A US-North Korea war is highly unlikely. What is likely is status quo – vibrating waves of security tensions, sanctions, and South Korea and Japan’s whiny diplomacy to tell on North Korea to the US. As much as the world is entertained by Trump’s loud rhetoric that the US will unilaterally take care of the North Korean problem, the stakes are too high for China, South Korea and Japan to allow US attack on North Korea. Perhaps the only agenda common to China, South Korea and Japan right now on this matter is that none of them wants a war in the region.
When it comes to North Korea, we’re talking about a regime that:
- thrives on the nation’s fear of the regime;
- is not accountable to the nation for its actions;
- will not hesitate to starve the nation just to be able to wage a war, if it must;
And yet it is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un wants to start war with the US. The dictator is brandishing threats against the US and its two Asian allies in the region to likely seek the least compromised peace treaty with the US. The regime would not see itself gaining in a peace negotiation unless it can project formidable military capability. Sustaining the regime is undoubtedly Kim’s biggest priority and going into a war with the US is his least likely option.
The US unilateral strikes on North Korea will likely anger Japan and South Korea more than China as the two Asian countries will have to bear the brunt of a North Korean retaliation. The safety of South Koreans and Japanese are as important as that of the US, not to mention that there are 29,000 and 50,000 US troops in South Korea and Japan respectively. Besides, North Korea has massed artillery and missile capability adjacent to the demilitarized zone, close to South Korea. It has been estimated that in this scenario alone, North Korea could potentially cause 100,000 casualties in South Korea.
China, on the other hand, has remained ambivalent whether or not it will defend North Korea in the event of a military conflict. According to the 1961 Sino North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, China is obliged to intervene against unprovoked aggression toward North Korea. But the Asian superpower has its own priorities in the region and can likely adopt other means to stop the supposed war between the US and North Korea. China’s support to North Korea dates back to the Korean War (1950-1953). Since then, China has provided political and economic backing to the North Korean regimes. But relations between the two countries have strained over the years since North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons. Beijing has also supported sanctions from UN Security Council Resolutions and implemented new trade sanctions including reduced energy supplies to North Korea and has called for denuclearization talks. But China is also known to have stopped international punitive action against North Korea over human rights violations. China’s support to North Korea ensures a buffer between China and democratic South Korea, home to around 29,000 US troops and marines. Also, the apprehension of hundred of thousands of North Korean refugees flooding into China in the event of an unstable North Korea is a huge concern for Beijing. It is highly likely that China will want North Korea’s stability, which, otherwise, will jeopardize China’s strategic buffer and bring US troops too close for comfort.
While Trump has been urging China to do more to confront North Korea, the US has also sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the region, heightening concerns in China. China is worried that North Korea’s test of military hardware could provoke a strong response from Washington. Amidst the tension, China has sought Russia’s help to cool tensions over North Korea. Russia has also warned North Korea that Kim’s threats to deliver preemptive nuclear strikes could create a legal ground for the use of military force against the country.
There is a realistic possibility that the US does not know exactly what North Korean nuclear capability is as Kim’s threats have rapidly escalated US concerns. But the US ought to know that North Korea’s military capability is sufficient to annihilate millions in South Korea and Japan, should a war break out between the US and North Korea. That North Korea will be smashed in retaliation cannot be a consolation or measure of success in this war.
The US has pushed North Korea to irreversibly give up its nuclear weapons program in return for aid and diplomatic benefits. Washington believes in using pressure to influence North Korea to change its behavior. But the only likely power to influence North Korea is China. Pressing China to force North Korea to give up its nuclear arms is, however, ineffective, rather pushing China to make sure that North Korea does not use them is a reasonable way forward. It is almost certain that Beijing will actively seek to stop a supposed US strike on North Korea. This could be through attempts to force North Korea to negotiate. If that fails and a war is imminent, China is likely to deploy troops on the line in North Korea to dissuade the US from striking. It’s the same strategy that the US adopts as it stations troops in South Korea and Poland. The Chinese forces in North Korea would then also be in a position to force a coup and install an alternative government to the Kim regime, which ensures that North Korea survives and Chinese priorities in the region are served.
The lynchpin of this assessment is that Kim Jong Un is a rational actor in this matter. It is likely that he will not lose sight of his need to sustain his regime. With that in perspective, tensions will still prevail but the likelihood of a war in the region is remote.
Officials announced last week that the number of people arrested crossing the Mexico border into the United States has fallen to the lowest level in seventeen years.
According to US Customs and Border Protection, in March there were fewer than 17,000 arrests of undocumented migrants, the least since 2000.
Speaking to Congress, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stated that the decline was “no accident” as he credited President Donald Trump. Mr Kelly, who is a retired Marine general, testified about the figures to the Senat Homeland Security Committee. He told the panel, “we’ve seen an absolutely amazing drop in the number of migrants coming out of Central America that are taking that terribly dangerous route from Central America to the United States.” He went on to say that “March marks the fifth straight month of decline and is estimated to be approximately 71% lower than the December 2016 total – 58,478,” noting however that “…while this recent decline in illegal migration is good news, we must ensure that the security of our southern border remains a priority to protect the nation from terrorists and other criminals.” Senator John McCain asked if Mr Kelly’s agency was receiving help from Mexican officials, with Mr Kelly stating that the US was receiving “a huge amount of co-operation from the Mexicans,” citing “very, very good relationships with the Mexicans, both on their southern border where they stopped 160,000 illegal immigrants from Central America last year.”
According to data released by US Customs and Border Protection, in February 23,589 immigrants were apprehended at the border.
Also last week, the US government began accepting bids from contractors to build a prototype for a border wall. President Trump has pledged to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the 3,200 km (2,000 mile) border with Mexico. Last week at th hearing, Mr Kelly told the Senate committee that “it is unlikely that we will build a physical wall from sea to shining sea,” adding that sensors, drones and other technology will fill in gaps where the wall will not be present and that “physical barriers do work if they’re put in the right places.”
The United States last week charged two Russian intelligence agents and two criminal hackers with masterminding the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts in a move that marks the first time that the US government has criminally charged Russian spies with cyber offenses.
The 47-count Justice Department indictments on Wednesday 15 March included charges of conspiracy, computer fraud and abuse, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identify theft. The charges also paint a picture of the Russian security services as working hand-in-hand with cyber criminals, who helped spies further their intelligence goals in exchange for using the same exploits to make money. Speaking at a press conference to announce the charges, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord disclosed that the criminal conduct at issue, carried out and otherwise facilitated by officers from an FSB unit that serves as the FBIs point of contact in Moscow on cyber crime matters, is beyond the pale. Russias Federal Security Service (FSB) is the successor to the KGB. McCord further disclosed that the hacking campaign was awarded by the FSB in order to collect intelligence but that the two hackers used the collected information as an opportunity to line their pockets.
The indictment named the FSB officers involved as Dmitry Dokuchaev and his superior, Igor Sushchin, both of whom are in Russia. According to Russian news agency Interfax, Dokuchaev was arrested for treason in December. According to the Justice Department, the alleged criminals involved in the scheme include Alexsey Belan, who is amongst the FBIs most-wanted cyber criminals and was arrested in Europe in June 2013 however he escaped to Russia before he could be extradited to the US. Karim Baratov, who was born in Kazakhstan but also has Canadian citizenship, was also named in the indictment. The Justice Department disclosed that Baratov was arrested in Canada on 14 March. Officials in Toronto have confirmed the arrest. The US does not have an extradition treat with Russia, with McCord stating that she was hopeful that Russian authorities would cooperate in bringing criminals to justice. The US often charges cyber criminals with the intent of deterring future state-sponsored activity.
The charges announced last week are not related to the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 US presidential election. US intelligence agencies have stated that they were carried out by Russian spy services, including the FSB, in order to help the campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Yahoo disclosed when it announced the then-unprecedented breach last September, that it believed that the attack was state-sponsored. On Wednesday, the company stated that the indictment unequivocally shows that to be the case.
According to the indictment, in the 2014 breach, at least thirty million of the Yahoo accounts were the most seriously affected, with Belan being able to burrow deep into their accounts and taking user contact lists that were later used for a financially motivated spam campaign. The indictment went on to say that Belan also stole financial information, such as credit card numbers and gift cards. Yahoo had previously stated that about 32 million accounts had fallen victim to the deeper attack, which it said leveraged forged browser cookies to access accounts without the need for a password. According to Wednesdays indictment, FSB officers Sushchin and Dokuchaev also directed Baratov to use the information gained in the Yahoo breach to hack specific targets who possessed email accounts with other service providers, including Google. The incitement charged that when Baratov was successful, Dokuchaev would reward him with a bounty.
In December 2016, Yahoo announced another breach that occurred in 2013 and which affected 1 billion accounts. At the time, Special Agent Jack Bennett of the FBIs San Francisco Division disclosed that the 2013 breach is unrelated and that an investigation of that incident is ongoing. The hacks forced Yahoo to accept a discount of US $350 million in what had been a US $4.83 billion deal to sell its main assets of Verizon Communications Inc.
The charges come amidst a number of controversies relating to alleged Kremlin-backed hacking of the 2016 US presidential election and the possible links between Russian figures and associates of US President Donald Trump, as well as uncertainty about whether President Trump is willing to respond forcefully to aggression from Moscow in cyberspace and elsewhere.
The United States government announced this month that the number of illegal immigrants crossing into the US from Mexico went down by 40% from January to February.
Homeland Security Chief John Kelly disclosed that the “change in trends” was the result of President Donald Trump’s tough policies. Mr Kelly disclosed that the number of “inadmissible persons” crossing the US-Mexico border had dropped this year from 31,578 to 18,762 in January to February – a period when the number of arrests of illegal immigrants usually increases. He disclosed that “since the administration’s implementation of executive orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years.”
New rules announced by the Trump Administration last month included plans to send undocumented people to Mexico, even if they are not Mexicans, and expand the criteria for immediate deportations. The government disclosed that the new guidelines would not usher in mass deportations, but were instead designed to empower agents to enforce laws that are already on the books. The president has also signed an executive order for an “impassable physical barrier” on the US-Mexico border and has insisted that Mexico will pay for it, despite its repeated refusals. The measures have been condemned by Mexico as being “hostile and “unacceptable.”
The president made immigration and border control a key part of his election campaign, promising to protect Americans from “bad dudes.” An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the US, many of whom are from Mexico.
Meanwhile on Monday 6 March, President Trump revised his travel ban, barring people from six mainly Muslim countries. The ban however has since faced its first legal challenge from the state of Hawaii. State lawyers have asked for an emergency block on the order, stating that the measure will harm its residents, businesses and schools.
While the revised measure removed some of the more controversial language on religious minorities, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin disclosed that it still constituted a “Muslim ban” due to the countries involved and past statements from the administration.
The directive, which includes a 120-day ban on all refugees, will take effect on 16 March. Citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somali, Sudan and Yemen, the other six countries on the original 27 January order, will once more be subject to a 90-day travel ban. Iraq, which was listed on the original order, has since been removed from the list.
President Trump’s previous order was halted by the US federal courts amidst concerns that it unfairly targeted Muslims. It caused chaos at airports and mass protests.
According to the United Nations, civilian causalities from fighting in 2016 in Afghanistan hit their highest level since the organization began systematically gathering such information eight years ago.
A report released on 6 February by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reported that civilian causalities in the conflict between government forces and insurgents went up by 3% from 2015 and included 3,498 dead and 7,920 wounded. The report disclosed that the increase of causalities amongst children was 24%, with 923 deaths and 2,589 wounded. The report went on to say that antigovernment elements, mainly the Taliban, were responsible of 61% of the civilian causalities in 2016, while government forces were to blame for 20% and pro-government armed groups and international military forces, 2% each. According to the report, the remainder could not be attributed to any side or were caused by unexploded ordnance. The Taliban, which has been fighting the central government since 2001, called the UN findings biased, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating “the Kabul government and the invading forces are the cause of the civilian causalities. Javid Faisal, an Afghan government spokesman, meanwhile blamed the militants for most of the causalities, adding that the government has taken many measures to avoid civilian causalities.
Most foreign troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ended its combat mission in support of the Kabul government at the end of 2014. However since then, the security situation in the country has deteriorated significantly, particularly in provinces where the country’s largest insurgency, the Taliban, have attacked more densely populated communities.