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Exposed: Does North Korea Have Secret Nuclear Sites?

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The United States claims that North Korea probably has secret nuclear facilities it is concealing from the world.

Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual 2015 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments. Under the section for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) compliance on nuclear issues, Foggy Bottom claims there is a “clear likelihood” that North Korea is hiding some of its nuclear sites.

“The United States believes there is a clear likelihood of additional unidentified nuclear facilities in the DPRK,” the report says. It fails to elaborate. However, the statement is notable in that it did not appear in the same report last year, suggesting that the United States has uncovered new information over the past year that has raised suspicions about a possible secret nuclear facility.

North Korea does have a history of hiding nuclear facilities. For example, back in 2010 North Korean authorities revealed to a visiting delegation of U.S. academics that it had an operational uranium enrichment facility.

As the 2014 Report on Adherence and Compliance explained, “North Korean authorities stated that the enrichment facility contained about 2,000 centrifuges, which was consistent with the visitors’ observations, and that the facility was operating and producing low-enriched uranium (LEU), which the scientists could not confirm.”

The United States had long accused North Korea of seeking an enrichment capability. Indeed, in 2002, North Korean First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju allegedly acknowledged such a program existed to U.S. officials during a bout of diplomacy. For years after that meeting, however, North Korea vehemently denied it was seeking an enrichment capability.

Nonetheless, the United States continued to believe it was building up enrichment facilities, with the Director of National Intelligence reporting in 2007 that “We continue to assess with high confidence that North Korea has pursued efforts to acquire a uranium enrichment capability, which we assess is intended for nuclear weapons. All intelligence community agencies judge with at least moderate confidence that this past effort continues. The degree of progress toward producing enriched uranium remains unknown, however."  

North Korea’s current nuclear facilities are mostly located at the Yongbyon research complex. Most notably, Pyongyang has a 5 MW(e), graphite-moderated reactor in the complex that it restarted in 2013. This allows North Korea to acquire fissile material for nuclear bombs by reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium.

Since at least 2010, North Korea has been building a Light Water Reactor (LWR) at the Yongbyon research complex. As the State Department notes in last week’s report: “provides North Korea with a justification to possess uranium enrichment technology that could potentially be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

It is likely that the “unidentified nuclear facilities” the United States suspects North Korea of having relates to uranium enrichment, which would give North Korea another source of fissile materials to build nuclear weapons.

North Korea has conducted at least three nuclear tests since 2006, and some suspect if of conducting a secret test in 2010. It has yet to demonstrate an ability to produce miniaturized nuclear warheads that are small enough to fit on a missile, although many observers judge that it indeed has acquired the technical capability to do this.

Regardless, the six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program remain stalled, and Pyongyang has shown no willingness to dismantle its nuclear program as the United States, South Korea and much of international community demand.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Russia's Next Big Strategic Move (And It Has Nothing to Do with Ukraine)

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Vladimir Putin has told the West that it has nothing to fear, yet the conflict in Ukraine is flaring again. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is warning his citizens of a full-scale Russian invasion. Contacts between NATO and Russian forces have increased markedly. Reports of Russian strategic bombers close to the UK, and of a Russian submarine in Finnish territorial waters, have grabbed headlines. Last year, NATO scrambled fighters over 400 times to head off suspected Russian incursions into European airspace.

On this basis it would seem reasonable to conclude that Moscow sees its primary security dilemma lying to its West. Certainly, Putin has been keen to demonstrate that Western sanctions are not denting his vision of Russia as a great power. He has prodded Scandinavian nations into reconsidering joining NATO and alarmed the Baltics with exercises close to their borders.

But the Ukraine crisis—and the broader Russia-West tensions tat it has stoked—obscures the fact that Moscow has been quietly but rapidly re-orienting its strategic posture. And it is doing so to the east, not the west.

For Putin, the logic of an Asian pivot is threefold.

(Recommended: Countdown to War: The Coming U.S.-Russia Conflict)

The first concerns consolidating Russia's prosperity as an energy and resource giant. He knows that Indo-Pacific appetites for oil and gas will increase massively over the next twenty years. Within the same time frame, European clients will diversify their energy sources once the U.S. shale gas and oil revolution brings American exports on-line. Russia therefore has a relatively small window of opportunity to begin crowding out competitors for Asia's energy demands.

Second, whereas Moscow's strategic posture has long stressed the need to look east, it has now begun increasing its Indo-Pacific trade and security footprint, including in Southeast Asia, in order to give its intended policy substance.

Third, Russia is betting that the 21st century will be an Asian one--and it is betting on China as the main driver of change in regional and global order. Until recently, the main question hanging over Sino-Russian relations was whether Moscow could live with being a junior partner to Beijing. It seems that question has now been answered in the affirmative, at least for the moment.

Let's take a closer look at Putin's pivot.

(Recommended: Russia and America: Stumbling to War)

A Geopolitical Pivot:

Russia's pivot to Asia is resulting in a large-scale revamp of its Pacific Fleet. Over the next ten years the fleet will go from Russia's smallest to its biggest naval asset. As part of an overall military build-up costing about US$600 billion, the fleet is getting new ballistic-missile submarines, attack submarines and surface combatants. The two French Mistral helicopter carriers held up over the Ukraine crisis are earmarked for Vladivostok too. And more than just expanding numbers, Russia is keen to show it can project power: its ships are now regularly seen in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Sino-Russian relationship has also entered a more mature phase. Often criticized as being a mile wide and an inch deep, cooperation between Moscow and Beijing is now comprehensive. It spans trade, investment, energy, institutional engagement and military-security ties. The recent Chinese-Russian naval exercises in the Mediterranean, for instance, were partly symbolic. But they would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. Just as unthinkable, in fact, as Chinese troops marching in Red Square, which occurred at the May 11 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. Much of the development of Russia's Far East is being bankrolled by Beijing. And in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russia has acquiesced to Chinese preferences for the institution to be an energy-trading club rather than a military-security organization.

Meanwhile, Russia and India already have strong security ties. About 70% of Indian military hardware is Russian. The two nations have been participating in the Indra bi-annual exercises since 2003. Moscow has repeatedly invited India to become a full member of the SCO. And Russia has a deal to construct about 20 nuclear reactors in India at a cost of U.S. $43 billion. Considering India has been a major target of recent Australian diplomatic and trade efforts, it is instructive that Russia and India are now considering an oil pipeline as well as a gas pipeline. The main (and thorny) obstacle is whether they transit through China or Pakistan.

Russian engagement with Southeast Asia has also picked up. It now has a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Vietnam, and Hanoi has agreed to a free trade agreement with Putin's Eurasian Union. Russia is operating aerial tankers from Cam Ranh Bay to refuel its bombers in the Western Pacific. Last year, Russia and Vietnam agreed to simplify procedures for visits by Russian ships.

Post-coup Thailand is also being wooed. A Russian naval battle group visited in March, and there are discussions on deals for rail services, military aircraft, and tanks. Russia is trying to sell more Sukhoi fighters to Indonesia, and recently promised to include technology transfers in the deal. Other weapons sales being discussed include submarines, amphibious vehicles and helicopters.

An Energy/Resource Pivot:

Russia is poised to become a big player in Asian energy markets, where Australia has a large stake in future growth. In fact, Australia's recent 2015 Energy White Paper foresees increasing trade as fundamental to our energy security, and the Department of Industry's Bulk Commodity Exports reports see Australia attempting to meet 60% of Asia's increased LNG demands by around 2025.

But here's the problem: Russia is planning to meet 100% of Asia's increased demand by the same time, via its massive development of the Far East. And by the time its $400-billion deal with China starts deliveries in 2018, China will be importing more Russian gas than Germany does now. Putin's abandonment of the South Stream pipeline and his decision to run it to Turkey allows Russia to sell the same amount of gas (6.5 million tonnes a year) into the EU via Greece, but with the capacity to re-route to India and Asia. Russia is also diversifying to a more balanced mix between pipelines and LNG, so that it will be looking to compete directly with Australia. An example is its LNG plant on Sakhalin Island, which will be handling 5 million tons annually from 2018.

Putin also wants to compete on coal. Over the next 20 years, the place of coal in China's energy mix will go down, but will still represent over half its primary energy needs. Russia plans to quadruple coal output by 2030. It is building two new coal ports on Pacific coast able to handle around 40 million tons annually. As Australian exporters know, the coal market is already flooded. But with the depreciation of the Ruble, Russia's share of Asia's coal market has actually increased from 17% to 35%.

Implications for Australia and the Region:

For a long time, Canberra has considered Russia an invisible actor in Asia. That was justified, given its weakness for much of the 1990s and 2000s. But now that posture is looking less viable, especially since Putin has made his Asian tilt Russia's 'national priority' of the 21st century.

The response to Putin's pivot must be premised on a sober assessment of Russian capabilities and intentions. Moscow faces big hurdles in infrastructure development to bring about its energy goals. Its relationship with China has been deepened by necessity rather than a sense of mutual trust. And its boldness is built on a perception of future weakness rather than on strength.

But are the Russians coming? Yes. How much will it matter to Australia? Perhaps we should start having that conversation.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons 3.0. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Japan Is Running out of Fighter Jets

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Japan could be facing a fighter jet shortage over the coming decade plus as it phases out some of its older aircraft.

Last week Defense News reported that Japan will face a fighter jet shortage as it starts phasing out its fleetes of F-2s and F-15s starting in the 2020s.

Currently, according to Franz-Stefan Gady at The Diplomat, a Tokyo-based publication, the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF) operate 223 F-15s; 94 F-2s, an indigenous longer-range variant on Lockheed Martin’s F-16C; and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs.

Japan has already begun retiring the F-4 Phantoms from the fleet, following the example of many other countries, including the United States, which retired the last of its F-4s in the late 1990s.

(Recommended: Watch Out, China: Japan Readies Test of New Stealth Fighter Jet)

At the same time, Japan has been upgrading its fleets of F-2 and F-15 fighter jets, including improving the air-to-air combat of the former. However, the F-2 is widely ridiculed within the JASDF, and Tokyo currently plans to retire them sometime in the 2020s. The F-15 will also begin being retired in the late 2020s, although additional upgrades could extend its life some years.

"Thus, the JASDF could face a severe force structure crunch in the next decade," Defense News quotes Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, as saying.

The larger problem is that the the JASDF does not currently have a replacement for the F-15. As one Japan-based military analyst tells Defense News:

“The F-2 is a terrible aircraft, just ask the JASDF. It needs to be mothballed and the money being spent on it moved over to F-15. But there is no replacement for F-15. The F-22 would have been that replacement [and would have meant Japan would not have bought the F-35].”

As this suggests, Japan made a valiant effort to purchase America’s fifth-generation fighter, the F-22. However, Washington ultimately elected to put an export ban on the F-22.

Instead, Japan went ahead and purchased 42 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in 2011 for its F-X replacement program. The problem, as the Defense News article notes, is that the F-35s aren’t designed to be an air superiority jet.

(Recommended: Japan's Master Plan to Defeat China in a War)

"It's tough to compare the F-35 with other planes," Aboulafia, who supports the decision to purchase the F-35, notes in the article. “The traditional performance metrics of speed and time-to-climb, maneuverability, range, and payload don't look particularly great. It does offer stealth and much greater sensor capabilities, and sensor fusion. In effect, going with the F-35 means an air service is comfortable with a stealthy, very well connected combat hub, rather than a traditional hot rod bristling with weaponry. But given their sensor and situational awareness attributes, even having a few score of them will provide a meaningful enhancement of the JASDF's capabilities."

Corey Wallace, an expert on Japan’s military, further elaborates:

The F-35 usefully enhances interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese armed forces, and puts Japan's fighters on the same page as the US and other allies. It also enhances the usefulness of Japan's own Aegis-equipped destroyers by essentially enhancing their range. The networking capabilities also makes the Aegis the F-35's 'wingman' by enabling it to leverage sea-based missiles to expand its strike area.

Indeed, the F-35’s combat cloud, as some analysts have taken to calling it, will be an extremely potent asset. As Robbin Laird once explained:

What is radically new about the F-35 is the fusion of data in the cockpit and the shaping of a new decision making capability within the aircraft and the fleet. The aircraft permits situational decision-making, not just situational awareness. It is a C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) aircraft, which allows the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) alone to replace three aircraft, including an Electronic Warfare Aircraft with the F-35B.


This is why, as I’ve noted before, many countries that operate Aegis ships—such as Japan and South Korea—are so interested in acquiring the F-35.

Still, this leaves Japan vulnerable in dog fights at a time when adversaries like China and Russia are rapidly enhancing their air superiority capabilities.

(Recommended: 5 Weapons of War Japan Needs Immediately)

One possible replacement, which the Defense News article fails to mention, is the F-3 indigenous fighter jet Japan is trying to construct. The ATD-X program that is aimed at producing the jet has run into myriad problems as it tries to build Japan’s first-ever indigenously built stealth fighter. Nonetheless, a technology demonstrator prototype is expected to conduct its first flight test this summer, as The National Interest has previously reported.

Ultimately, Japan hopes to have the F-3s completed sometime in the 2030s. Should the program continue to stall, however, Tokyo faces the prospect of an immense fighter jet gap.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Samuel Rogers

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Get Ready, World: Could ISIS Develop Lethal Chemical Weapons?

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Last Friday in a speech to a multinational arms control forum known as the Australia Group, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the terrorist group ISIS is “prepared to use any and all means, any and all forms of violence they can think of, to advance their demented cause. That includes use of chemical weapons.” She added that ISIS has recruited “highly technically trained professionals' to develop chemical weapons and has already used chlorine as such a weapon.”

If Bishop's claims have substance and ISIS has acquired the capability to develop and deliver chemical weapons, this adds a new and worrying dimension to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, the Australia Group has taken this possibility seriously and has prudently adopted new guidelines to make the acquisition of chemical weapons materials and technology by terrorist groups more difficult.

But are we facing a new threat from ISIS? Is the group capable of developing chemical weapons? And would its use of such weapons be a game changer?

Bishop's allegations are not new.

Concern over ISIS's chemical weapons ambitions was first expressed in July 2014 when ISIS occupied Saddam Hussein's former chemical weapons plant Al Muthanna, about 150km north east of Baghdad. Although that facility had been decommissioned by the UN in the 1990s, small quantities of precursor chemicals and badly damaged chemical munitions had been sealed in concrete storage bunkers. However, it is unlikely that anything left there would have been of use for chemical weapon purposes.

Late last year, following the Muthanna incident, there were multiple reports that ISIS had used chlorine gas roadside bombs in attacks against Iraqi forces. These were said to have resulted in injuries but no deaths. A similar weapon was reported to have been used against Kurdish Peshmerga forces as recently as March.

None of these reports have been independently confirmed but the description of events by eyewitnesses and victims are consistent with the use of chlorine gas. It seems likely that such weapons were improvised devices using an industrial cylinder of chlorine taken from a water purification plant and rigged with a small explosive charge to rupture the cylinder and disperse the gas. More injuries would have been caused if the bombs had been filled with high explosive than chlorine.

Reflecting the concern over the possible acquisition of chemical weapons by ISIS, in January of this year the U.S. claimed to have conducted an air strike to kill a chemical weapons specialist, Abu Malik, from the former Muthanna chemical weapons plant and who was now working for ISIS. Interestingly, former UN chemical weapons inspectors have no record of Abu Malik: it seems he was not a chemist or engineer but may have been a technician or possibly a junior official at Muthanna.

Julie Bishop's concerns over ISIS are not misplaced but may be somewhat exaggerated. It is unlikely ISIS would be able to obtain either the raw materials or expertise to make advanced chemical agents such as the nerve gas sarin. They may be able to produce or obtain less deadly agents such as the chlorine gas allegedly used by ISIS to date. But to cause significant casualties, the chemicals have to be delivered in quantity using aerial bombs or rockets designed specifically for the purposes. Since ISIS does not have an air force, aerial bombs are not an issue and chemical rockets would take years of development, if ISIS had the expertise.

However, while the use by ISIS of chemicals, or even medical radioactive material in a 'dirty bomb', may not cause many casualties, there is a clear psychological impact. This is possibly what ISIS may be aiming for. Similar use of chlorine, probably by government forces in Syria, has attracted international attention and condemnation. This is likely to have been noted by ISIS. And finally, Bishop's focus on ISIS and possible new threats no doubt help support the Australian Government's policy on Iraq and terrorism.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

Superpower Showdown: Why the U.S.-China Relationship Is in Big Trouble

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Remember a decade ago when the U.S. appealed for China to be a responsible stakeholder?

Congratulations, Washington. Wish come true. China sure is responsible for a lot of things happening strategically and economically. And a lot is at stake.

When Robert Zoellick launched the stakeholder line in September 2005, the deputy U.S. Secretary of State was arguing for Beijing to take more responsibility in the system that had delivered China so much:

“For the United States and the world, the essential question is—how will China use its influence? To answer that question, it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system. China has a responsibility to strengthen the international system that has enabled its success.”

The core assumption was that China should be a stakeholder in the global system. And, lo, it’s happening, though not quite as Zoellick intended. So implicit as to be explicit was the Washington view that China would sign up to what the U.S. had created.

(Recommended: Beware the Great Clash in Asia: China vs. America Is Getting Dangerous)

Instead of settling for a stake in a U.S. steak dinner, Beijing wants a meal better suited to chopsticks. Or maybe it’s a buffet. China gets to choose what it wants to take from the existing system and where it wants to push a different recipe. That’s why China is not a revisionist power. Instead it’s a ‘status quo-tidal power’ seeking both stability and a continued shift of the tide in Beijing’s favor.

Apply the responsible stakeholder matrix to another significant idea driving U.S. (and Australian) policy towards China—engage and hedge.

The engage side is about economics and trade. The hedge is where the military play. What’s striking is how these two elements—engage and hedge—have diverged. Two concepts supposed to run in parallel are off in different universes; not parallel universes so much as opposed existences. That’s why the U.S. effort to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership excluding China is as much rebalancing strategy as trade policy.

(Recommended: China vs. America in the Sky: A Stealth-Fighter Showdown Is Brewing)

Obama’s line that China is welcome to join TPP is good engagement speak. It’s also fantasy. Embracing the TPP would mean Beijing returning to the Zoellick vision of China doing due duty on behalf of the U.S. system.

In the economic universe, China is the responsible stakeholder who loves the system so much it wants to buy an even greater share.  And drive the system. And write new rules so the system works better. Buying and building a bigger stake is about improving the system so chopsticks are a natural utensil for any stakeholder to hold.

Some of what China is doing, though, is straight out of the Zoellick handbook. Take the slow, decade-long appreciation in the value of China’s currency. The IMF now judges that the yuan is “ no longer devlaued”.

Hurrahs and hosannahs all round, surely, for such responsible behavior.  All that bombast and bluster from Washington about China’s unfair competitive advantage from its undervalued currency must have worked. What a stakeholder.

China is powering along with the effort to see the yuan become part of the IMF’s reserve currency basket. For the IMF, this is not a matter of if but when. Already, the yuan has become Asia’s most active currency for payments to China and Hong Kong. As part of the slow currency internationalization, Beijing now has 30 currency swap arrangements with partners such as Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Beijing’s creation of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) is interesting stakeholder behavior on many levels. Washington hated it; too much chopsticks, not enough steak. Perhaps, though, Zoellick should have spent more time selling his logic in Washington. The U.S. Congress didn’t get the responsible stakeholder memo.

(Recommended: Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear)

Visiting Hong Kong, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, says Beijing was pushed into launching the AIIB by the refusal of the US Congress to give China more clout in existing multilateral systems. Congress has blocked a 2010 IMF agreement to shift voting rights to acknowledge China’s growing role. Thus, says Bernanke, the “U.S. Congress is largely at fault for all that’s happening.”

The same FT piece on Bernanke links to the recent comment by the former U.S. Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, that Washington’s handling of the AIIB may be remembered as the moment the U.S. “lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.”

Summers’ is writing about a vital power that is not stepping up to its stakeholder responsibility—the U.S.:

“This failure of strategy and tactics was a long time coming, and it should lead to a comprehensive review of the U.S. approach to global economics. With China’s economic size rivaling America’s and emerging markets accounting for at least half of world output, the global economic architecture needs substantial adjustment. Political pressures from all sides in the U.S. have rendered it increasingly dysfunctional.”

In the opposing universes of engage and hedge, the sky is a different color. In the engage realm, China is the stakeholder who is picking up all sorts of responsibilities and buying lots of friends.

Travel to the hedging universe and alarms abound. Not much responsibility, and lots at stake.

In the stakeholder stakes in the South China Sea, China has staked out its stake and is staking a lot on holding everything it has staked.

China no longer has much stake in the U.S. security system in Asia. Yet Beijing is responsible for many other stakeholders shifting towards the U.S. Almost everyone in the Asian system (apart from North Korea, Russia and Cambodia) has had a Beijing-induced epiphany along Zoellick lines.

Asia’s stakeholders have a much sharper understanding of what’s at stake. The strategic love lavished on the U.S. in Asia no longer happens quietly, behind closed doors.

China has driven a change in the security mood, electrifying the hedging universe. You can debate the effectiveness or weight of the Obama rebalance. But measured by Asia’s response, the rebalance is great policy. The region just wants more rebalance and more reassurance. Thank China for driving home to everyone else in Asia, in the most direct and dramatic way, how much they have at stake.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

America Sends Nuclear Bombers to Russia's Doorstep

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America is sending three nuclear-capable bombers to Russia’s borders to participate in a military exercise near the Baltics and Poland.

On Friday, U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) announced that three B-52 Stratofortresses were being sent on a short-term deployment to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Fairford, United Kingdom. They will be joined by two B-2s.

During the deployment, however, the three B-52 bombers will “conduct training flights with ground and naval forces around the region and participate in multinational Exercises BALTOPS 15 and SABER STRIKE 15 over international waters in the Baltic Sea and the territory of the Baltic states and Poland,” STRATCOM said in a press release.

It went on to explain: “The bombers will integrate into several exercise activities, including air intercept training, simulated mining operations during SABER STRIKE, inert ordnance drops during BALTOPS, and close air support.”

SABER STRIKE is an annual exercise the United States has held with European allies since 2010. The purpose of the exercise is to coordinate the United States’ providing close air support to European ground forces.

According to the U.S. Army Europe’s website, this year’s exercise will include participants from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the U.S. Army Europe has indicated that particularly close attention will be given to integrating U.S. forces with those from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, and the exercises themselves will also take place inside those countries.

BALTOPS is a U.S.-led primarily maritime exercise held with NATO allies and other European partners every year. This year, the 43rd annual BALTOPS exercise is taking place between June 5-20 in in Poland, Sweden, Germany, and throughout the Baltic Sea. The participants in year’s BALTOPS exercise include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The U.S. Navy has previously said that roughly “5,600 ground, maritime and air forces from participating nations will conduct air defense, maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, and amphibious operations in a joint environment.” It has also noted that, “A total of 49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and a combined landing force of 700 Swedish, Finnish, and U.S. troops are scheduled to participate.”

News that the bombers will participate in SABER STRIKE and the BALTOPS come as the United States tries to ratchet up pressure against Russia.

On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter convened a meeting in Germany with U.S. military commanders and fourteen ambassadors to discuss how to deal with Russia. The meeting included about 40 individuals, according to press reports, including the heads of the the Department of Defense’s Africa, Pacific, Middle East, special operations and cyber commands.  Following that meeting, Carter told reporters that the United States plans to step up the number of military exercises it conducts in Europe in order to enhance preparedness.  

Increasing pressure against Russia was also expected to be President Obama’s top priority during the G7 meeting held in Germany on Sunday and Monday. A joint communique issued by the G7 leaders warned that “We ... stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase cost on Russia should its actions so require.” Obama separately accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of harboring a “wrongheaded desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”

A lengthy report from the Wall Street Journal this weekend also said the Obama administration is having internal discussions about various deterrence strategies it may adopt to deal with Russia in Europe. According to the report, some of the measures being debated include stepped up military exercises and more pre-positioning of weapons stocks near Russia’s borders.

The deployment of the B-52s also comes as Russia has stepped up the numbers of bombers it has sent into U.S. airspace. Adm. William Gortney, the chief of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told the Washington Times on Monday that the number of Russian incursions into U.S. airspace in 2014 was double the average dating back to 2006.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Why South Korea Is So Obsessed with Japan

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Last month I wrote about the possibility that 'Korea fatigue' – a Japanese phenomenon arising from Korea's relentless criticism of Japan over its World War II conduct—might be coming to the U.S. It was one of my most-read posts on The Interpreter, and I received a lot of comments and retweets regarding my suggestion that South Korea's 'anti-Japanism' flows from its debilitating national legitimacy contest with North Korea. So I thought I would flesh out that argument.

It is immediately obvious to anyone who has spent substantial time in South Korea that its people and its elites have an extraordinary, and negative, fixation with Japan.

Korea's media talks about Japan incessantly, usually with little journalistic objectivity and in negative terms: as a competitor for export markets which must be overcome, as a rival for American attention, as an unrepentant colonialist, as a recipient of the 'Korean Wave' (watch Korean analysts triumphantly argue that Japanese housewives are learning Korean), as a lurking military imperialist just waiting to subdue Asia again, and so on.

Korea's territorial dispute with Japan over the Liancourt Rocks is similarly illustrative. A major Korean newspaper actually suggested samurai might invade Dokdo (the Korean name for the Rocks). The Government has taken out advertisements in Western newspapers and Korean pop stars have sought to act as 'ambassadors' to the world to press Korea's claim. The Korean military holds war drills around Dokdo. Political stunts at athletic events have undermined Japan's willingness to participate in joint sports events with Korea. The Government has launched a global campaign to rename the Sea of Japan the 'East Sea' (in the belief that doing so reinforces its claim to the Rocks) and even considered pushing Psy to rework his hit song 'Gangnam Style' as 'Dokdo Style.'

Foreign students in Korea get pulled into this campaign too, on the assumption that (gullible) foreigners add credibility. I have ridden on subway cars painted with the likeness of Dokdo, and I recall watching a documentary on Korean television on the 20th anniversary of Korea's accession to the UN where the political highlight of joining the world body was defined as the ability to press Japan on Dokdo and the war.

On Korean independence day, Korean children use squirt guns to mock-kill dressed-up Japanese soldiers (yes, really), and I have attended sound-and-light shows on that day which portray the Imjin War of the 1590s as part of a millennial Japanese effort to dominate Korea, culminating in the 1910 annexation. It is a staple of Korean historiography that Japan has invaded the country dozens or even hundreds of times (most of these were actually pirate raids), and that Japan 'received' its culture via the Korean 'bridge.' Perhaps the most ridiculous example I can think of is a talk-show guest who was forced to apologies for wearing a red-and-white striped shirt that looked vaguely like the rising sun flag. This 'anti-Japanism,' as Victor Cha has termed it, has spread to the U.S., where ethnic Korean lobbying has brought comfort-women memorials and changes to US textbooks.

I could continue, but the point is that, as a social science observation, this obsession cries out for explanation, and it is hard to imagine that it is all just about the war seventy years ago (this is not to say Korea's historical concerns are not authentic; they are).

One obvious explanation for the sheer intensity of feeling is that South Korea's disputes with Japan have graduated from politics to identity. As Cha notes, South Korea's nationalism is negative, defined very much against Japan and, importantly, not against North Korea. The reason, I hypothesize, is that North Korea so successfully manipulates Korean nationalist discourse that South Korea cannot define itself against North Korea in the same way West Germany did against East Germany. So South Korea uses a third party against which to prove its nationalist bona fides in its national legitimacy competition with the North.

It is now widely accepted that North Korea's real ideology is not socialism but a race-based Korean nationalism in which the DRPK is defending the Korean race (the minjok) against foreign depredation. The 'Yankee Colony' South Korea — with its internationalized economy, American military presence, cultural Westernization, resident foreign population, and so on—cannot compete with this racial purity narrative.

This would not matter if South Korea's political identity was democratic and post-racial, but it isn't. The minjok myth is in fact deeply resonant. South Korean education teaches it (the resultant racism is a huge problem); government media campaigns and commercials stress it; my students write about it in glowing terms; until a few years ago the national pledge of allegiance was to the minjoknot to the democratic state. Nor does South Korea's democracy provide a strong legitimacy competitor to race-nationalism. Corruptionilliberalism, and an elitist political-opportunity structure have generated a robust street protest culture, a strong sign that elections are weak vessels of legitimacy.

If South Korea can only weakly legitimate itself through democracy, and with race-nationalism so powerful, Seoul must go head-to-head with Pyongyang over who is the best custodian of the minjok and its glorious 5000 year history. This is a tussle South Korea cannot win, not only because of the North's mendacious willingness to falsify history, but South Korea's Westernized culture, massive U.S. presence, rising multiculturalism leading to mixed race citizens, and so on.

The North's purer minjok nationalism will always have resonance in the South, where for a generation former dictator Park Chung Hee invoked race for legitimacy, 10% of the public voted for an openly pro-North Korean party in the last parliamentary election, and the main left-wing party has consistently equivocated on whether the U.S. represents a greater threat to South Korea than North Korea does.

Enter Japan, then, as a useful 'other' to South Korea, in the place that really should be held by North Korea. All Koreans, north and south, right and left, agree that the colonial take-over was bad. The morality of criticizing Japan is undisputed, whereas criticizing North Korea quickly gets tangled up in the 'who-can-out-minjok-who' issues raised above. This should not be necessary. West Germany was able to define itself against the East and win that legitimacy competition. But the North has dumped Marxism for a legitimacy language that resonates in the South too, and democracy is not strong enough to combat it.

So beating up on Japan is great solution. It bolsters South Korea as defender of the minjok, sidesteps a brutal head-to-head nationalist competition with the North which might provoke open Northern sympathies in the south, and avoids any debate over the long-term need to shift South Korean political legitimacy from race to democracy, which in turn would require a desperately needed clean-up of Korean politics at the expense of today's entrenched elites, most notably the chaebol.

All in all, anti-Japanism is a pretty good strategy for managing South Korea's many tensions, and so long as the Americans are around, there are no geopolitical consequences to it either. What's not to like? If South Korea cannot be the anti-North Korea, then it can be the anti-Japan.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

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Why 'Small Arms' Might Just Be the Ultimate Weapon of War

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A quick look around the world reminds you that small arms are the tools of choice for those wishing to propagate violence. Indeed, from France’s war in Mali to the conflict in Ukraine to the Islamic State’s reign of terror to Libya’s disintegration, small arms are the fuel adding to the world’s burning fire. It is was therefore important to pick up the latest Small Arms Survey release, the yearly report that discusses how small arms—“revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, and light machine guns”—impact global violence. The entire report is worth reading, as the chapters serve as in-depth case studies on how these weapons impact different aspects of worldwide conflict ranging from poaching in Africa or the rise of insurgencies in northern Mali. Yet the report has a few key points of interest to those interested in national security, international violence, or the defense industry.

Licit (and likely illicit) small arms business is booming:

From 2001 to 2011, “the small arms trade almost doubled”—and the value is only increasing. In 2012, around $5 billion of small arms were transferred, which is the highest value for the global since 2001. And, as expected, the United States leads the pack in this trade, both exporting and importing small arms more so than any other country. Yet, “none of the largest exporters experienced a decrease in their reported exports between 2001 and 2012, except for Belgium.” Clearly, it’s a good time to be selling small arms. Of course, it’s important to note that this is the trade that has been accounted for. Who knows how much more staggering these numbers would be if it were possible to factor in the illicit small arms trade?
New opportunities are presenting themselves:

Global trends are causing some rethinks in how global security might work. Yet, these same trends still present growing conventional opportunities for small arms manufacturers. As the report mentions, increased urbanization—which leads to increased resource extraction—brings with it the need for “the effort to control and secure resources” that ‘can attract a variety of armed actors, including security forces and predatory groups.” Security is scarce around these areas. Contractors should consider this a growing opportunity. Despite the proliferation of weapons, the level of security in growing areas seems to be decreasing. More importantly, the chance for an escalation of conflict will likely increase in these zones as people will use small arms for nefarious purposes.

Think twice before sending small arms:

Elias Groll at Foreign Policy said it best: “The weapons supplied to friendly client states today have a nasty habit of reappearing in the hands of unexpected enemies ten, twenty, or thirty years from now.” Indeed, as Groll also notes, small arms sent by the United States intended for the Kurdish ended up in Islamic State possession. Old Soviet Union weaponry has proliferated around the world after its fall and can now be seen in Balkan states, Mali, Libya, and elsewhere. For the arms industry, there may be some opportunity in making small arms that only work for their intended receiver. Some strides have already been made in this department, but more could be done.

Alex Ward is an assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where this piece first appeared


The Real Danger in the South China Sea

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Washington has made its point loud and clear in the South China Sea. But it is likely to be lost on Beijing.

“There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared at a late May gathering of Asia Pacific's top defense officials in Singapore. That statement came a few days after a fly-by of the US Navy's P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft around the man-made islands China is busy building in the South China Sea. Such actions, Carter said, demonstrate that the U.S. “will continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight.”

Beijing, however, likely does not see the U.S. Navy's action as being aimed at upholding international law. Rather, it thinks Washington is mainly out to block its rise, a narrative that already dominates China's geopolitical consciousness.

That reading has consequences.

China has a stake in keeping the global commons open and unimpeded—a norm upon which global trade as well as the Chinese economy depend—and it could be dissuaded from attempts to restrict access to the commons if sufficient opposition can be mobilized. But if that opposition is framed around the narrative of a bipolar power struggle, it will drive the region down a zero-sum track of escalating confrontation.

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Any perception of Washington tightening the noose around China could further empower Chinese hawks. They are likely the original proponents of the reclamation projects and the strongest advocates for their militarized use and the imposition of restrictive rules to impede the mobility of the U.S. Navy. Already some in the Chinese military are making the case that the P-8A Poseidon fly-by warrants a Chinese air defense identification zone in the South China Sea.

The advance of the Chinese hardliners would confirm a suspicion rapidly gaining currency in Washington that Beijing aims to not only challenge America's position as a regional security guarantor but also subvert norms and rules that lie at the foundation of today's world order. That conclusion would also encourage the rising voices in the U.S. calling for more robust treatment of China.

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The South China Sea would then turn into the cockpit of a portentous big-power competition, a prospect every nation in the Asia Pacific dreads.

Washington needs to state and re-state that what it is determined to defend is a rules-based order, not its naval supremacy. There are many opportunities to deliver the message at the top levels: Vice Chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission Fan Changlong is due to visit Washington this month, then there by the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and an Obama-Xi Jinping meeting in September.

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But Beijing's mistrust of Washington is so deep-seated that even that will not be enough. The idea that U.S. policy is designed to contain China's rise is prevalent, politically profitable and permeates every aspect of Chinese geopolitical analysis. It will be hard to shake China from its conviction that U.S. activity in the South China Sea is a gambit to destabilize its backyard in order to enhance American alliances, enlarge the U.S. sphere of influence, and ultimately limit China's re-emergence as the region's premier power.

Other stakeholders, which include all regional nations, need to speak up in defense of rules and norms too. Some are already doing so. Australia and Japan are considering conducting their own freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. The Philippines has said it will continue to fly where international law allows.

But action by American allies alone is not enough, since China often dismisses them as Washington's stooges. South East Asian states, claimants or not, have a greater stake than anyone in keeping South China Sea open and free. It is incumbent on them, and significant actors like Indonesia in particular, to reach out to Beijing and make their positions known, both individually and collectively. They do not have to make their point through warships or military aircraft, nor do they have to be confrontational or engage in megaphone diplomacy. ASEAN and its members have many bilateral and multilateral means for discreet and direct communications with Beijing. And rather than issuing generic expressions of concern, they have to articulate why Chinese actions are testing freedom of navigation.

South East Asia's hesitation at confronting China is understandable in the face of the sheer asymmetry in military might, economic power and global influence. But the region may have underestimated its leverage. China does not want instability on its periphery, and nor does it wish to see frightened neighbors flock to Washington for protection. Beijing is also eager to secure regional cooperation for its Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Xi Jinping's flagship foreign policy initiative that aims to project China's influence through its neighbourhood and as far as Europe.

Washington's recent show of resolve can give ASEAN a shot in the arm, but should not replace regional diplomacy and South East Asia's efforts at self-governance. Over-reliance on U.S. deterrence would turn regional countries' nightmare of getting caught in between two competing superpowers into reality.

Yanmei Xie is the author of a new Crisis Group report, Stirring up the South China Sea (III): A Fleeting Opportunity for Calm.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

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Get Ready, China: Is a U.S.-Vietnam Alliance Possible?

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The U.S. and Vietnam have just signed a Joint Vision Statement, but don't expect them to join forces against China. An alliance is ultimately straw-man talk, but provides a useful way to look at the U.S.-Vietnam-China triangle.

Last weekend's Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore had one main focus: the South China Sea and China's movements in it. As the U.S. has become more concerned and China has acted in ways that worry not just its neighbors and co-claimants of the Spratly and Paracel Islands, the issue has moved to the front pages of world's newspapers, and added urgency to the growing friendship between Washington and Hanoi.

The question of what sort of relationship may develop between the U.S. and Vietnam is also of growing interest because it's a compelling story about 'former foes' (the phrase is practically mandatory when talking about Vietnam and the U.S.) drawing closer.

I'm a little bemused, because I've been watching this story play out in one way or another since 2006 when I arrived in Hanoi, just before APEC and a few months before Vietnam joined the WTO as member 150. Growing ties with the U.S. and, later, territorial disputes with China, were the bread and butter of any journalist there. Whether internet cables were cut or fishermen threatened, it often meant that a small and committed group of protesters would march around the Hoan Kiem Lake on a Sunday morning in the city center, watched by police. It also meant that I, as a freelance correspondent, would be able to pay my rent.

Newspapers ran the stories on their foreign pages but they centered more on the protests and contretemps between Beijing and Hanoi than on any wider understanding of what the South China Sea meant or how it was going to change the region. Now, as China builds islands and airstrips, everyone is interested.

Another central feature of reporting from Vietnam in that period was the question of ties with the U.S. Even John McCain's presidential bid got coverage from the Vietnamese angle, with one of his former jailers saying he'd vote for the man. I ran with a story on nightclubbing kids who drank B-52 cocktails, and how it was all a sign of Vietnam's 'booming' economy (we loved that superlative), helped in large part by its 2001 trade agreement with the U.S., which McCain helped to push.

At the same time, the U.S. was always concerned with human rights, framed most often in terms of freedom of speech. This has remained a roadblock to growing ties (though if the will were there, Vietnam could release a few more dissidents as bargaining chips, and both nations could pretend to be happy, with China left unhappy) and the reason for the arms embargo on Vietnam, which John McCain would like to see lifted. Some 'non-lethals' are already for sale.

Since last year, when China moved an oil rig into Vietnam's EEZ and set off riots outside (Taiwanese) factories that killed people, speculation has grown: might an alliance between the two 'former foes' be useful, or even possible?

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in Hanoi days ago to sign the Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations, which the U.S. and Vietnam hope will support expansion of military ties, particularly navigation of complex U.S. procurement rules. The statement is non-binding and outside of it being with a former enemy and nation at loggerheads with China, not particularly exciting.

But it is symbolic. Secretary Carter told a press conference that he and his counterpart Phung Quang Thanh, the Defense Minister, had discussed halting reclamation and militarization in the disputed South China Sea. Carter pledged US$18 million to help Vietnam buy some U.S. patrol boats and is also going to set up a site to train Vietnamese troops for UN peacekeeping mission. Senator John McCain wants a more robust strategy and said during his visit to Ho Chi Minh City, “We are not going to have a conflict with China but we can take certain measures which will be a disincentive to China to continue these kinds of activities”. 

Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is to visit the White House later this year (at Washington's invitation, though it was lobbied for by Hanoi). He visited his counterpart in Beijing in April.

Vietnam has been busy pursuing friendship with plenty of other nations too, including India, Russia, and even Australia. There is also a new Strategic Partnership with the Philippines. Hanoi continues to work within ASEAN too, despite the organization still being a bit toothless when it comes to South China Sea problems.

While China's actions are driving the two countries closer, the possibility of a U.S. alliance troubles hardline members of the Party and Politburo, thanks to worries about it being a quiet way for the U.S. to push harder for greater transparency and democracy. But to really understand the limits to U.S.-Vietnam cooperation, consider this: many in Australia agree that Australia cannot hope to stay militarily close to the US and trade well with China. Given that China is also Vietnam's largest trading partner, and that the nations share a border, hold security dialogues, and are tied through communist party links, an alliance would be a hard thing for Vietnam to manage (even ignoring its formal policy of non-alignment).

Every nation is engaged in its own hedging game between the two great powers. There are limits to how close Hanoi can move to Washington, but such moves do rattle Beijing, and may provide greater breathing room in the South China Sea, which is what this is about in the first place.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: U.S. Sec. of Defense/Flickr. 

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