A Conclave Of Blowhards

19 Mar

PanmunjomThis sounds ominous (dum da dum…da dum).

The Pentagon said the US had informed China, North Korea’s neighbour and closest ally, of its decision to add more interceptors but declined to characterise Beijing’s reaction.

The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced plans on Friday to bolster American missile defences in response to “irresponsible and reckless provocations” by North Korea, which has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the US.

A senior US military official visiting Seoul sent a message to both Koreas: warning Pyongyang over recent threats and reassuring South Korea that military backing won’t be hurt by a congressional budget debate.

The deputy secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, said on Monday that Pyongyang’s threats would only deepen Washington’s defence commitment to Seoul. He said that includes a “nuclear umbrella” security guarantee for Seoul, which doesn’t have atomic weapons.

Ashton said deep US budget cuts won’t alter Pentagon efforts to make South Korean security a priority.

Enter the B-52s (via The Marmot’s Hole).

In the red corner, we have…wooden dinghies.


The policy of past presidents has been to give concessions to North Korea if it would suspend its nuclear testing.

But now, [Tom]Donilon has warned that the U.S. will not condone a North Korean nuclear state. With North Korea already demonstrating that it is a nuclear state, what’s next?

Before the New York Asia Society, Donilon said that the U.S. has been committed to stability on the Korean peninsula.

“This means deterring North Korean aggression and protecting our allies,” Donilon said. “And it means the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In the past, the U.S. has discouraged South Korea from developing nuclear weapons in an effort to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free. Washington also had imposed missile limits on Seoul to ensure against developing a missile that could reach all of North Korea. However, that also is changing.

Donilon said that the U.S. approach would be expanded cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, since unity is “as crucial to the search for a diplomatic solution as it is to deterrence.”


He also called for close U.S. coordination with China, which has close relations with North Korea but recently has appeared dissatisfied with its missile and now nuclear testing.

“North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic, but as to the policy of the United States,” Donilon said, “there should be no doubt we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea.”

Over the past weekend, new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would deploy 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska to counter any North Korean missile threat.

However, they won’t be fully deployed until 2017.

The additions would bring U.S.-based ground interceptors deployed from 30 to 44, which includes four based in California.

In addition, the U.S. will shift some Aegis anti-missile systems destined originally for Europe to U.S.-based defenses, along with a second anti-ballistic missile radar to be installed in Japan.

The deployments on the West Coast have brought on calls for deploying similar anti-ballistic missile systems on the East Coast to guard against a potential Iranian attack.

And, about those ground-based interceptors in Alaska – not so much.

Hagel pointed to North Korea’s third nuclear test and its development of long-range missiles as justification for expanding the ground based midcourse defense system. But the addition of 14 GBIs in Alaska is unlikely to significantly increase the defensive capability of the ground based midcourse defense system. Even though the Defense Department has invested approximately $39 billion in this system since 1996, it remains troubled. For example, the 2012 National Academy of Sciences study cited above said that the system “lacks fundamental features long known to maximize the effectiveness of a midcourse hit-to-kill defense capability against even limited threats.”  The GBIs have never been tested against a target with an ICBM range, and the CE-II, the newest version of the GBI kill vehicle, failed in its first two flight intercept tests in 2010. The system has also yet to prove effective against decoys and countermeasures that an adversary could deploy to fool our defenses.

Really? That’s it?!

To this end, Japan, South Korea, and the United States must present a clear and united message that China’s refusal to adequately enforce sanctions against North Korea will have seriously negative ramifications beyond affairs on the Korean Peninsula. In the worst-case scenario, China risks losing its place as a credible stakeholder in the region. How the new leadership under Xi Jinping will react over the next few months will provide a litmus test as to whether a coordinated approach can be forged. Ultimately, without coordination between the other five Six Party Talks members (China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) vis-à-vis North Korea, the current pattern of negative relations between North Korea and the outside world will continue its downward spiral.

Honestly, how is the diplomatic talk any less threatening than the tough talk?

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