Analysis

Diplomatic negotiations with "no preconditions" will be the US approach to solving the problem of North Korea, while working in concert with friends and allies, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council on December 12.

“We’re ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk,” said Tillerson, “and we’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s – we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?” he added.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the US Congress in November prioritizes investments in homeland missile defense. US President Donald J. Trump has called for a “state-of-the-art” missile defense system and this new defense budget begins to take steps in that direction.
While it does not confirm any specifics regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, North Korea’s latest test of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) indicates it may be able to strike the continental United States.

According to the Pentagon’s initial assessment, the missile travelled approximately 1,000 kilometers before landing in the Sea of Japan. It flew higher and for a longer duration than two previous ICBM launches.

“North Korea's missile launch is yet another step forward in the country's march toward fully deliverable nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and any other potential targets,” said Jamie Metzl, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
The decision by US President Donald J. Trump’s administration to designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, while of questionable efficacy, marks a justified increase of pressure from Washington on Pyongyang, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

In the latest move in an ongoing diplomatic crisis between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s growing nuclear arsenal, North Korea was placed back on the US Department of State’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list on November 20. North Korea joins Iran, Sudan, and Syria on the list.
The decision by NATO ministers to set up a cyber operations center is an important step toward implementing recognition of cyberspace as a domain of operations in which the Alliance must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea.

The announcement, made in Brussels on November 8, signaled a first concrete step in the shifting of NATO’s focus from information assurance to mission assurance. It recognizes that there is no such thing as absolute cybersecurity and that the Alliance will have to operate in contested environments and have a command structure fit for this role.

Anti-corruption crackdown targets princes, wealthy businessmen

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on corruption that has, so far, resulted in the detention of more than two hundred people, including almost a dozen princes.

The most significant targets are former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, whose assets have been frozen; Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a critic of US President Donald J. Trump; and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the chief of the National Guard—the only security service not under the crown prince’s control—who was removed from his post. The detainees are not exactly roughing it out during their detention in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton.  

There are two prevailing views on the crackdown. One, that it is an attempt by the ambitious thirty-two-year-old crown prince to consolidate power, and two, that he is removing potential obstacles—read: conservative rivals—to his plans for social, religious, and economic reform in the ultraconservative kingdom.
On his first full business day as president, Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral trade agreement with eleven other Asia-Pacific nations that was viewed as a pillar of US commitment to Asia.

At the height of a nuclear crisis with North Korea, he instructed his advisers to pull the United States out of a free-trade pact with South Korea, a longtime US ally.

Further, he ratcheted up the rhetoric with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s mercurial leader, who conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of international condemnation.

Compare these actions with his eagerness to engage Asian leaders. Even before he assumed office, Trump met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, met South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan o-cha, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Thuc at the White House. In addition, Trump had “a very friendly” phone call with the Philippines controversial leader Rodrigo Duterte who has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Trump’s actions and rhetoric have left the region feeling uneasy. By rejecting TPP, he removed a key pillar of Obama’s “rebalance” toward Asia, but has yet to articulate his own Asia strategy.
The crisis in Spain dramatically escalated on October 27 with Catalonia’s regional parliament declaring independence and the Spanish Senate responding with the approval of unprecedented powers for Madrid to seize control of the autonomous region.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called an emergency cabinet meeting and could fire Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his ministers—he now has the power to do so under Article 155 of Spain’s constitution. Under these circumstances, the Spanish government would take control of Catalonia’s finances, police, and publicly owned media.

“The question is going to be: how does the Spanish government implement Article 155 in the wake of the declaration of independence,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

China’s president re-elected with no clear successor in sight

Xi Jinping’s re-election to a second five-year term as China’s president, without a clear successor, cements his grip on the Asian nation and raises questions about the future of economic, political, and social reforms in the country, according to Atlantic Council analysts.  

Xi was re-elected at the end of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on October 25. His re-election coincided with the unveiling of a new Politburo Standing Committee, the six men who will join Xi in governing China for the next five years. None of the individuals could be considered political rivals to Xi, or potential successors.

His re-election with no successor in sight allows Xi to posit himself as “the undisputed leader of China well beyond his second five-year term,” according to Jamie Metzl, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
In order to effectively address the growing tensions posed by North Korean nuclear capabilities, Washington needs a comprehensive strategy that will include a range of efforts, including, importantly, strengthened homeland missile defenses.

Last week, US President Donald J. Trump, referring to the North Korean missile threat, claimed that “we have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked out.” This comment led to a flurry of criticism of the president’s statement and of US missile defense policy in general. However, the critics, who point to technical problems and high costs and oppose improved missile defenses, miss the mark. The president’s statement is technically accurate and homeland missile defense is essential to US defense strategy toward North Korea.


    

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