Posts tagged United States

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World risks becoming “numb” to North Korean missile tests, says US admiral

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140729-D-NI589-088The top U.S. commander in the Pacific region says he’s worried that North Korea’s continued missile tests are helping establish them as something that’s normal.

Speaking during a news conference at The Pentagon on Tuesday, Admiral Sam Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said he was concerned that the international community was becoming “numb” to them.

“Over and over and over again, you see it and you become somewhat numb to it, immune to it, and you start to say, well, it’s not such a big deal,” he said.

North Korea has fired a number of missiles from bases across the country into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) over the last few months. Most recently, it fired four short-range missiles on Wednesday this week.

Locklear said he assumed that every test represented a step forward in North Korean technology, “otherwise they probably wouldn’t be doing it.”

Getting Better In The Long Run

Locklear was also asked if the continued resistance of North Korea to United Nations and United States sanctions meant the U.S. was losing ground on North Korea’s nuclear proliferation activities.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as us losing ground,” he said.

“We have a growing interest among nations in the region and throughout the world and participating in our counterproliferation exercises, and we’re growing our capabilities across nations and across institutions to be able to better anticipate and to deal with this. So I think in the long run we’re getting better.”

Plan For The Worst

A reporter also asked Locklear what he made of North Korea’s nuclear capability.

“As a military commander, I have to plan for the worst and I have to plan for, number one, what the North Koreans say they have, and they say they have it, and what they demonstrate they might have when they show it to us,” he said.

“And so from those indications, then we have to ensure that we’re properly postured to protect not only our own homeland, which includes all of our territories and the state of Hawaii, where I happen to be, but also that we’re able to provide defense and security for our allies and our key partners in the region.”

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US missile shield to cost $5.8 billion over next five years

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The planned expansion of the U.S. missile defense shield to guard against potential threats from North Korea and other nations will cost $5.8 billion over the coming years, according to an estimate released this week.

The estimate was made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in response to a question from Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator for Alabama and a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. They examine the cost of the system over the last few years and its likely cost over the coming five years.

It reveals that the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program has cost just under $9 billion from 2008 to 2014 and will cost more than a billion dollars over each of the next four years and close to a billion dollars in 2019.

The system currently consists of 30 interceptor missiles, 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the remainder at Fort Greely in Alaska. Just last week, the Missile Defense Agency began work on environmental impact studies at four proposed expansion sites.

The figures include tests, support work and maintenance in addition to research and development work and were based on Department of Defense budget justification documents, according to the CBO.

Congressional Budget Office estimate of cost of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse  Defense (GMD) program

Congressional Budget Office estimate of cost of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse
Defense (GMD) program

The CBO noted that from 2014, some GMD activities were moved to the operation and maintenance cost line at Congressional direction.

“The individual projects within the RDT&E category have changed in both name and project content over the years. To better display trends in budgets for specific activities over time, CBO used the list of projects in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the attached table and presented the budget for projects in earlier years using those categories.”

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Dept., answers questions at a briefing on July 16, 2014.

US, others complain to ICAO over North Korean missile launches

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The United States and several other nations have written to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) over North Korea’s failure to notify it of missile launches.

Over the past couple of weeks, short and medium-range missile have been fired by North Korea into the sea to the east of the country on a handful of occasions. Each launch took place without a standard warning to air and ship traffic.

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Dept., answers questions at a briefing on July 16, 2014.

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Dept., answers questions at a briefing on July 16, 2014.

“On July 8, the U.S. co-signed a letter to the president of ICAO expressing concern with the serious threat posed to international aviation posed by North Korea’s recent rocket and missile launches,” said Jen Psaki, U.S. State Dept. spokesperson, at a news briefing on Wednesday.

“North Korea’s decision to conduct these launches without prior notification threatens the safety of international aviation and demonstrates North Korea’s disregard for the rules and regulations of the organization and hence our effort to express our concern,” she said.

News of the letter was first reported in South Korean media outlets.

North Korea has used ICAO and International Maritime Organization (IMO) channels in the past to warn of rocket launches. When it attempted to launch a satellite into space in March 2012 and successfully launched one in December 2012, it issued detailed warnings through the international organizations. Those warned of the launch and also the areas in which the first and second stages of the rocket were expected to fall to the sea.

A number of international air routes traverse the area through which the missiles flew, giving rise to the possibility that an aircraft could be hit. While the chances of such an impact are remote, the warnings are typically issued to keep aircraft away from such danger.

In March this year, a Chinese airliner en route to Tokyo flew through an area that was crossed by a North Korean missile seven minutes later, according to reports.

I’ve asked the State Dept. for a copy of the letter and will update this post if I receive it.

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Impact studies to begin on additional US interceptor sites

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A U.S. interceptor missile system designed to deter and defend against missiles from North Korea and other nations will take a step forward this week when the U.S. Missile Defense Agency kicks off work on environmental impact statements on four proposed sites.

On Wednesday, the MDA is expected to publish a notice informing residents in nearby neighborhoods of the start of a 60-day comment period that begins the process. The entire study is expected to take about two years and are intended to assess the environmental impact that the proposed missile defense bases will have to local land, water, air quality and other factors.

The sites are the Combined Training Center Fort Custer in Augusta, Michigan, Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Portage and Trumbull Counties, Ohio, Fort Drum Army Base in Fort Drum, New York, and the Center for Security Forces Detachment Kittery Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Facility (SERE East) in Redington Township, Maine.

The U.S. currently has two missile defense bases: Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Fort Greely in Alaska.

In March 2013, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans to expand that shield with an additional 14 ground-based interceptors in Alaska, a new radar system in Japan to provide early warning of any missile launched by North Korea, and the environmental impact studies for additional sites in the U.S.

The plan was hatched in response to a string of missile and satellite launches undertaken by North Korea. Since it was announced, the country has continued in defiance of international opinion. In the last few weeks if conducted a series of short and medium-range test launches.

“Under the current proposed action, the deployment of the Continental United States Interceptor Site (CIS) would be as a contiguous Missile Defense Complex, similar to that found at Fort Greely, Alaska and would consist of an initial deployment of 20 Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) with the ability to expand upward to 60 GBIs. The GBIs would not be fired from their deployment site except in the Nation’s defense and no test firing would be conducted at the CIS,” says a notice scheduled to be published in Wednesday’s Federal Register.

Here’s Hagel’s March 2013 announcement:

As he noted at the time, “While the Administration has not made any decision on whether to proceed with an additional site, conducting Environmental Impact Studies will shorten the timeline for construction should that decision be made.”

Balloons carrying propaganda material are launched from Paju, South Korea, towards North Korea on January 15, 2014. (HRF handout)

US State Dept. puts out call for North Korea projects

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The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) put out a call Tuesday for projects aimed at human rights and democracy in North Korea.

DRL will fund winning proposals with grants of up to $350,000 per organization and groups have until May 13, 2014, to complete and submit their proposals.

Proposals can cover a broad range of areas, but the DRL advised they should “include activities that support recommendations from the recently released report from the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea and/or DPRK’s Universal Periodic Review.”

These could include projects that increase awareness and advocacy for North Korean human rights, deal with getting information into or out of North Korea, strengthen the ability of non-Western organizations in North Korean human rights campaigns, raise awareness of democratic principles or help organizations that document human rights and labor abuses in the DPRK.

One of those areas, the flow of information in and out of the country, has been a recent focus of many groups.

What began with shortwave radio broadcasts has expanded to include DVDs of movies and TV dramas smuggled in from China and, most recently, the sending of DVDs and USB drives containing video and text content into North Korea by balloon.

DRL said it expects to award grants to qualifying projects in the third quarter of this year. Full details of the call for proposals and guidelines on submissions can be found on the State Dept. website.

Balloons carrying propaganda material are launched from Paju, South Korea, towards North Korea on January 15, 2014. (HRF handout)

Balloons carrying propaganda material are launched from Paju, South Korea, towards North Korea on January 15, 2014. (HRF handout)

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Japan, US to increase intelligence sharing

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140129-clapperJapan is sharing an increasing amount of intelligence information with the United States and emerging as a great partner in East Asia, the U.S. director of national intelligence said Thursday.

Speaking during a public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, James Clapper said the two countries were working more closely together on intelligence matters.

“The Japanese are emerging as great partners,” said Clapper.

Clapper was responding to a question from Senator Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), about a recently-passed Japanese state secrecy law. Rubio said he had just returned from a trip to Asia that included Japan.

“The passage of this secrets protection law will … enable us to do more sharing. We have recently agreed on an intelligence sharing arrangement where they will be sharing with us,” said Clapper.

Japan focuses its intelligence efforts on China and North Korea and in the last few years has launched a series of spy satellites that fly directly over North Korea.

Clapper’s appearance at the committee was preceded by the publishing of a statement on worldwide threats to the U.S.

The statement said North Korea “might again export nuclear technology” despite assurances to the contrary.

It also said, “We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding the size of its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the reactor that was previously used for plutonium production. North Korea has publicly displayed its KN08 road-mobile ICBM twice. We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps towards fielding this system, although it remains untested.”

Here’s video of Clapper’s remarks:

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UN, US State Dept. react to execution of Jang Song Thaek

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The United Nations Human Rights agency said it is following with concern news coming out of Pyongyang that Jang Song Thaek was executed this week.

“This underscores the arbitrary nature of the system in the DPRK and the absence of transparency and due process which is required for the rule of law,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a briefing in Geneva.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said the execution illustrated “the values of the regime, their low regard for human life, what’s probably one of the worst human rights records in the world.”

Here are clips of the two briefings:

The Simpsons Kim Jong Il

‘I’ is for the Internet he bans

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Kim Jong Il made a surprise appearance on the season premiere edition of Fox TV’s “The Simpsons” on Sunday night. And so did “the Internet he banned.”

The episode, which marked the beginning of the 23rd season of the hit animated show, features a former CIA agent called Wayne. Played by Kiefer Sutherland, Wayne becomes a security guard at the nuclear power plant and eventually saves Homer’s life.

It’s right at the end of the show that he reveals he was “in a North Korean prison being forced to write a musical about Kim Jong Il with a car battery hooked up to my nipples.”

The musical, called “Being Short is no Hindrance to Greatness,” included a song that spelled out the name of the Dear Leader. The song started out with some quite cutting lines but then lost a little imagination and faded out:

“K is for Korea just the north part, I is for the Internet he bans.

M is for the millions that are missing, J is for our human-tasting jam.

O is for oh boy we love our leader, N is for the best Korea north.

G is for gee-whiz we love our leader …”

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