MS Risk Blog

North Korean Leader Delays Guam Missile Plan

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North Korea’s state media reported on Tuesday 15 August that the country’s leader Kim Jong Un has delayed a decision on firing missiles towards Guam while he waits to see what the United States does next. The news comes as South Korea’s president disclosed hat Seoul would seek to prevent war by all means.

Last week, Pyongyang’s plans to fire missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam prompted a surge in tensions, with US President Donald Trump stating that the US military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely. While this week signs of an easing in tensions appear to have calmed the international community, the United States and South Korea have continued to prepare for more joint military drills, with experts warning that North Korea could still go ahead with its provocative plan.

In a report, the official KCNA disclosed that on Monday 14 August, in what was his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim Jong Un inspected the command of the North’s army, examining a plan to fire four missiles to land near the US Pacific territory of Guam. The report went on to say “he said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing th self-restraint of the DPRK (North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). In photo’s released along with the KCNA report, Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map showing a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea’s east coast, flying over Japan towards Guam. North Korea has often threatened to attack the US and its bases and released similar photos in the past but never followed through.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated that there would be no military action without Seoul’s consent, adding that his government would prevent war by all means. In a speech to commemorate the anniversary of the country’s liberation from Japanese military rule in 1945, President Moon stated, “military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” adding “the government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means.” Japan will also be seeking further reassurance from Washington during meetings between Japan’s defense chief and foreign minister and their US counterparts on Thursday. In a briefing in Tokyo, a Japanese foreign ministry official disclosed that “the strategic environment is becoming harsher and we need to discuss how we will respond to that,” adding “we will look for the US to reaffirm its defense commitment, including the nuclear deterrent.

The Liberation Day holiday, which is celebrated by both North and South, will be followed next week by joint US-South Korean military dills, which are sure to further anger Pyongyang. North Korea has persisted with its nuclear and missile programmes, to ward off perceived US hostility, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions. China, which is North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to halt its weapons programme and at the same time has urged South Korea and the US to stop military drills in a bid to lower tensions. On Tuesday, it urged all sides in the standoff to help “put out the fire” and not add to the flames. China’s state-run Global Times also stated that Seoul should play a buffer between the US and North Korea to prevent a head-on confrontation. The paper said in an editorial that “the drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response,” adding “if South Korea really wants no war on the Korean peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise.”

South African Leader Survives No-Confidence Vote

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Last week, South African President Jacob Zuma survived his latest vote of no-confidence, despite the ballot being held in secret.

While opposition parties had hoped that the secret ballot would mean that some MPs from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party might side with them against the president, the motion, which was called amidst repeated allegations of corruption, was defeated by 198 votes to 177. The news was greeted with cheers and singing by ANC MP’s, with the country’s currency, the rand, taking a dive shortly after the announcement was made.

Speaking shortly after the results of the vote were released, President Zuma stated that he had come to thank his supporters and “those in parliament who had voted correctly.”   He told the assembled crowd,” they believe they could use technicalities in parliament to take over the majority from the ANC,” adding “it is impossible: they cannot. We represent the majority.”

Since taking office in 2009, President Zuma has found himself embroiled in a number of scandals. They include using taxpayer month for upgrades on his private home and more recently becoming too close to the wealth Gupta family, who have been accused of trying to influence politician decisions. Both the president and the Gupta have denied any wrongdoing. Criticism of President Zuma further increased back in March when he dismissed Pravin Gordhan, a widely-respected finance minister.

The ANC parliamentary party however did not address these criticisms in a statement that was released after the vote, which it called a “soft coup.” The statement also accused the opposition of attempting “to collapse government, deter service delivery and sow seeds of chaos in society to ultimately grab power.”

While the vote appears to have again saved President Zuma, it was not a rousing success for the governing party as the result effectively means that at least 26 ANC MP’s rebels, while another nine MPs abstained from voting. South Africa’s TimesLive website has reported that the ANC’s chief whip Jackson Mthembu has stated that the party was planning to look into disciplining those who had voted against the president. The rebels however were praised by opposition leaders, who have repeatedly called for votes against the president.

In order for the no-confidence motion to pass, at least 50 out of the ANC’s 249 MPs would have had to vote against the president.

President Zuma is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, ahead of the 2019 general election. He has endorsed his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as his successor. Also vying for the leadership is Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist and one of the country’s wealthiest politicians.

President Zuma’s Legal Woes:

  • 2005 – Charged with corruption over multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal. The charges were dropped shortly before he becomes president in 2009;
  • 2016 – Court orders that he should be charged with 786 counts of corruption over the deal. He has appealed;
  • 2005 – Charged with raping family friend. He is acquitted in 2006;
  • 2016 – Court rules that he breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade private home in Nkandla. He has since repaid the money;
  • 2017 – Public protector has stated that he should appoint judge-led inquiry into allegations he profiteered from relationship with wealth Gupta family; he denies the allegations, as have the Guptas; no inquiry has been appointed.

Rwanda Election: Kagame Wins Third Term in Office

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Final results released on Saturday 5 August indicated that incumbent leader Paul Kagame swept to a landslide victory in Rwanda’s presidential election, securing a third term in office and extending his seventeen years in power.

On Saturday, the National Electoral Commission announced that Kagame had secured 98.63 percent of Friday’s vote.   The board further disclosed that turnout topped 96.42 percent in the country of twelve million, in an election that fielded only a single opposition candidate, Frank Habineza, and an independent.

Addressing his supporters early on Saturday, President Kagame stated that he would work to sustain economic growth. In a speech broadcast live on television, he stated “this is another seven years to take care of issues that affect Rwandans and ensure that we become real Rwandans who are (economically) developing.” He went on to say, “what I saw during campaigns is that the decision to continue to lead you drew criticism mainly by foreigners but this proves that the referendum was for real purpose.” President Kagame won the last election in 2010 with 93 percent of the vote and had said during this campaign for a further seven-year term that he again expected an outright victory. Habienza, who won 0.47 percent of the vote, had promised to set up a tribunal to retry dissidents whose convictions by Rwandan courts have been criticized as politically motivate. After the vote, he stated that some of his party’s observers were obstructed in carrying out their work. Habineza’s accusations however did not amount to foul play.

Hours after the election results were announced, the United States disclosed that it was “disturbed by irregularities obsrved during voting” in the election. A US State Department statement reiterated “long-standing concerns over the integrity of the vote-tabulation process.” The US statement further disclosed that it remains “concerned by the lack of transparency in determining the eligibility of prospective candidates,” and it commended Rwanda’s media for reporting on complaints of harassment of some opposition candidates.

While President Kagame has won international praise for presiding over a peaceful and rapid economic recovery in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, he has also faced mounting criticism for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media, and suppression of political opposition. Under his rule, some dissidents were killed after fleeing abroad, in cases that remain unsolved, with the government denying any involvement.

A constitutional amendment in 2015 effectively allows President Kagame to remain in power until 2034 if he pursues it. The US, which is a key Rwanda ally, opposed the change to the constitution.

North Korea Announces Possible Plan to Strike Guam After Trump Administration Threat

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Tensions this week between North Korea and the United States significantly increased in the wake of US-backed sanctions being passed by the United Nations Security Council and after US President Donald Trump told Pyongyang that any threat to the US would be met with “fire and fury.”

Just hours after President Trump made the statement, Pyongyang’s news agency announced that a plan to hit the US territory of Guam could be enforced at “any moment” once Kim Jong Un makes a decision. A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army stated that the strike plan would be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once Kim Jong Un makes a decision, adding that “enveloping fire” would be used to contain major US military bases on the island territory in the western Pacific Ocean – including the Anderson Air Force Base. KCNA, which is Pyongyang’s state-run news agency, also carried a statement from a different military official, which stated that North Korea may carry out a pre-emptive operation if the US shows signs of provocation.

Despite the threat of a possible attack, Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has sated that there was no change in the territory’s threat level and has reassured locals that several layers of defense are strategically placed to protect it. He added that Guam is “not just a military installation,” but American soil with American citizens.

Concerns over North Korea’s intentions to strike the US appeared to increase on Tuesday 8 August, when the Washington Post reported that North Korea has successfully developed a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can fit inside one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The newspaper said that claim was contained in a confidential assessment by America’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

On Monday 7 August, North Korea responded angrily after the UN imposed tough new sanctions on the isolated state following the test-firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Pyongyang stated that the sanctions were caused by a “heinous US plot to isolate and stifle” the country. North Korea officials also threatened to make America “pay the price for its crime…thousands of times.”

Where is Guam and Why is North Korea Threatening it?

Guam is a 210 sq mile sovereign US territory located in the western Pacific Ocean and used by the US as a strategic military base. The island is incredibly remote, with the nearest significant population being in the Federated States of Micronesia, about 570 miles away. Beyond that, Papua New Guinea is 1,400 miles away; the Philippines are 1,600 miles from its shores; and Japan is 1,623 miles. Approximately 40% of Guam’s population of 162,000 is made up of indigenous Chamorro people, while another 25% are Filipino. Almost a third of its land is controlled by the US military, with about 6,000 American troops based there. Its location, which is in range of North Korean medium- and long-range missiles, and military significance to the US therefore makes it a logical target for Pyongyang.

Guam has a limited self-government, with a popularly elected governor, small legislature, and non-voting delegate in the US House of Representatives. Residents do not pay US income taxes or vote in the US presidential election but its natives are US citizens by birth. The US keeps a naval base and coastguard station in the south and an air force base in the north. Protecting the island is the US Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which is used to shot down ballistic missiles.

As recently as 7 August, two US air force B-1B bombers flew from Guam to join their counterparts from South Korea and Japan for a mission over the Korean peninsula, about 2,100 miles away, in which the air forces practised various manoeuvres. In another show of force, the US last month twice flew a pair of supersonic bombers that took off from Guam over the Korean peninsula after two North Korean tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New Sanctions Imposed on North Korea

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On 5 August, the United Nations Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea that could slash by a third the country’s US $3 billion annual export revenue. The move comes over North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which were carried out last month.

The US-drafted resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. It also prohibits countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean labourers working abroad, bans new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures. Speaking to the Council, US Ambassador to the United States Nikki Haley disclosed, “we should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous,” adding “further action is required. The United States is taking and will continue to take prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies.” She further noted that Washington would continue annual joint military exercises with South Korea.

North Korea has denounced the sanctions. According to the North’s official news agency, the sanctions infringed on its sovereignty and vowed to take “righteous action.” The government statement reported by KCNA disclosed that Pyongyang would never place its nuclear programme on the negotiating table as long as the US maintained a hostile policy against the North.

North Korea has accused the US and South Korea of escalating tensions by conducting military drills. China and Russia have also slammed US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea, with China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi calling for a halt to the deployment and for any equipment in place to be dismantled. Liu further urged North Korea to “cease taking actions that might further escalate tensions.”

Meanwhile on Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his US counterpart, President Donald Trump, agreed to apply maximum pressure and sanctions on North Korea in a telephone call, while China expressed hope that North and South Korea could resume contact soon.

While the UN Security Council has been divided on how to deal with other international crises, such as Syria, the 15-member body has remained relatively united on North Korea. However it must be noted that negotiating new measures typically takes months, not weeks. North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. The new measures came in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches.