Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
The US has created “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment,” North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador said yesterday, describing US-South Korea military drills as the biggest ever “aggressive war drill” and insisting that his country was “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.” Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
North Korea will test missiles “on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC’s John Sudworth in an interview today.
The US would rather a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with North Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters today, appealing for calm on the Korean Peninsula. Gerry Shih reports at the AP.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has “gotta behave,” President Trump warned yesterday, Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin at the AP citing his comments as a signal of a tougher US stance toward the belligerent country but observing that behind the rhetoric his strategy looks similar to that of former president Obama’s but with the added unpredictability of a new president who has indicated that he’s willing to use force.
The US is prepared to work closely with Japan and its other Asian allies in to achieve “a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Vice President Mike Pence reassured Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today after arriving in Seoul for talks. Ken Thomas reports at the AP.
Pence pointed to recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan as examples of American “strength and resolve” in warning North Korea not to test America yesterday, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
Pence was in the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean Peninsula yesterday to declare an end to the Obama administration’s foreign policy of “strategic patience” intended to avoid protracted conflicts, while at the same time leaving the option of “negotiations” on the table, Carol E. Lee and Jonathan Cheng write at the Wall Street Journal.
Behind the threatening talk the White House is taking a more measured approach, giving the Chinese the time to show whether they are ready to use their influence to control their nuclear-armed neighbor, the discrepancy highlighted by Pence’s visit to South Korea yesterday during which he warned North Korea not to test “the strength of the armed forces of the United States” while White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared that the President would not draw any red lines with North Korea, Mark Landler and Jane Perlez write at the New York Times.
President Trump refused to elaborate on whether a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea is on the cards in an interview set to air on “Fox and Friends” today, saying that he would not be “outplayed” by North Korea like his predecessors Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Joe Concha reports at the Hill.
Sending a “message” to Pyongyang by attacking a Syrian airfield was irresponsible, Syria’s ambassador to North Korea said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
Trump’s unrestrained talk on North Korea is increasing regional tensions, unnerving America’s allies and most likely reinforcing North Korea’s fear that it will one day be attacked by the US – the very reason it invested in a nuclear arsenal in the first place, points out the New York Times editorial board.
The dangers of Trump’s “strategic impatience” with North Korea are examined by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
Washington and Beijing share the same goal of a nuclear-free North Korea, but they seem to be trying to realize this goal in mutually incompatible ways, writes Simon Denyer, examining China’s failing policy toward North Korea at the Washington Post.
“The country is seeking a program sophisticated enough to fire a guaranteed nuclear retaliation in any war, including one day against the United States.” That was the message behind North Korea’s military parade on Saturday, suggests Max Fisher at the New York Times.
Chinese-made trucks were used to carry missiles at North Korea’s military parade Saturday, highlighting the difficulty with enforcing UN sanctions against the state, James Pearson writes at Reuters.
Why has a solution to North Korea proved so hard to find? The New York Times’ Max Fisher explains that the fact that North Korea is poor and faces the perpetual threat of its own collapse is what fuels its drive to pursue nuclear and missile programs at virtually any cost, which also precludes almost any option to limit them.
President Trump “committed an immense atrocity” in directing the US military to drop one of its most powerful non-nuclear bombs on Islamic State territory in Afghanistan last week, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai told the AP yesterday.
US and Afghan forces are attempting to oust the Islamic State from a mountain stronghold near the blast site of the “Mother of All Bombs” dropped by the US last week as part of an offensive to dislodge the militants that began two weeks ago, Jessica Donati writes at the Wall Street Journal.
American forces failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties when they dropped two bombs on a mosque full of worhipers in northern Syria on March 16, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
Suspected-US-led coalition airstrikes left at least 23 people dead in two parts of the eastern province of Deir al-Zor yesterday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today. [Reuters]
Assad regime forces advanced on rebel-held towns in the central Syrian province of Hama under cover of intense airstrikes yesterday, the AP reports.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 16. Separately, partner forces conducted 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
President Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his victory in Sunday’s election that granted him sweeping new powers, Trump’s reaction to the results contrasting with European concern that it has exposed deep rifts in Turkish society, the BBC reports.
Trump’s call also contrasts with earlier statements by the State Department noting the concerns raised by international observers about irregularities with the election and “an uneven playing field during the difficult campaign period,” with spokesperson Mark Toner urging Turkey to “protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens,” observe Margaret Coker, Ned Levin and Yeliz Candemir at the Wall Street Journal.
Turkey’s Council of Ministers decided to extend the state of emergency for three months yesterday, the decision to go to parliament for approval, the AP reports.
Erdoğan’s victory leaves the world wondering whether Turkey, now in the hands of an erratic and vengeful man, will discard its decades-long role of bridging Europe and the Muslim world, writes the New York Times editorial board.
TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY
How can we know what Trump’s foreign policy is if he does not know himself? While it’s a good thing if there’s uncertainty in the minds of foreign powers, the problem with the Trump administration’s foreign policy is that it does not fully understand the threats to the US or the meaning of power, Michael Gerson writes at the Washington Post.
“Axis of adults.” Daniel W. Drezner examines the latest foreign policy trend – that there are people in the Trump administration who actually know what they’re doing – identified by the media at the Washington Post.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
President Trump has not yet nominated the State Department official who will look after diplomatic security despite having put the 2012 Benghazi attacks at the center of his campaign against Hillary Clinton, writes Austin Wright at POLITICO.
The Trump administration is considering ratcheting up existing sanctions against Iran and is considering adopting a “more vigorous application” of the nuclear agreement, a senior White House official told Foreign Policy’s Dan De Luce.
The Pentagon began a review of the US’ nuclear posture directed by President Trump in January “to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies,” it announced yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reporting at the Hill.
Last week’s dump of NSA malware points to a larger erosion of espionage capabilities, according to former intelligence officials, even while Microsoft reassured customers that most of the Windows exploits revealed had already been fixed. Jenna McLaughlin writes at Foreign Policy.
German, Russian, Ukrainian and French leaders have renewed their commitment to the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine, the German government confirmed, the AP reporting.
Few major Western countries are slated to attend China’s summit next month that will serve as a platform for its signature foreign policy initiative “One Belt, One Road” intended to tie together the Eurasian continent with infrastructure investment, Gerry Shih reports at the AP.
High-profile Pakistani Taliban leader Ehsanullah Ehsan has surrendered, the Pakistani military confirmed yesterday, citing the event as a significant victory against the remnants of the militant group. Salman Masood and Ihsanullah Mehsud report at the New York Times.
Two men police said had converted to “radical Islam” while in prison were arrested in Marseille, France, on suspicion of planning an attack during presidential elections which open this weekend, today, Reuters reports.
Somalia’s Federal Government and the Federal Member States agreed to form a National Security Council whose members will include regional leaders, UN News Centre reports.