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The Early Edition: August 11, 2017

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.

NORTH KOREA

“So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” President Trump told reporters yesterday at his golf club in New Jersey, refusing to temper the comments he made Wednesday that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it continued to issue threats against the U.S. and its allies, adding that “it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries.” Paul Sonne and Louise Radnofsky report at the Wall Street Journal.

“He’s not going to go around threatening Guam and he’s not going to threaten the United States and he’s not going to threaten Japan, and he’s not going to threaten South Korea,” Trump also told reporters, reiterating the seriousness of his warning against North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un and stating that the U.S. retaliation for an attack on Guam would be “the likes of which nobody has seen before.” Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

“We are preparing for many different alternative events,” Trump told reporters yesterday that the U.S. would reconsider its entire military presence in Asia as a consequence of the North Korea threat and “other reasons,” his comments coming just a few days after the Trump administration congratulated itself for passing a 15-0 U.N. Security Council Resolution imposing sanctions against the Pyongyang regime. Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

A plan to add “many billions of dollars” for U.S. anti-missile defenses in response to North Korea’s recent threats will probably be unveiled “over the next week” by the Trump administration, President Trump said from his private golf club in New Jersey yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.

Diplomatic efforts have “traction” and are “gaining results,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, highlighting the efforts of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, stating that his job is to be ready for conflict but adding that the “tragedy of war is well enough known,” the BBC reports.

“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka said today, attempting to explain the mixed messages from the Trump administration on the North Korea threat, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Pentagon officials are seriously considering military options in response to the North Korea threat, though the Pentagon still hopes for a diplomatic solution, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt explain at the New York Times.

“If we have to, we’ll go to war,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday, stating that such a move would be undesirable but may be necessary and that China could end the crisis by using its influence over North Korea. Josh Delk reports at the Hill.

China should stay neutral if North Korea attacks the U.S., Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times said today, Ben Blanchard and James Oliphant reporting at Reuters.

“A pre-emptive war … would be catastrophic,” former national security adviser Susan Rice said yesterday, warning that the war of words between the U.S. and North Korea could move the nations closer to war but adding that she accepted that previous administrations had failed to stop North Korea from developing its nuclear arsenal. Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

A pre-emptive strike on North Korean missile sites would rely on B-1 bombers, according to two senior retired officers, Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin, Kevin Monahan and Kenzi Abou-Sabe report at NBC News.

The C.I.A., the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other agencies agree that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear weapon that can be attached to an intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.), U.S. officials told N.B.C. News, supporting the assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency, though it is unclear how much confidence the various agencies have in the analysis. Andrea Mitchell and Ken Dilanian report at NBC News.

Kuwait is taking measures against North Korea, an official source in Kuwait’s foreign ministry said yesterday, according to the K.U.N.A. state news agency. Reuters reports.

An annual joint military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea will go ahead this month despite the escalating tensions in the Korean Peninsula, and will involve tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.

NORTH KOREA: MEDIA RESPONSE

It is still possible to de-escalate the crisis by relying traditional deterrence, toning down the belligerent rhetoric, enhancing defense systems, imposing further sanctions, and working with China. Former national security adviser Susan E. Rice writes at the New York Times.

No more “presidential improv” on North Korea or military threats in general. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly needs to draw a red line with President Trump, writes Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post.

Bombastic rhetoric will not neutralize North Korea’s nuclear program and President Trump should follow up sanctions with an offer to negotiate, the Economist writes.

The threat to Guam tests Trump and Kim as both try to prove that their threats are sincere, Choe Sang-Hun writes at the New York Times.

What could happen next? Marc Fisher and David Nakamura set out the possible consequences of the escalating North Korea threat at the Washington Post.

It is unlikely that the current crisis will lead to war. Anna Fifield provides a range of response from experts at the Washington Post.

Smaller disputes between the U.S. and North Korea are now likely to take on greater significance in light of the escalating rhetoric and, although an attack on the U.S. is still a remote possibility, it is not far-fetched that a miscalculation would lead to a war on the Korean Peninsula, Anne Gearan writes at the Washington Post.

The threats traded between the U.S. and North Korea have caused a headache for China as it is caught between Pyongyang, who it sees as a troublesome and destabilizing ally, and the increasingly aggressive rhetoric emanating from the U.S., Chun Han Wong explains at the Wall Street Journal.

Should the U.S. shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles if they do not hit the island of Guam? Eric Talmadge sets out the pros and cons at the AP.

Who is at risk from North Korea’s ballistic missiles? Troy Griggs and Karen Yourish provide an interactive map at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Trump hadn’t given “any thought” to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller from the Russia investigation, the president told reporters yesterday, also expressing surprise at the raid of the home of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, last month by federal agents to obtain documents related to foreign bank accounts and tax matters. Louise Radnofsky reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We’re working with” Mueller, Trump added, contradicting reports from private conversations that the president had discussed the possibility of firing the special counsel appointed to investigate whether he had colluded with Russia during his presidential campaign. Michael S. Schmidy reports at the New York Times.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort switched his legal teams as the pressure from the Trump-Russia investigation increases, John Bowden reports at the Hill.

Many questions remain about the Mueller investigation, Philip Ewing answering five of the big ones at NPR.

RUSSIA

“I want to thank” Russian President Vladimir Putin for cutting 755 U.S. diplomatic staff last month, President Trump told reporters yesterday, explaining that his gratitude for the move was due to the fact that his administration was “trying to cut down on payroll,” Peter Baker at the New York Times explaining that is was not clear whether the president was joking or not.

Current and former U.S. officials condemned Trump’s remarks, many stating that the comments were “unprecedented” and “grotesque” even if made jokingly, Al Jazeera reports.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China conveyed its “strong dissatisfaction” with the U.S. yesterday over its recent freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea which came within six nautical miles of one of China’s man-made islands, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

China requested that the U.S.S. John S. McCain destroyer turn round at least ten times as it sailed close to Mischief Reef, one of the disputed Spratly Islands of the Paracel Islands, a U.S. official told the Guardian.

SYRIA

Syrian government forces bombarded two areas inside “de-escalation zones,” killing civilians, residents and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Aug. 9. Separately, partner forces conducted two strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

State election officials will be able to apply for security clearances to review classified information about cyberthreats to their election systems, federal and state authorities confirmed this week, the move coming after criticisms of the Department of Homeland Security for its failure to provide certain information about suspected hacking attempts during last year’s presidential election. Alexa Corse reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A global financial network run by a senior Islamic State officials was used to send money to an alleged Islamic State operative in the U.S. via fake eBay transactions, a recently unsealed F.B.I. affidavit reveals. Mark Maremont and Christopher S. Stewart report at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iran is not in compliance with the nuclear deal and is not “living up to the spirit of the agreement,” President Trump said from his private golf club in New Jersey yesterday, Reuters reporting.

President Trump is “very close” to a decision on whether to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, he told reporters from his golf club yesterday. Reuters reports.

The Trump administration defended its travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries in a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in which it repeatedly referred to the executive’s wide powers to exclude foreigners from entry to the U.S., Mica Rosenberg reports at Reuters.

The Islamic State still retains the capability to send funds to supporters and inspire attacks in Europe and elsewhere despite military defeats and reduced revenue, while al-Qaeda remains resilient, particularly in West and East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, U.N. experts concluded in a report circulated yesterday. Edith M. Lederer extracts elements of the report at the AP.

The Sea of Japan does not belong to Japan, China’s air force chief insisted today, defending Chinese military maneuvers there after a Japanese defense review warned of increasing Chinese military activity in the area. Reuters reports.

A Saudi proposal that the U.N. take responsibility for reopening and running the international airport in Yemen’s capital Sanaa which has been closed for over a year due to a Saudi blockade to pressure the Houthis – a move which international aid groups say caused the deaths of thousands of civilians by depriving them of relief supplies –  apparently took the U.N. by surprise yesterday, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

It’s too soon to say who or what was responsible for a series of health issues experienced by several U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba which led to their leaving the country, the State Department said yesterday, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reporting.

The fact that the Islamic State almost brought down a large passenger plan without authorities having a clue in Australia last month should ring alarm bells worldwide, yet the incident was paid little attention to by the international media, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

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About the Authors

is the Assistant News Editor at Just Security. She is also Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE.

is an assistant news editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK.