is impressed by threats of taking them to the UN Security Council.  I guess we will see if the nuclear test will be enough to get the ROK government to move the blockade preventing the installment of the remaining four THAAD launchers in Seongju.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly inspecting the loading of a hydrogen bomb onto a new intercontinental ballistic missile, according to North Korea’s state media, a claim that some outside experts doubt but one that intensifies already high levels of concern on the Korean Peninsula. [AP/YONHAP]

It appears this and other issues are reaching a boiling point with President Trump who heavily criticized President Moon over Twitter:

It appears that President Trump is about to put significant pressure on South Korea over the US-ROK Free Trade Agreement despite the nuclear test:

On trade, the president’s top economic advisers remain deeply divided over a possible withdrawal from the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, as negotiators from both countries struggle to rewrite the five-year-old deal.

In recent days, a frustrated Mr. Trump has pushed his staff to take bold action against a host of governments, including the one in Seoul, that he has accused of unfair trade practices. But many of his more moderate advisers, including the chairman of the National Economic Council, Gary D. Cohn, believe that such a move could prompt a trade war that could hurt the United States economy.

An industry publication, Inside U.S. Trade, first reported late Friday that the administration was considering withdrawing from the treaty as early as next week.

“Discussions are ongoing, but we have no announcements at this time,” a White House spokeswoman said in an email.

But Mr. Trump, asked during a trip to the Gulf Coast on Saturday whether he was talking with his advisers about the trade deal, said: “I am. It’s very much on my mind.”

The idea of potentially withdrawing seems to have been prompted by the breakdown in negotiations between South Korean officials and the United States Trade Representative, Robert E. Lighthizer, an American official with knowledge of the situation said.  [New York Times]

I think a country that should be concerned about US economic retaliation is China if President Trump follows through on a threat to cut all trade with nations doing business with North Korea:

In recent days, the president has said more sanctions, coupled with implied and explicit threats of military action, would motivate Pyongyang to change its behavior.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said on Sunday that he planned to draft a new sanctions package that would cut economic ties with anyone who did business with North Korea.

“There’s a lot we can do to cut them off economically, much more than we’ve done,” Mr. Mnuchin said, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.” He called Pyongyang’s actions “unacceptable” and stressed the need for stronger steps.

Mr. Trump went so far on Sunday as to threaten to stop “all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” an extremely unlikely prospect that, if carried out, would have cataclysmic consequences for the global economy. China is just one of the dozens of countries that trade with the North.  [New York Times]

With 90% of trade into North Korea going through China it is pretty obvious the only way for sanctions to work is to focus on China.  However, the consequences of an embargo on Chinese made products would have significant repercussions on the US economy until manufacturers could reestablish product lines in other countries.  Because of this it seems the sanctions on China need to be incremental to give manufacturers enough time to move out of China.

Here is what China had to say about the nuclear test:

China urged North Korea to stop its “wrong” actions, after the reclusive said it had a successful test of hydrogen bomb that can be mounted onto its inter-continental ballistic missiles on Sunday.

In a statement on its website, China’s Foreign Ministry said China resolutely opposed and strongly condemned North Korea’s actions, and urged the country to respect U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea “has ignored the international community’s widespread opposition, again carrying out a nuclear test. China’s government expresses resolute opposition and strong condemnation toward this,” the ministry said in the statement.  [Korea Times]

Judging by this statement it doesn’t appear China is prepared to do much against North Korea in response to the nuclear test.  The coming days should be interesting to see how the Trump administration responds.  It is pretty clear increased sanctions are going to happen, but will there be any military response as well?

US Responds to North Korean Missile Launch with Exercise Bombing Strike

This is turning into what seems a monthly activity, North Korea shoots a missile and the US military responds with a practice bombing strike:

Two days after North Korea flew a missile over Japan, the United States and South Korea staged their own show of force with state-of-the-art stealth fighters Thursday.

Four US F-35B fighter jets joined two US B-1B bombers and four South Korean F-15 fighter jets in the joint US-South Korean flyover of the Korean Peninsula, an official with the South Korean air force told CNN.
The exercise was designed to “strongly counter North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile tests and development of nuclear weapons,” the official said.
In a statement, the air force said the US bombers flew out of Guam and four stealth fighter jets from a US Marine Corps base in Japan.
They conducted a mock bombing drill, which simulated a surgical strike of key enemy facilities, over the Pilsung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon.  [CNN]
You can read more at the link.