04/15/13: The blog Space War reports Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he would be prepared to reach out to North Korea urging it back to negotiations, but he vowed the US would protect Japan from Pyongyang’s threats. Following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where Patriot missiles have been deployed in anticipation of a missile launch by the North, Kerry pledged the US would backstop its ally. “The United States is fully committed to the defense of Japan,” Kerry said at a joint press conference with Kishida. “We’re prepared to reach out [to North Korea], but we need the appropriate moment, appropriate circumstances,” Kerry said later. “There are standards clearly that we want to achieve to enter into negotiations, but there are certain channels that we can reach out to.”
04/06/13: The New York Times reports the North Korean government on Friday advised Russia and other countries to consider evacuating their embassies in Pyongyang amid rising tension there, Russia’s foreign minister said. British officials said that they had received a similar communication, but that there were no immediate plans to evacuate the British Embassy. Analysts in Russia and South Korea suggested that the North’s advisory was not an indication that Pyongyang was considering military action but was instead part of an unrelenting drumbeat of threats calculated to frighten the United States and its Asian allies, possibly to force concessions including much-needed aid.
04/02/13: The New York Times reports the Japanese soldiers in camouflage face paint and full combat gear were dropped by American helicopters onto this treeless, hilly island, and moved quickly to recapture it from an imaginary invader. To secure their victory, they called on a nearby United States warship to pound the “enemy” with gunfire that exploded in deafening thunderclaps. Perhaps the most notable feature of the war games in February, called Iron Fist, was the baldness of their unspoken warning. There is only one country that Japan fears would stage an assault on one of its islands: China. Iron Fist is one of the latest signs that Japan’s anxiety about China’s insistent claims over disputed islands as well as North Korea's escalating nuclear threats are pushing Japanese leaders to shift further away from the nation’s postwar pacifism. The new assertiveness has been particularly apparent under the new prime minister, Sinzo Abe, a conservative who has increased military spending for the first time in 11 years. Until recently, a simulated battle against Chinese forces would have been unthinkably provocative for Japan, which renounced the right to wage war — or even to possess a military — after its march across Asia in World War II resulted in crushing defeat. The purely defensive forces created in 1954 are still constrained from acting in too offensive a manner: last year, a smaller mock assault by Japanese and American forces on an island near Okinawa was canceled because of local opposition. That recalculation — a large step in what analysts see as a creeping over the years toward a more robust Japanese military — could have broad implications for the power balance in the region, angering China and likely giving the United States a more involved partner in its pivot to Asia to offset China’s extended reach.
04/02/13: NPR reports the United States has sent two F-22 Raptor fighter jets to take part military drills in South Korea, a move that is meant to show US commitment to the defense of the region from its North Korean neighbor, a Pentagon spokesman told the Associated Press. Also on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye appeared to give her country's military permission to strike back at any attack from the North. According to the New York Times, Park told the South's generals that she considers the threats from North Korea "very serious." Last week, B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers were sent to South Korea for the annual exercise.
04/02/13: The New York Times reports North Korea said on Tuesday that it would put all its nuclear facilities — including its operational uranium-enrichment program and its reactors mothballed or under construction — to use in expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, sharply raising the stakes in the escalating standoff with the United States and its allies. The announcement by the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy came two days after the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said his nuclear weapons were not a bargaining chip and called for expanding his country’s nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity” during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. The decision will affect the role of the North’s uranium-enrichment plant in its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang, a spokesman for the nuclear department told the Korean Central News Agency. It was the first time North Korea had said it would use the plant to make nuclear weapons. Since first unveiling it to a visiting American scholar in 2010, North Korea had insisted that it was running the plant to make reactor fuel to generate electricity, though Washington suggested that its purpose was to make bombs.
04/01/13: The Onion reports that while performing his duties as Supreme Leader of North Korea Monday, Kim Jong-un reportedly heard a small voice in the back of his mind telling him that his actions over the last six months have been very strange and wrong. Sources confirmed that the tiny voice, which spoke to Kim at various points throughout the day, quietly suggested that the four-star military general and Worker Party’s secretary is a weird person with out-of-whack priorities who acts in a way that makes little sense to anyone. “You are a very odd man who does things that are bizarre and indicative of a mentally ill person,” the little voice reportedly said following a speech in which Kim issued apocalyptic threats to enemies in the West and predicted the destruction of America. “The things you say on a daily basis are not only extremely creepy and off-putting, but they are also very wrong. You should probably not be the leader of a country.”
UPDATE: April Fool.
04/01/13: The New York Times reports North Korea’s leader on Sunday announced a “new strategic line” that defied warnings from Washington, saying that his country was determined to rebuild its economy in the face of international sanctions while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, which the ruling party called “the nation’s life.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un presided over a Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, the first such meeting since 1993. The party meeting took place against the backdrop of joint military exercises in South Korea involving American and South Korean forces. On Sunday, American F-22 stealth fighter jets were flown from a base in Japan to South Korea to join the exercises. In past weeks, B-52 and B-2 bombers offered a demonstration of American air power as part of the exercises.
03/31/13: The Hill reports the White House said Saturday it was taking threats of war from North Korea “seriously,” while acknowledging that Pyongyang has a history of bellicose rhetoric. “We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean Allies,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern.” North Korea Saturday declared that a “state of war” existed with the South and threatened to “dissolve” the United States in an “all-out war and nuclear war.” Pyongyang has cut the military hotline with Seoul and earlier this week said the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 was void.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the assault, which took American Express offline for two hours, was the latest in an intensifying campaign of unusually powerful attacks on American financial institutions that began last September and have taken dozens of them offline, costing millions of dollars. JPMorgan Chase was taken offline by a similar attack this month. And last week, a separate, aggressive attack incapacitated 32,000 computers at South Korea’s banks and television networks. The culprits of these attacks, officials and experts say, appear intent on disabling financial transactions and operations. Corporate leaders have long feared online attacks aimed at financial fraud or economic espionage, but now a new threat has taken hold: attackers, possibly with state backing, who seem bent on destruction. “The attacks have changed from espionage to destruction,” said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training organization. “Nations are actively testing how far they can go before we will respond.” Security experts who studied the attacks said that it was part of the same campaign that took down the Web sites of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others over the last six months. A group that calls itself the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for those attacks. The group says it is retaliating for an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube last fall. But American intelligence officials and industry investigators say they believe the group is a convenient cover for Iran. Just how tight the connection is is unclear. Government officials and bank executives have failed to produce a smoking gun. North Korea is considered the most likely source of the attacks on South Korea, though investigators are struggling to follow the digital trail, a process that could take months. The North Korean government of Kim Jong-un has openly declared that it is seeking online targets in its neighbor to the south to exact economic damage.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the global effort to regulate the sale of conventional weapons suffered a significant but not fatal setback on Thursday after Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed the draft Arms Trade Treaty, blocking the consensus needed for passage after years of arduous negotiations. Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would be possible in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry at the root of much death and destruction. The treaty would require states exporting conventional weapons to develop criteria that would link exports to avoiding human rights abuses, terrorism and organized crime. It would also ban shipments if they were deemed harmful to women and children. After Iran and North Korea voted against the draft treaty, Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador who was the president of the treaty conference, suspended the meeting. When it resumed, Syria voted against the treaty as well. In the absence of consensus, it was expected that the treaty would be sent to the General Assembly as early as next week for approval. That is considered a weaker, but no less binding, manner of getting it passed. After General Assembly passage, the treaty would still require ratification by 50 member states before it could take effect.
03/28/13: The New York Times reports North Korea cut off the last remaining military hot lines with South Korea on Wednesday, accusing President Park Geun-hye of South Korea of pursuing the same hard-line policy of her predecessor that the North blamed for a prolonged chill in inter-Korean relations. Amid tensions over the North’s third nuclear test last month and ensuing United Nations sanctions, North Korea had already shut down Red Cross hot lines with South Korea and a communication line with the American military command in South Korea. But the North’s decision to cut off military hot lines with South Korea on Wednesday was taken more seriously in Seoul because the two Koreas have used those four telephone lines to control daily cross-border traffic of workers and cargo traveling to the North Korean border town of Kaesong. The two countries run a joint industrial park at Kaesong, the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation that has survived the political tensions of recent years. Seoul officials said 887 South Korean workers were in Kaesong on Wednesday. The traffic was running normally on Wednesday and Thursday morning, with long lines of trucks crawling through the border crossing, South Korean officials said, indicating that the North Korean military did not go so far as to stop cross-border economic exchanges.
03/25/13: Al Jazeera reports South Korea and the United States have signed a new military plan that lays out how the allies will communicate with each other and react to any future North Korean aggression. The signing on Monday comes amid North Korean threats to attack the allies over their joint military drills and recent punishing UN sanctions aimed at Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test. Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff said the plan is designed to counter a future limited attack by North Korea, but details weren’t released. Work on the plan began after a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island in 2010 killed four people. The allies also have a separate plan in the case of a full-blown war on the Korean peninsula. There are 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
03/18/13: CNN reports China warned Monday that the United States’ plans to beef up its missile defenses against North Korea are likely to inflame tensions already running high over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “Bolstering missile defenses will only intensify antagonism, and it doesn’t help to solve the issue,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news briefing in Beijing. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday that the United States will deploy additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast as part of efforts to enhance the nation’s ability to defend itself from attack by North Korea. The announcement came after North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear attack on South Korea and the United States in response to stepped-up UN sanctions over its latest nuclear test last month.
03/17/13: The New York Times reports North Korea said Saturday that its nuclear weapons were not a bargaining chip to trade for economic concessions, warning that it would never negotiate with the United States as long as Washington maintained its hostile policy toward Pyongyang. The statement was the latest in a series in which North Korea has appeared to harden its position on its nuclear weapons program. Since the United Nations Security Council imposed more sanctions to punish North Korea for its launching of a long-range rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month, the country has said it will no longer attend talks on dismantling its nuclear program. North Korea previously quit multinational nuclear talks, but until recently had often said ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons was its ultimate goal.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports North Korea, a country paranoid about perceived threats from the outside world, said on Friday that it had found new foreign invaders: hackers from the United States and its allies shutting down the North’s Web sites, the country’s main tool of spreading propaganda abroad. Until now, the complaint came from the other direction, with South Korean officials suspecting that North Korea was behind a recent series of hacking attacks on South Korean and American Web sites. After North Korea’s recent threats to retaliate against United Nations sanctions, South Korea warned of possible North Korean efforts to disrupt the Internet in the South, one of the most wired countries in the world. These accusations, although denied by the opposing sides, showed how inter-Korean tensions are increasingly spreading into cyberspace. North Korea’s often strident rhetoric has escalated to a feverish new pitch in recent weeks, complete with a threat to launch a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” at the United States and South Korea after the allies started joint military drills on March 1, followed by new United Nations sanctions for the North’s Feb. 12 nuclear test.
03/11/13: The Washington Times reports North Korea has canceled its 60-year-old armistice with South Korea as war games with South Korea and the US began on Monday. An estimated 10,000 South Korean soldiers and 3,000 American troops kicked off a joint 11-day drill. Troops from the South are on high alert as Pyongyang responded to the joint exercise with fresh vows to launch a nuclear attack against the United States. Twice on Monday, the North ignored calls from the South to its hotline. This is the highest tensions have hit between the two nations since the North fired artillery shells at a South Korean island nearly three years ago. The North has purported to nullify the armistice before, however.
03/11/13: The New York Times reports a new sense of vulnerability created by recent aggressive talk from the North is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions. While few in the South think this will happen anytime soon, two recent opinion polls show that two-thirds of South Koreans support the idea posed by a small but growing number of politicians and columnists. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has approached a crucial threshold with its weapons programs, followed by a barrage of apocalyptic threats to rain “preemptive nuclear strikes” and “final destruction” on Seoul.