NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command on Wednesday gave qualified support to the Obama administration’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran.
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, the commander, said in a meeting with reporters in Omaha, he was very impressed by the monthslong international diplomatic effort that culminated in the July 14 announcement of an international agreement seeking to contain Iran’s nuclear program.
“Clearly as the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, I do not want to see a nuclear Iran, and I think this piece going forward is very important to the future of the region as the world,” Adm. Haney said.
Given the destructive power and consequences of nuclear arms “it is very important that we continue to work toward those goals and objectives that our president outlined in a 2009 Prague speech, that we work toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” the four-star admiral said.
“And I think us getting this right and continuing to move forward will continue to require capability, verification,” Adm. Haney added. “I won’t get in front of what’s going on now [in Washington], we have to get through that piece. But it’s very important that we don’t have a nuclear Iran on the world stage.”
Pressed on whether he supports the deal, Adm. Haney said: “I support the efforts that we have associated with this.”
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Congress has 60 days to review the agreement. Critics of the Iran deal say the agreement does not require Iran to dismantle its illegal uranium enrichment program and will provide Tehran the capability of developing highly enriched uranium in a decade or less. Supporters of the agreement argue the deal is the best way to stave off an Iranian nuclear bomb and will increase the amount of time it would take Iran to develop nuclear arms from several months to a year.
During a speech to a conference on nuclear deterrence Adm. Haney made a passing reference to the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. He mentioned Russia, China, North Korea and Iran as nuclear and potential nuclear threats, along with terrorist groups seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Countries with nuclear weapons or seeking them are violating international norms and “are working below the threshold that would ordinarily propel the international community to take action,” Adm. Haney said.
Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and China’s South China Sea island-building and rapid military and strategic nuclear buildup are concerns, as is North Korea’s development of intercontinental range missiles.
“Deterrence isn’t easy; deterrence is hard,” Adm. Haney said.
Scores of North Koreans purged
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As many as 70 North Korean government officials, including military officers, have been purged under North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as he continues to consolidate power in Pyongyang, according to Western intelligence sources.
The officials either have been executed or have been dispatched, along with their families, to labor prison camps. Some of the purged officials were recalled from North Korean diplomatic posts abroad.
The purge, according to diplomatic and intelligence sources, appears to be based on two factors. First, it’s an effort by Mr. Kim to get rid of officials associated with senior regime official Jang Song-taek, Mr. Kim’s uncle who was executed in December 2013. The second reason is Mr. Kim’s effort to consolidate power and eliminate disloyal officials or potential contenders for his power.
Alexandre Mansourov, a North Korea analyst at Johns Hopkins University-affiliated U.S.-Korea Institute, said one of those purged was Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol.
“Kim retains a solid grip on power, using periodic purges of his senior aides to further cement his control,” Mr. Mansourov told Inside the Ring. “The continuous churning at the top is intended to keep the senior leadership ‘on a tight leash’ and under Kim’s thumb. The repeated reshuffling of the North’s military top brass suggests that Kim has not yet found military advisers he can trust and who execute orders the way he wants.”
As for the ouster of Hyon, “it is a reminder that Kim’s arbitrary leadership style places a sword of Damocles over every high-ranking official.”
Chang Kwoun Park, an analyst at the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis in South Korea, said Mr. Kim, 32, is a young leader and the purges are a sign of regime instability.
“On the one hand, they may consolidate his power, but on the other hand, it is a sign that the North Korean regime, the Kim Jong Un regime is very unstable,” Mr. Chang said during a conference in Omaha.
Additionally, intelligence analysts and Korea watchers say there are new indications the Kim regime is preparing to conduct a major military provocation in the coming months. Intelligence reports indicate that on Oct. 10, North Korea will likely conduct a flight test of a long-range ballistic missile, probably one of its intercontinental-range Taepodong missiles. The October date is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist Korean Workers’ Party.
Think tank 38 North, part of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, reported last week new satellite images showed signs of a missile engine test at a site called Sohae. The think tank, however, could not confirm South Korean Defense Ministry claims that a missile test is being prepared.
But what the satellite imagery did confirm is that the North Koreans have built a shelter covering a rail line near the site in an apparent effort to shield satellite spying on any movement of missile stages sent by train to the facility.
New Stratcom headquarters
The U.S. Strategic Command near Omaha is building a new headquarters to replace its current building at Offutt Air Force Base.
The new headquarters, under construction since 2012, could be completed as early as next year. It will house the approximately 3,000 military and civilian officials working for Strategic Command’s mission — to deter and prepare for nuclear war, and to monitor and defend space and cyberspace from attacks.
Like the current headquarters, the new building will include a hardened underground command center that would be used to direct forces during a nuclear conflict. The current three-story underground bunker is buried some 60 feet below ground where nuclear warfare specialists conduct operations related to nuclear forces.
One question about the new 915,876 square-foot headquarters is whether the building will be named after a famous strategic war fighter. If it’s completed next year, the name selection could be made by the defense secretary, a civilian. If construction is delayed until 2017, the next administration will do the naming.
Stratcom’s current headquarters is named after Gen. Curtis LeMay, the legendary World War II bombing campaign leader and commander of the Strategic Air Command, the nuclear bomber force that was subsumed into the Strategic Command in the 1990s.
The cigar-smoking general known as “Bombs Away” LeMay was the 1968 running mate of independent presidential candidate George Wallace and helped direct the devastating B-29 bombing campaign against Japan in World War II. After the war LeMay advocated a nuclear war strategy that emphasized massive, aerial-delivered nuclear bombing against the Soviet Union.
Socom on women commandos
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said special operations commando leaders are close to making a decision on whether to admit women into all-male commando units.
Gen. Votel said surveys of the force have been done to assess the impact and the “standards” have been examined. A decision on the issue is expected in early fall, he told a security conference in Aspen on Friday.
“I would just say this about Socom,” Gen. Votel said without elaboration, “Socom needs diversity, we need people of color, we need men, we need women to help us solve the problems that we deal with today. In many ways, SOCOM has been at the leading edge of integration of women into critical positions that find them in far forward locations.”
Asked if women will need to meet the requirements for special operations units, Gen. Votel said: “That is absolutely the bottom line. This is about meeting the standards for the tasks that the nation expects us able to do. And if people can meet the standards then we should be able to integrate them.”
Members of elite commando units must pass extremely difficult physical standards. The Obama administration is pushing the Pentagon to allow women to join front-line combat units, but critics say the process will force the military to lower physical standards to permit women to pass the rigorous tests.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.