NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A Pentagon report to Congress warns that North Korea will not easily give up its nuclear arms since the weapons are viewed as a prime guarantor keeping the Kim Jong-un regime in power.
“North Korea’s primary strategic goal is perpetual Kim family rule via the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program — a two-pronged policy known as ‘byungjin,’” the annual report on military developments in North Korea states.
“This strategy relies heavily on deterrence: strategic deterrence through its nuclear weapons program and supporting delivery systems; and conventional deterrence through the fielding of a large, heavily-armed, forward-deployed military that presents a constant threat to [South Korea], particularly the [Greater Seoul metropolitan area].”
The North Koreans have selectively modernized their 1 million-troop military and regard nuclear weapons as the most effective way to prevent an attack from the United States.
The report, based on classified Defense Intelligence Agency findings, notes that recent statements from Pyongyang indicate that the regime believes it is nearing a “final victory” over the United States and South Korea and suggests Mr. Kim “has larger ambitions, including [the] use of nuclear weapons to deter interference if it attempts to reunify the Korean Peninsula.”
The report did not say how many nuclear weapons the North Koreans possess. But U.S. officials said the number is somewhere between 20 and 40 bombs or warheads.
Additionally, Pentagon analysts say North Korea is prepared to accept a decline in relations with its regional neighbors, including China, the country’s main benefactor, to further its nuclear arms program. The regime “continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure.”
Another indicator of North Korea’s attachment to nuclear arms was the enactment of a law in 2013 declaring the country a nuclear weapons state.
The law justifies the nuclear program and is “another signal that it does not intend to give up its pursuit of nuclear development.”
The law gives Mr. Kim the power to deploy nuclear arms to repel an invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and to make retaliatory strikes.
The report was produced in February, and the information in it was limited to intelligence supplied up to December — three months before the surprise announcement in March that North Korea agreed to a summit meeting between President Trump and Mr. Kim.
The summit is set for June 12 in Singapore, but the North Koreans failed to show up for a recent preparatory meeting, and Mr. Trump said this week that Pyongyang is balking at U.S. demands for a complete and rapid denuclearization.
The president revealed to reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. side was seeking conditions for the summit and was likely to get an agreement from the North Koreans. “And if we don’t, we don’t have the meeting,” he said.
Mr. Trump said he believes China may have played a role in undermining the planned summit.
After a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Kim in Dalian this month, “there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un,” Mr. Trump said.
“I don’t like that. I don’t like it from the standpoint of China,” he said Tuesday.
China is seeking to dissuade Mr. Kim from moving closer to the United States.
Washington has made clear that it will not provide economic benefits until after North Korea gives up its nuclear arms.
The Dalian meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Kim suggests that China has agreed to supply more economic aid to North Korea as a way to keep the nation within Beijing’s geopolitical orbit.
RUSSIA FIRES SALVO OF SUB-LAUNCHED MISSILES
Russia’s navy conducted multiple test-firings of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile this week as part of Moscow’s ongoing nuclear saber-rattling against the United States. The Borey-class strategic missile submarine Yuri Dolgoruky conducted the simultaneous launch on Tuesday from the White Sea, and the missiles landed at an impact range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
It was the first time the submarine fired a four-missile salvo using an underwater launch.
“The tactical and technical characteristics, reliability of the Borey-class strategic missile [submarine] and the Bulava missile system were confirmed,” an official of Russia’s Northern Fleet told state-run Russian news outlets.
Earlier this month, Russia flew two Bear H nuclear bombers into the U.S. air defense zone near Alaska.
The Bulava is known by the NATO alliance as the SS-N-30, and the firing of four missiles just seconds apart is considered an impressive military demonstration. The missile carries up to 10 multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles and has a range of up to 6,200 miles.
The submarine is one of Moscow’s newest submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile submarines and part of a major strategic nuclear forces buildup.
The multiple launches show that Russian strategic nuclear forces do not lack funding or missiles.
The Pentagon’s nuclear posture review released in February said past U.S. nuclear restraint — limits on numbers and salience of nuclear arms — has not been matched by Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, which instead have moved in the opposite direction.
In response to Russian nuclear force developments, the United States is building two new nonstrategic nuclear weapons — sea-launched ballistic and air-launched cruise missiles with smaller nuclear warheads.
A senior military official said the air-launched nuclear missiles are designed to deter Russia as a result of Moscow’s new nuclear doctrine that calls for more rapid resort to the use of nuclear attacks in any future conflict.
U.S. SANCTIONS IRANIAN MISSILE MAKERS
The Treasury Department, which has emerged as a leading force for Trump administration national security policies of pressuring adversaries, announced Tuesday that it is slapping economic sanctions on five Iranians linked to providing missiles to Yemen’s pro-Iran Houthi rebels in violation of U.N. sanctions.
While largely symbolic, the sanctions were imposed on members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — the Islamic state’s covert action and paramilitary forces that have been blamed in the past for supplying arms that were used to kill U.S. service members in the Middle East.
The sanctions followed a report in late January from a U.N. panel of experts that confirmed that missiles fired against neighboring Saudi Arabia used by the Houthis in Yemen were supplied by Iran.
The U.N. report stated that Iran violated U.N. sanctions by supplying Borkan-2H short-range ballistic missiles, storage tanks for missile fuel, and Qasef-1 unmanned aerial vehicles to the Houthis.
The rebels have fired the missiles at the Saudi capital of Riyadh, most recently on May 9, and earlier targeted a Navy warship in international waters.
The Treasury Department “is targeting five Iranian officials who are associated with the IRGC-QF and Iran’s ballistic missile programs,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Their actions have enabled the Houthis to launch missiles at Saudi cities and oil infrastructure. They have also disrupted humanitarian aid efforts in Yemen, and threatened freedom of navigation in key regional waterways.”
“The United States will not tolerate Iranian support for Houthi rebels who are attacking our close partner, Saudi Arabia. All countries in the region should be on guard to prevent Iran from sending its personnel, weapons, and funds in support of its proxies in Yemen,” he added.
Earlier, the Treasury Department sanctioned Iran for supporting for the Houthis in abusing the financial systems in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates to support proxy forces through the IRGC.
The sanctions are part of the Trump administration’s tougher policy toward Iran, underscored by the president’s May 8 withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear agreement on Iran.
The five Iranians included two officials of the IRGC Aerospace Forces Al-Ghadir Missile Command, which is responsible for deployed missile forces and were involved in the Yemen transfers. The sanctions block all property and interests under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit foreign financial institutions from doing business with them. Those caught violating the sanctions could be blocked from the U.S. financial system.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.