NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Nuclear test alert
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are closely watching North Korea for signs of a third underground nuclear test in the remote northeastern part of the country.
So far, spy satellites have not detected increased activities or communications that would indicate preparations for a nuclear test at the Hwadae-ri nuclear test site and training facility in Kilju County, North Hamgyong province, the northernmost state, according to U.S. officials.
One Western diplomat said with certainty that North Korea “will conduct another nuclear test.” The assessment is based on threats last week in official state media in Pyongyang in response to U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
North Korea conducted underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, prompting international condemnation and U.N. sanctions. North Korea had agreed to dismantle all nuclear arms and infrastructure, as part of the now-defunct six-nation nuclear talks.
South Korea’s presidential office also said on Wednesday that the government there is braced for a North Korean-origin cyber-attack. “The National Cyber Security Center obtained intelligence on a possible cyber-attack from North Korea,” Blue House spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said.
On Saturday, the National Defense Commission of North Korea, headed by Kim Jong-il, issued a statement that threatened a North Korean “retaliatory sacred war” in response to joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The statement said “the more desperately the U.S. imperialists brandish their nukes … the more rapidly the [North Korean] nuclear deterrence will be bolstered up along the orbit of self-defense.”
START treaty flaws
Keith B. Payne, a former Pentagon specialist on nuclear deterrence, testified before the Senate on Tuesday that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), now facing a difficult ratification debate, will constrain U.S. strategic forces and weaken the flexibility of nuclear and other forces to counter varied threats.
r. Payne also revealed that the New START contains so many loopholes that Russia’s strategic forces, which already were declining because of aging systems, will be unconstrained by the treaty at a time when Moscow is building up it nuclear forces.
Russia is nearing deployment of a new long-range, air-launched nuclear cruise missile, and is adding multiple warheads to its mobile SS-27 ICBM, Mr. Payne said. Moscow also is committed to building a new strategic bomber, a new 3,100-mile range submarine-launched cruise missile, and a new heavy ICBM, he said.
Russian reports also indicate that Moscow is planning a new rail-mobile ICBM and a new air-launched ICBM that would not be covered by the new treaty.
Even under the New START, Russia could legally deploy 2,100 warheads because of lax counting rules, Mr. Payne said.
“An important consideration in this regard is that the treaty’s ceilings appear not to require real Russian nuclear force reductions in the near term, and its loopholes and extreme permissiveness would not prevent the renewal of Russian strategic capabilities over time,” Mr. Payne told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“A treaty that could reduce U.S. flexibility and resilience but not require real Russian cuts nor preclude a future Russian strategic renewal merits close Senate scrutiny.”
Mr. Payne, director of the Virginia-based National Institute for Public Policy, also warned that the treaty’s limits and the Obama administration’s questionable support for modernizing and building strategic forces raise additional concerns.
Specifically, START constraints on U.S. missile defense options and conventional rapid global strike weapons are worrying, he said.
Mr. Payne stated that “reductions in the number and diversity of U.S. forces can matter greatly because the credibility of our forces is dependent on their flexibility to provide a spectrum of deterrent options and their resilience to adjust in a timely way to changes in the threat environment.”
Mr. Payne’s testimony had been blocked by the committee for weeks, and the panel relented after complaints by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who said in a statement that allowing 28 pro-treaty witnesses to testify and only two who are opposed “is just a little bit uneven.”
The second treaty opponent to testify was John S. Foster, former director of the Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratory, who told the committee that verification procedures under the treaty would be “inadequate for the next 10 years, in part because New START’s provisions are significantly less demanding than START I, and if the Russian economy supports the programs they plan to deploy for their new triad, we will not have in place the monitoring capability that may be necessary.”
Mr. Inhofe said the treaty critics highlight the pact’s “lack of verification procedures, limitations on our missile defense system, and most importantly our nation’s ability to deter nuclear threats on both the United States and our allies.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has scheduled a vote on the treaty for Tuesday, but the date may slip as Republicans still have not been given transcripts of the formal START negotiating history.
“This treaty is too important for the full Senate to consider with only a cursory view from those opposed to it,” Mr. Inhofe said. “Some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to rush this treaty through the Senate. While committee hearings are ending, the fight over this treaty is just beginning.”
North Korea-al Qaeda link?
Tucked away among the 92,000 U.S. military intelligence reports on Afghanistan made public this week was a startling report on al Qaeda seeking weapons from North Korea.
The report stated that on Nov. 19, 2005, terrorist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the Hezb-Islami Party, traveled with Osama bin Laden‘s “financial adviser,” identified in the report as Dr. Amin, and “both flew to North Korea” from Iran and returned to Helmand province in Afghanistan on Dec. 3, 2005.
“While in North Korea, the two confirmed a deal with the North Korean government for remote-controlled rockets for use against American and coalition aircraft,” the report said. “The deal was closed for an undetermined amount of money. The shipment of said weapons is expected shortly after the new year.”
The Bush administration in October 2008 removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in a concession designed to coax Pyongyang to nuclear concessions.
Imminent Fury update
The departure from Afghanistan of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has thrown into question the general’s unanswered request to the Pentagon Joint Staff to speed up deployment of four new light attack aircraft code-named Imminent Fury.
The four aircraft were sought for U.S. special operations forces that are engaged in large-scale counterterrorism operations largely out of public view in Afghanistan.
The Brazilian Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano can be fitted with 250-pound laser-guided bombs and other weapons.
Gen. McChrystal, who recently retired, had been seeking to get the aircraft to the commando forces after Congress blocked funds for the classified project several months ago. The aircraft were first requested nearly a year ago for what Gen. McChrystal said was “to conduct critical find, fix and finish operations against [al Qaeda] and Taliban networks.”
The money for the aircraft lease, $44 million, was blocked over pork-barrel political issues, namely an effort to get a new contract for U.S.-based light attack aircraft, as reported in this space last month.
On Tuesday, the incoming U.S. Central Command commander, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports the Imminent Fury program.
“It’s a test program to see if we can use turboprop planes to replace much more expensive planes, but more importantly, more effectively in the counterinsurgency environment,” Gen. Mattis said, noting that the four-star general needs “to build some support for it.”
One of the ongoing pastimes inside the Pentagon is to speculate on the departure date for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Gates fueled the guessing game from Day One, when President Obama asked him to be a holdover from President George W. Bush‘s administration. Mr. Gates told reporters he had hoped the president-elect would not ask the question so he could return to private life.
“With the country fighting two wars and our men and women in uniform at risk, if a president asked me to help, there’s no way I can say no,” said Mr. Gates. “So I spent a long time hoping the question would never be popped. I then hoped he’d change his mind, and yesterday it became a reality.”
Mr. Gates has not acted as a caretaker, that’s for sure, what with a new strategy for Afghanistan, weapon systems canceled, four four-star generals fired on his watch and a new drive to lower Defense Department overhead.
Sources tell special correspondent Rowan Scarborough the latest date bandied about inside the building for departure is April. By then, Mr. Gates will have presented the 2012 budget, with new cost savings. Most troops will be out of Iraq and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will have, the Pentagon hopes, turned the tide of battle in Afghanistan.
But Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell calls the April speculation “Nonsense. Untrue. The folks you are speaking to know not of what they speak.”
Mr. Morrell told Inside the Ring in January 2008, after Mr. Gates took up residence at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery near the State Department, that the move “made sense because he has no intention of staying past Jan. 20, 2009, [Inauguration Day] and therefore he decided not to buy.”
• Contact Bill Gertz at email@example.com.