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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    • After China promised the Philippines it would not militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea, analysis and imagrey shows it has built an airbase.
    • The Philippines will make a diplomatic protest to China, saying it can prove China has soldiers and weapons on the islands.

    Fiery cross reef south china sea militarized

    MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines will make a diplomatic protest to China, which the southeast Asian nation's defense minister described as having reneged on a promise not to militarize artificial islands in the busy South China Sea waterway.

    The United States has criticized China's build-up of military facilities on the artificial islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement along the key trade route.

    Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's comment followed a Dec. 30 broadcast of aerial footage by the official China Central Television (CCTV) showing Fiery Cross Reef, which appeared to have been transformed into an airbase.

    "The Chinese government said some time ago that they were not going to militarize those reclaimed islands," Lorenzana told reporters, adding that the protest would be made through the foreign ministry.

    "If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and even weapons systems, that will be a violation of what they said."

    Asked about the protest, China's foreign ministry spokesman said the construction was on the country's territory and was intended to aid peace in the region, as well as maritime safety and disaster prevention.

    "Of course, China also needs to construct necessary defense equipment for its territory," the spokesman, Lu Kang, told a regular briefing on Tuesday. "The relevant equipment is not directed at any particular country."

    China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been courting Beijing in hopes of winning business and investment.

    map south china sea

    China has assured the Philippines it will not occupy new features or territory in the South ChinaSea, under a new "status quo" brokered by Manila as both sides try to strengthen their relations.

    Reports about China militarizing reclaimed islands were not new, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a regular news briefing.

    "We have always been against the militarization of the area," he added. "It is certainly not OK, because it constitutes a further threat to peace and security in area."

    China is holding to a commitment not to reclaim more islands, Roque added, however.

    "There is still no breach of the good faith obligation for as long as China has not embarked on new reclamation," he said, when asked about the situation on the reef.

    China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

    The reef has a hospital with more than 50 doctors, high-speed mobile connections and an airport with a runway of 3,160 meters (3,456 yards) to serve what Beijing calls a "weather station" equipped with radar, Chinese state media say.

    In the last 27 years, China's navy has sent more than 1,000 soldiers to guard the reef, state media have said.

    SEE ALSO: North and South Korea held the highest-level talks in years — here are the major breakthroughs

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim jong un

    • President Donald Trump is reportedly considering launching a "bloody nose" attack to batter and humiliate North Korea.
    • The strategy is incredibly risky and relies on Kim Jong Un correctly interpreting the attack as a limited, punitive strike, rather than the opening of the second Korean War.
    • If the US is determined to strike North Korea despite the risks, they have a few options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
    • But if the US did pull it off, they could put the fear in North Korea, which has killed hundreds of US and South Koreans with impunity since 1953.

    As North Korea's nuclear and missile programs make leaps and bounds in advancement, the most powerful military on earth has sat just a few dozen miles away with little they could do about it — but that may be about to change.

    Multiple reports out of the White House indicate an internal debate over a hot topic: Whether or not to strike North Korea.

    Both The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal have reported that President Donald Trump's administration is weighing a "bloody nose" strike to batter and humiliate North Korea as it illegally advances its weapons programs. The strategy calls for a limited strike on North Korea in response to some provocation, like a missile or nuclear test. 

    The news that the Trump administration is seriously considering a strike has rattled international observers and experts on North Korea, as any attack on North Korea runs the enormous risk of starting an all out war.

    If the US strikes North Korea, it then places its trust in the country's leader Kim Jong Un not to retaliate massively against South Korea or Japan. As North Korea demonstrates an ever-increasing nuclear capability, the prospect only becomes more dangerous.

    But a cowed North Korea would lose enormous standing internationally and domestically, as putting the fear of repeated punishment in the belligerent country that has for decades killed US and South Korean citizens with impunity. 

    How the US could give Kim Jong Un a bloody nose

    A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, September 13, 2016.  REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

    Unlike the US' April 7 strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the regime's use of chemical weapons, the US couldn't just pull up a guided-missile destroyer to North Korea's coast and let 59 cruise missiles rip.

    "Cruise missiles give a fair bit of warning," Justin Bronk, an expert in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute told Business Insider. Bronk pointed out that the missiles fly at subsonic speeds and that "North Korea is fairly careful to monitor their waters."

    Using manned aircraft for an airstrike would require the US to attack North Korean air defenses, according to Bronk, or risk ending up with a "nightmare scenario where you have an aircraft down in North Korea and then you have to rescue or have them, or they're paraded around and probably executed."

    "I wouldn't say there are any good options," Bronk said, but the "least risky one is trying to intercept a missile."

    The losing missile intercept gamble

    aegis bmd

    Bronk calls the US attempting to shoot down a North Korean missile launch a "potentially unsustainable challenge."

    "It's a financially impossible position to keep pace with very cheap launches with very high-end missile interceptors," Bronk said.

    The US would need a constant presence of ballistic missile defense platforms gathered off North Korea's coast. Keeping ships there would strain an already thin US Navy Pacific fleet and cost billions.

    Then comes the more glaring question: Can the US even shoot down a North Korean missile launch? Even if the US had ships or even aircraft in place, shooting down a North Korean missile represents a truly dubious prospect.

    In theory, the US could stop a North Korean launch, at tremendous cost, but if they miss even a single shot, the party leaving the encounter with a bloody nose would be the US.

    If North Korea manages to evade a US intercept test, it grants them a "huge prestige value and a massive prestige loss for the US," according to Bronk.

    Even with the best weapons systems in the world and the finest military, the US faces real danger in attempting to bloody North Korea's nose, as its unpredictable dictator may decide that he can't tolerate the humiliation associated with being beaten by his sworn enemy.

    SEE ALSO: North and South Korea will hold military talks to reduce tensions after a year on the nuclear brink

    DON'T MISS: North Korea and South Korea met in the 'truce village' of Panmunjom — these extraordinary photos show what it's like

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators

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    Donald Trump H.R. McMaster

    • President Donald Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has consistently expressed hawkish views on North Korea and is reportedly pushing for a "bloody nose" strike against the country's government.
    • McMaster has a foreign policy vision that calls for the US to reverse decades of waning power by standing up to adversaries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.
    • The US has been steadily declining in international efficacy and absorbing a constant stream of foreign policy losses, but it has managed to avoid a major war.
    • McMaster's "bloody nose" idea could stop the erosion of US power, but it could also start such a war.

    President Donald Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, seems to think the US's military and nuclear supremacy over North Korea cannot deter its leader, Kim Jong Un, from attacking the US — and that a strike is needed to stop him.

    It also appears that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are the key figures holding Trump back from taking McMaster's advice.

    McMaster, who led the US's counterinsurgency strategy in the Iraq War of the early 2000s, frequently provides some of the most hawkish US statements on North Korea, sometimes surpassed only by Trump.

    Even before becoming Trump's national security adviser, McMaster has stood at the forefront of piecing together a comprehensive US military strategy for the post-Cold War era.

    McMaster thinks traditional deterrence has failed

    Kim Jong Un

    While traditional thinking since the fall of the Soviet Union has centered on maintaining a peaceful status quo and world order, McMaster has likened today's situation to 1914 and chastised the security community for taking a "holiday from history" and allowing the US's power and influence to decline while focusing on expensive defense projects.

    "Geopolitics are back, and are back with a vengeance," McMaster said last month when introducing the US's new national security strategy.

    McMaster also wrote an article last year for the Association of the US Army's magazine in which he said that "hostile, revisionist powers — Russia, China, North Korea and Iran — annex territory, intimidate our allies, develop nuclear weapons, and use proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries."

    McMaster asserted that those adversaries "often act below the threshold that would elicit a concerted response from the US and our allies," also saying in his 2016 speech to the Virginia Military Institute that the "hostile actors do not operate in isolation from one another."

    "They watch and assess American actions and responses across the globe," he said. "They calibrate their actions."

    Essentially, McMaster posits that when the world sees Russia waging hybrid warfare in Ukraine and the Baltics and the US offering a muddled response — refusing for years to provide lethal aid to Ukraine — China, Iran, and North Korea become emboldened.

    While the US struggles to patrol China's massive land grab in the South China Sea or combat Iran's growing influence and use of proxy militias in Syria, North Korea assesses — correctly so far — that it can continue to defy the US without punishment.

    North Korea, in particular, has proved adept at "salami-slicing," or advancing its interests against US demands in such small steps that no one provocation is enough for the US to initiate a war.

    Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have all acted against US interests despite the US's nuclear arsenal, in what some would call defiance of traditional deterrence.

    The US has seen its power in the Pacific, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East decline exponentially as China, Russia, and Iran rise, but the strategy of tolerating a constant stream of slights has kept the US out of major conflicts. McMaster may want to change that.

    Make America fight again

    Foal Eagle 2015

    McMaster has indicated that standing up for US interests and punishing its adversaries may be more important than avoiding a massive war.

    Asked about the North Korean crisis by the BBC in December, McMaster said, "We're not committed to a peaceful resolution — we're committed to a resolution."

    He added: "We have to be prepared if necessary to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime."

    McMaster has openly questioned whether deterrence will work on North Korea. While few experts think North Korea would launch a nuclear attack on the US, as it would be a suicide mission, North Korea has been found to have flouted sanctions by transferring weapons and nuclear technology to US enemies.

    One solution that's increasingly discussed and apparently one of McMaster's ideas is to teach North Korea a lesson with force. The "bloody nose" strategy, whereby the US carries out a limited strike on North Korea in response to some provocation, could achieve this.

    Striking North Korea risks a major conflict that could quickly go nuclear. China, or even Russia, may get involved. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, could die.

    As Uri Friedman points out in The Atlantic, McMaster's strategy would make a lot of sense as a bluff to convince US enemies that the country is now willing to risk a war to protect its interests. But Friedman quotes John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who worked extensively with McMaster, as saying that's unlikely.

    "What H.R. says you can take to the bank," Nagl said.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Trump South Korea Moon

    • President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae In had a phone call where they discussed recent talks between the two Koreas, but a major discrepancy exists between the US and South Korea's account of the call.
    • The White House reported a pretty standard conversation, while South Korea reported that Trump firmly denied reports that he's considering a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea.
    • The "bloody nose" strategy calls for the US to carry out a limited strike on North Korea to punish it for its illegal missile program, but it would put millions of South Korean lives at risk.

    President Donald Trump spoke with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae In, on Wednesday to discuss the recent progress and looming threats of the North Korean nuclear crisis, but each country gave a varying account.

    According to the White House, Moon briefed Trump on the outcome of the inter-Korean talks that took place on Tuesday for the first time in two years.

    Moon reportedly thanked Trump for his "influential leadership in making the talks possible" and both leaders expressed support for Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against North Korea, which has seen heightened military threats and a chain of nuclear threats flying both ways across the Pacific.

    Trump expressed interest in holding talks with North Korea "under the right circumstances," according to the White House's account of the call, and said that Vice President Mike Pence will head to South Korea's 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

    But South Korea's account of the call included a firm denial of a news story that has caused North Korea experts to recoil in horror, namely that Trump is considering a "bloody nose" strike against Kim Jong Un's regime, according to Anna Fitfield, the Washington Post's Tokyo Bureau Chief.

    The presence of the denial in the South Korean readout of the call, and its absence in the US readout, points to the massively lopsided danger of the "bloody nose" strategy.

    vigilant Ace b1

    To enact the strategy, the US would respond to some North Korean provocation with a limited strike. If the attack goes according to plan, the US could deny North Korea the ability to research and develop its missile or nuclear programs by destroying elements of it with a kinetic strike.

    A stricken North Korea, if it chose not to retaliate, would also lose enormous international and domestic standing, and set the precedent for the US to repeat the strike any time it feels the country has stepped out of line.

    But if Kim does decide to retaliate, it's almost certain the brunt of the attack would fall on South Korean civilians. North Korea has a massive array of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul, South Korea's capital of with a population of 25 million.

    Under Trump, the US has repeatedly flexed its military capability and willingness to use force against North Korea as part of the maximum pressure doctrine.

    The latest discrepancy between the readouts of Trump and Moon's call may reveal that South Korea is pushing back on the pressure, which sometimes entails loose talk of putting South Korean lives at risk.

    SEE ALSO: Why Trump's national security adviser thinks it might soon be time to bomb North Korea

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    FILE PHOTO: Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa gestures during a news conference at the PNP headquarters in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Czar Dancel

    • Philippines police chief threatened to bring back the notoriously deadly and violent anti-narcotics operations in the country's war on drugs.
    • Nearly 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by police in the drugs war since June 2016, and human rights advocates have accused the police of illegal killings.
    • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte previously halted the police operations to satisfy activists who he called "bleeding hearts."

    MANILA (Reuters) - Police anti-narcotics operations notorious for their deadly outcomes could make a comeback in the Philippines' war on drugs, although bloodshed should be avoided and abuses would not be tolerated, the country's police chief said on Friday.

    "Oplan Tokhang", where police visit homes of users and dealers and seek their surrender, could resume within a few weeks and should be free of violence if suspects agree to go quietly, police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said.

    His remarks are the strongest sign in months of a re-intensification of a war on drugs that has lost considerable momentum since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police to halt operations and let the undermanned drugs enforcement agency, PDEA, run his signature campaign.

    Nearly 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by police in the drugs war since June 2016. Human rights groups accuse police of carrying out illegal killings, staging crime scenes and falsifying reports, a charge they vigorously deny.

    "Tokhang should actually be bloodless because the spirit of Tokhang, if implemented properly is 'knock and plead'," Dela Rosa told reporters.

    He was advocating for its return but did not state a reason.

    The "Tokhang" approach sees officers knock on doors of homes of suspected drug users or dealers to convince them to surrender or be rehabilitated. Another widely used approach by police is a so-called "buy-bust" or sting operation.

    Activists say in many cases, suspects were not given a chance to give up, and were instead executed in cold blood.

    Police reject that and typically say the victims were killed because they violently resisted arrest. They cite more than 117,000 drugs-related arrests as evidence of their intent to preserve life.

    Dela Rosa said abuses had taken place but referred only to officers soliciting bribes to remove names of suspects from lists they had compiled.

    He said an oversight committee would be set up and if resources were available, police involved in sting operations would be equipped with body cameras.

    "This time around we will ensure it will be properly implemented and those who will commit abuses would be made accountable," he added.

    Duterte announced the suspension of police anti-drugs operations on Oct. 11 last year, without specifying exactly why. He later said he hoped that would satisfy activists he called "bleeding hearts", and interfering western states.

    Duterte and his aides have, however, voiced concern about drugs returning to the streets due to a lack of manpower with police on the sidelines.

    At present, police are allowed to assist PDEA operations, but not lead their own.

    Radio reports of drugs-related killings in recent months have been less frequent than previously.

    It is not immediately clear how many people have been killed in drugs-related incidents in the Philippines since Oct. 11. A spokesman for PDEA on Friday said the agency had no data on casualties over that period.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Trump kim jong un

    • President Donald Trump made cryptic statements and refused to deny if he had spoken to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    • If Trump did speak to Kim, he violated his own principals of insisting on preconditions for talks.
    • Trump has teased members of the media in the past with seemingly juicy stories that turned out to be nothing.

    President Donald Trump made cryptic comments to The Wall Street Journal this week and refused to clarify whether or not he had spoken to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    "I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un," Trump told The Journal on Thursday. "I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised."

    Asked directly if he had spoken to Kim, Trump refused to clarify or rule it out: "I don't want to comment on it. I'm not saying I have or haven't. I just don't want to comment."

    But if Trump had talked to Kim, it would be tremendous news, as not even South Korean President Moon Jae In nor Chinese President Xi Jinping have spoken to the reclusive leader, who has never met another head of state face-to-face.

    Trump has said many times he'd talk to Kim

    Kim Jong Un

    Trump has previously said he would be "honored" to talk to Kim, and at a recent retreat to Camp David, said he would "absolutely" talk to Kim, but only "under the right circumstances."

    Trump's administration's official position on North Korea says that the "right circumstances" will occur when North Korea is willing to discuss denuclearization, something which statements from Pyongyang routinely refuse and bristle at. 

    But Trump's stance on North Korea has shifted time and time again.

    Trump has dangled juicy stories in front of reporters before


    Trump refusing to clarify remarks and instead appearing to deliberately build suspense happened before. 

    During an impromptu photo session between Trump and senior military officials at the White House in October, when tensions between the US and North Korea were incredibly high, Trump commented that the event may be "the calm before the storm" before abruptly ending the encounter.

    Asked a day later about the comment, Trump winked and said, "You'll find out... We'll see." In the months since then, no event cleanly presents itself as the "storm" Trump warned of.

    If Trump did speak with Kim, he either would have violated his own principals of insisting on preconditions to do so, or he has secretly advanced negotiations far beyond what anyone thought possible. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump says he probably has 'a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un'

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    David Ige CNN Hawaii

    • Hawaii Governor David Ige released a statement apologizing for Saturday's false missile alert.
    • Ige confirmed "steps have been taken" to prevent a similar alert being sent in the future.
    • The governor also said the US needs to de-escalate tensions with North Korea.

    Hawaii Governor David Ige apologized for the state's false missile alert, saying it "will never happen again."

    In a press release Sunday evening, Ige issued a lengthy apology for the "unfortunate situation" that "has never happened before and will never happen again."

    "On behalf of the State of Hawai'i, I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests," Ige said, also apologizing for "any hardship and inconvenience this created for you, your family and loved ones."

    Ige specifically mentioned North Korea in his statement, saying the US needs to de-escalate tensions with the country.

    The governor also confirmed that "steps have been taken" by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to prevent a similar false alert being sent in the future.

    Hawaiians received a text message 0n Saturday morning warning them of an inbound ballistic missile. The alert message read: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

    A follow-up alert, clarifying there was no threat, was sent out 38 minutes later. But many people were terrified during that time, and some even reached out to loved ones to say goodbye.

    Ige previously had said "we definitely need to improve our procedures," after confirming a staff member had pressed the wrong button by mistake during a shift change.

    Read Ige's message in full:


    On Saturday, Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors experienced an unfortunate situation that has never happened before and will never happen again – a false alert issued by the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency that a ballistic missile was on its way to the Hawaiian Islands.

    On behalf of the State of Hawai‘i, I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests.

    I can personally assure each and every resident and visitor that steps have already been taken by the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency to ensure that a situation of this type never happens again.

    The Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency is committed to protecting the people of Hawai‘i, and over the past year it has been taking responsible measures to prepare for the highly unlikely event of a missile attack. As a state government, we must learn from this unfortunate error and continue to prepare for any safety threat to Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors – whether it is a man-made threat or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami.

    In the next few days, I will continue meeting with our emergency preparedness team and personally talking with families, individuals and leaders from around our state to ensure we reach every household. We must also do what we can to demand peace and a de-escalation of tensions with North Korea.

    Again, on behalf of the State of Hawai‘i, I apologize for yesterday’s events and any hardship and inconvenience this created for you, your family and loved ones.


    David Ige

    Governor, State of Hawai‘i

    SEE ALSO: The false Hawaii missile alert was caused by an employee pushing the wrong button, governor says

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    hi missile alert

    • A worker who sent Hawaii's false missile alert has reportedly been reassigned, not fired.
    • The civil defense employee "feels terrible" about the situation.
    • A two-step process is in place to send out alerts.

    The worker who sent a false missile alert to Hawaiian residents on Saturday has reportedly been reassigned.

    The civil defence employee has been moved to another role, but not fired, according to multiplemedia reports.

    In a press conference on Saturday, the head of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency, Vern Miyagi, said the worker "feels terrible."

    "This guy feels bad, right. He's not doing this on purpose — it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it," Miyagi said.

    The worker had been completing a shift change at the time of the alert and, according to the Washington Post, was using a drop-down menu that gave two similar options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” Instead of selecting a system test, the worker sent a real alert.

    Hawaii Governor David Ige confirmed on the weekend that the employee had "pushed the wrong button."

    At the Saturday press conference, Miyagi made it clear that to send such an alert, someone would have to go through two steps, including a screen that says "Are you sure you want to do this?"

    The Post also confirmed that there are no plans to fire the employee.

    Ige released a statement on Sunday saying that "steps have been taken" to improve the alert process and that a false alarm "will never happen again."

    SEE ALSO: Hawaii governor promises false missile alert 'will never happen again'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A Navy SEAL explains why you should end a shower with cold water

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    Kim Jong Un

    TOKYO (AP) — North Korea's state-run media say U.S. President Donald Trump's tweet about having a bigger nuclear button than leader Kim Jong Un's is the "spasm of a lunatic."

    Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party newspaper, lashed out at Trump in a commentary on Tuesday that took issue with the U.S. commander in chief's Jan. 3 tweet that "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

    The tone of Tuesday's article was not uncommon for the North Korean media. But Trump's willingness to respond in kind — he has repeatedly called Kim "little rocket man"— is rare for an American leader and has led to several fiery verbal barrages since he took office nearly a year ago.

    SEE ALSO: Trump hints that he may have already spoken to Kim Jong Un

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    north korea

    • Ministers from 20 nations that backed South Korea in the 1950s Korean War have gathered in Vancouver to discuss using sanctions to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
    • The group will look to find ways to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on North Korea.
    • China reacted angrily to the meeting, saying it was displaying "Cold War" thinking. 

    VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A meeting of states that backed South Korea in the Korean war will look at ways to better implement sanctions to push North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, officials said, even as the North and South explore detente ahead of next month's Winter Olympics.

    Foreign ministers and senior officials from 20 nations will hold a full-day meeting in Vancouver on Tuesday, hosted by the United States and Canada, looking to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on North Korea to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, a program that has raised fears of a new war.

    Canadian and U.S. officials say the meeting will discuss ways to ensure implementation of wide-ranging U.N. sanctions, including steps agreed last month to further limit Pyongyang's access to refined petroleum products, crude oil and industrial goods.

    Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department's director of policy planning, said last week that participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would probe how to boost maritime security around North Korea and options to interdict ships carrying prohibited goods in violation of sanctions.

    The Vancouver meeting primarily groups nations that assisted South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as South Korea and Japan. China and Russia, which backed the North in the war but have since agreed to U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, will not be attending.

    South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

    Tensions easing?

    Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 temple 2

    The meeting was announced after North Korea tested its biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile in late November, but now comes amid signs that tensions on the Korean peninsula are easing, at least temporarily.

    North and South Korea held formal talks this month for the first time in two years and Pyongyang said it would send athletes across the border to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea next month.

    China, North Korea's main ally and principal trading partner, has backed successive rounds of U.N. sanctions, but has also urged dialogue to solve the crisis. It has reacted angrily to the Vancouver meeting as an example of "Cold War" thinking.

    China's state media said Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, stressed that a hard-earned alleviation of tensions must continue.

    "Maintaining international unity on the issue is extremely important," Xi said. China was ready to work with the United States to resolve the issue in an appropriate way, state broadcaster CCTV quoted the Chinese leader as saying.

    China's special envoy for North Korea Kong Xuanyou, speaking in an interview with Phoenix Television on Monday, urged the United States to seize the opportunity to seek direct talks with North Korea.

    China's state-run Global Times newspaper said the Vancouver meeting reflected Washington's desire to "highlight its dominant role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and cripple the clout of China and Russia."

    "But the meeting will likely accomplish little," it said in an editorial.

    Diplomats say China's absence will limit what can be achieved, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of being willing to bow to pressure to give up weapons he sees as vital to his survival.

    Sanctions 'gaps' 

    Ships Busan Korea

    The White House on Friday welcomed news that China's North Korea imports plunged in December to their lowest in dollar terms since at least the start of 2014, but President Donald Trump accused Beijing last month of allowing oil into North Korea, a charge Beijing denied.

    Western European security sources told Reuters last month that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea. Russia says it observes U.N. sanctions.

    Eric Walsh, Canada's ambassador to South Korea, told a panel at the University of British Columbia that the uneven way sanctions were applied meant "there are a lot of gaps."

    "One of the things we want to do is look at how we can improve enforcement," he said.

    U.S. officials say hawks in the Trump administration remain pessimistic that the North-South contacts will lead anywhere.

    Even so, debate within the U.S. administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site, has lost momentum ahead of the Olympics, the officials said.

    Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at Washington's Council on Foreign Relations, said that if Pyongyang felt tougher sanctions constituted a blockade, it might interpret them as an act of war.

    "If sanctions are going to be effective in achieving the objective of bringing about diplomacy, (they) have to be used not as a hammer but actually as a nutcracker or a scalpel," he told the university panel.

    British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who will be in Vancouver, said the international community had to stand united.

    "Sanctions are biting but we need to maintain diplomatic pressure on Kim Jong Un's regime," he said in a statement.

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    kim jong un north korea

    • Jeffrey Lewis, a top expert on North Korea, wrote a column published over the weekend suggesting the US should bomb Kim Jong Un's personal toilet to put the fear in him.
    • Lewis' suggestion, while tongue-in-cheek, shows the kind of thinking needed to properly calibrate a "bloody nose" strike, which the US is reportedly considering.
    • Lewis and others have found Kim has a personal port-a-potty brought with him to missile launches, and the US could demonstrate its precision and skill by striking it.

    A top authority on North Korea has jokingly suggested the US launch an unorthodox attack on the country's leader.

    Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk and the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterrey, California, has outlined a plan for the US to strike Kim Jong Un's personal toilet.

    Writing at The Daily Beast over the weekend, Lewis was responding to increased chatter of a US strike on North Korea. Though Lewis was approaching the issue in a tongue-in-cheek way, his writing nonetheless illustrates the dangers of and motivations behind using military force to send a message.

    Basically, reports have come forth that the US is tired of North Korea's constant defiance and wants to carry out a limited strike in response. In theory, the use of force against a weaker opponent can serve as a reminder of who is in charge.

    But while North Korea couldn't really defend against a small US strike, it doesn't intend to defend. North Korea's military posture is entirely offensive. While the country could do little to stop an incoming cruise missile or airstrike, it has long had artillery aimed at Seoul, South Korea's capital of 25 million.

    Lewis seems to think that the idea has some merit but that the difficulty lies in finding a target that's important enough to matter but not big enough to provoke war. From The Daily Beast:

    "The central challenge, as we contemplate a 'bloody nose' option for a limited military strike, is finding a suitable target that represents Kim Jong Un's nose — a target that will allow our strike to be intimidating and humiliating to Kim, but not the sort of broad assault that might prompt him to retaliate with his growing stockpile of nuclear weapons."

    Lewis settles on a target of little strategic importance but great personal relevance to Kim: his port-a-potty.

    Kim almost always observes North Korean missile launches from a private trailer. The launches normally happen in the middle of nowhere, so comforts like a port-a-potty suited for a supreme party leader need to be shipped in.

    Kim Jong-un watching planes

    "Destroying the port-a-potty will deny Kim Jong Un a highly valued creature comfort, while also demonstrating the incredible accuracy of US precision munitions to hold Kim and his minions at risk," Lewis wrote. "It will send an unmistakable message: We can kill you while you are dropping a deuce."

    Lewis refers to his idea as hilarious, "a comedy and an action movie — both at the same time." The US military, however, may not be laughing.

    Lewis' playful idea represents a rather circumspect approach to selecting the right target to use military force to send a message. While the verbal, diplomatic, and economic messages the world has tried time and time again have failed to get through to North Korea, President Donald Trump's administration has floated the idea of military action more than any before it.

    SEE ALSO: The US is reportedly considering a 'bloody nose' attack to humiliate North Korea — here's how it could go down

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    Female fighters from Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) react in Raqqa, Syria, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

    • Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Russia have all come out against the US's announced plan to back a force of 30,000 mainly Kurdish fighters to operate along Syria's border with Turkey and Iran.
    • Syria's president desribed the force as a "terror army," in keeping with a long tradition of calling all who oppose him of being terrorists.
    • Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi urged the US to leave Syria immediately. 

    LONDON (Reuters) - Iran said on Tuesday a new U.S.-backed, 30,000-strong force inside Syria would "fan the flames of war", echoing the vehement response of Syria, Turkey and Russia to the plan.

    On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its Syrian militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up a force that would operate along the borders with Turkey and Iraq, as well as within Syria.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from Syria. Strong Syria ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control, and Turkey described the force as a "terror army."

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said such a force would raise tensions in Syria. Iran supports Assad in the nearly seven-year civil war against rebel forces and Islamic State militants, sending weapons and soldiers.

    "The U.S. announcement of a new border force in Syria is an obvious interference in the internal affairs of this country," Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

    Qasemi urged all U.S. forces to leave Syria immediately.

    The United States is at the head of an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

    SEE ALSO: Top North Korea expert makes the case for the US bombing Kim Jong Un's personal toilet

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    A Rohingya refugee woman who crossed the border from Myanmar cries while waiting to get a shelter in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra

    • Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to complete the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled a crackdown from Myanmar's army into Bangladesh last year.
    • The UN has called Myanmar's army crackdown a "textbook" example of ethnic cleansing, and over 650,000 Rohingya have fled.
    • The UN is now warning that Rohingya should only volunteer to return to Mynamar if they feel safe.

    DHAKA/YANGON (Reuters) - Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on Tuesday to complete within two years the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who had fled an army crackdown last year in Myanmar.

    The UN Refugee Agency, responding to the plan, raised a concern about forcibly repatriating over 650,000 Rohingya who fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a conflict erupted in western Rakhine state in August.

    Statements from both the Myanmar and Bangladesh foreign ministries said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border. Those camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centers in Myanmar. The repatriation process would start next Tuesday, the statements said.

    Myanmar said it would build a transit camp that can house 30,000 returnees.

    The Bangladesh statement said "Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop (the) outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh".

    Myanmar stressed the need for both sides to take preventive measures against possible Rohingya attacks and said it gave Dhaka a list with the names of 1,000 alleged militants.

    The crisis erupted after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 in Rakhine triggered a fierce military response that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing. Some 650,000 people fled the violence.

    The military denies ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces had mounted legitimate counter-insurgency clearance operations.

    The Bangladesh statement called for repatriating orphans and "children born out of unwarranted incidence", a reference to cases of rape resulting in pregnancy, said a Bangladesh foreign ministry official who declined to be identified.

    The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar's security forces was widespread, according to interviews with women conducted at displacement camps by U.N. medics and activists. The military denies it was involved in any sexual assaults.

    Verification process

    Rohingya Refugees Myanmar

    A spokesperson from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday the Rohingya should only return voluntarily when they feel it is safe to do so.

    “Major challenges have to be overcome,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a Geneva news briefing. “These include ensuring they are told about the situation in their areas of origin ... and are consulted on their wishes, that their safety is ensured.”

    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told Reuters last week the returnees could apply for citizenship "after they pass the verification process".

    Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary at Myanmar's Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, told Reuters this month Myanmar would begin processing at least 150 people a day through each of the two camps by Jan. 23.

    The meeting that concluded on Tuesday in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw was the first for a joint working group set up to hammer out the details of the November repatriation agreement.

    Left out of the talks were the fears and concerns of the refugees themselves, "as if they are an inert mass of people who will go where and when they are told," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an email.

    "Where are considerations for protection of the Rohingya from Myanmar security forces who months ago were raping and killing them? How come the discussions ignore the deprivation of rights of people held in indefinite detention, which is what these so-called “temporary” accommodations may become?," Robertson asked.

    'Living like prisoners'

    Rohingya refugee children walk in Palong Khali camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

    A group of refugees at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh expressed doubt about the camps Myanmar has agreed to establish on its side of the border.

    Mohammad Farouk, 20, who arrived in Bangladesh following the Aug. 25 attacks, said exchanging one camp for another made little difference - except "the camps in Myanmar will be far worse, because we will be confined there and there will be a risk to our lives.”

    Another resident of the Kutupalong camp compared the new transit camps to ones set up near the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe following bouts of violence in previous years "where people are living like prisoners”.

    “First, ask the military to give those Rohingya their homes and property back, then talk to us about returning,” said the Rohingya refugee who did not want to be identified.

    Some said the kind of violence they witnessed toward their community in Myanmar made it hard for them to trust the military. “Even if I don’t get food or anything else here, at least there is safety. I won’t feel safe if I go back to Myanmar,” said Rashid Ahmed, 33.

    Noor Alam, 37, who came to Kutupalong five months back, wondered if he could ever get a job in Myanmar. “They don’t even call us Rohingya. Until they consider us citizens we won’t go back.”

    Some young men in the camp worried they might be arrested on accusations of terrorism if they returned to Myanmar.

    Camp conditions in Bangladesh are dire enough, but more than 520,000 Rohingya children are at even greater risk ahead of the cyclone season that generally begins in April, the United Nations Children's Fund said on Tuesday.

    "Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face an even greater risk of disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh.

    Nearly 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh, including those who came after previous displacements dating back to the 1990s.


    SEE ALSO: Top North Korea expert makes the case for the US bombing Kim Jong Un's personal toilet

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    Jared Kushner

    • US intelligence warned Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to President Donald Trump, that his close friend Wendi Deng Murdoch could be a Chinese spy, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
    • The US regularly briefs new administrations on possible foreign agents they associate with, and China's business interactions with the US are often examined as possible national security threats.
    • Michael Wolff, the author of an explosive but questionable tell-all on the Trump administration, said Murdoch had been rumored to be a spy for years.

    Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, was apparently warned by US intelligence officials about one of his close friends — Chinese-American Wendi Deng Murdoch.

    Murdoch, who kept her surname after being married to media mogul Rupert Murdoch for 14 years, is a prominent businesswoman, friend of Kushner, and a possible Chinese agent, US intelligence officials told Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    The US intelligence community regularly briefs new administrations on possible ties to foreign agents, and the US frequently weighs Chinese investments into US companies and infrastructure as a national security risk.

    China, a political adversary to the US and a rising world power, stands accused by the US of forcing foreign firms to hand over technology and protectionist practices that disproportionately favor their own companies. 

    US officials specifically raised concerns over a planned $100 million Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington DC, which Murdoch lobbied for. The officials considered the building a national security risk as its plans included a 70-foot tower, which they feared could be used for surveillance, according to the Journal.

    Kushner, his wife Ivanka Trump, and Murdoch, have been friends for years and regularly appear in each other's social media posts. Murdoch posted this image of her and Ivanka in January 2017:

    Congratulations @ivankatrump ❤️❤️

    A post shared by Wendi Murdoch (@wendimurdoch) on Jan 20, 2017 at 4:57am PST on

    A spokesperson for Kushner and Trump said the couple has "been friends with Rupert and Wendi Murdoch for a decade before coming to Washington and their relationship is neither political nor about China."

    But Michael Wolff, the author of an explosive and sometimes questionable tell-all about Trump's presidential campaign and early presidency tweeted a different response to the story.

    "Since their divorce, Murdoch has been telling anybody who would listen that Wendi is a Chinese spy--and had been throughout the marriage,"wrote Wolff.

    A spokesman for Murdoch told the Wall Street Journal that she "has no knowledge of any FBI concerns or other intelligence agency concerns relating to her or her associations."

    Read the Wall Street Journal's full story here.

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    b-1b b-2 spirit b-52 nuclear capable bombers

    • The US has stepped up its bomber presence in Guam to include the nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers.
    • The deployment comes as part of a mission to keep bombers in Guam constantly, but it's still rare to see all three US strategic bombers in Guam at once.
    • North Korea has specifically threatened the bomber fleet in Guam, and the recent deployment marks the clearest possible signal ling between Washington and Pyongyang.

    The US deployed every type of strategic and nuclear-capable bomber to Guam amid soaring tensions between the Washington and Pyongyang in a move sure to rattle North Korea.

    The B-1B Lancer bomber, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and the B-52H — the workhorse bomber that dropped tens of thousands of tons of munitions during the Vietnam War — will be in Guam, the Pentagon has confirmed to Business Insider.

    North Korea can't stand US bomber deployments to Guam, where the US hosts massive military bases in relative proximity to Pyongyang. North Korean media statements usually react strongly and issue threats in response to the US flying B-1 training missions over the Korean Peninsula.

    In statements, North Korea refers to the B-1 bomber as a nuclear asset, although the plane has been modified not to carry nuclear weapons as the result of an arms control pact with Russia. The B-2 and B-52 do have nuclear capability, and make up the air-launched component of the US's nuclear triad.

    b-2 stealth bomber

    In August, North Korea threatened to fire intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles towards Guam, arcing them to fall just short of the island and instead in the sea. The US responded by saying it would meet any attack on Guam with full force.

    Recently, rumblings that North Korea is planning to launch a satellite and that the US is planning to strike a North Korean launch have been making news.

    Unlike in-ground nuclear silos and under-sea secretive submarines, the nuclear-capable bombers in the US Air Force's fleet enable the US to signal its resolve and intentions during times of high tensions.

    While some may interpret the deployment of the nuclear-side of the bomber fleet as an escalation, the deployment is part of a mission called Continuous Bomber Presence, wherein the US has maintained a bomber presence in the Pacific at all times to assure allies, enable readiness, and promote regional stability since 2004.

    But it's still rare to find all three in Guam at once. The three bombers first flew together in Guam in August 2016, and this deployment is the first time since that they've all been gathered together in the South Pacific.

    Sending all three strategic bombers to Guam sends the strongest message bomber deployments could possibly spell out.

    SEE ALSO: Top North Korea expert makes the case for the US bombing Kim Jong Un's personal toilet

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    H.R. McMaster

    • President Donald Trump's hawkish national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, reportedly took a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to discuss North Korea.
    • McMaster has reportedly been pushing Trump to strike North Korea, and allegedly dismissed the recent talks between North and South Korea as "diversions."
    • The US has backed off military drills that anger North Korea but stepped up pressure and military deployments in other ways.

    H.R. McMaster, the US Army general and academic who leads President Donald Trump's National Security Council, has reportedly attended secret meetings with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on North Korea.

    McMaster, a noted hawk who is reportedly pushing for Trump to give North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a "bloody nose" by conducting a limited strike on the country, took meetings Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco where he stressed a need for the three countries to present a unified front against Pyongyang, according to the news website Axios.

    In the meetings, Axios reports, McMaster dismissed North Korea's recent thawing of tensions and talks to Pyongyang as "diversions," noting that Kim still intended to develop nuclear weapons.

    Axios' report sheds light on one of the more inaccessible parts of Trump's presidency, in which top staffers guide his hand on North Korea issues.

    While many have looked to the recent talks between North and South Korea as a beacon of hope, it could be that McMaster is looking past them. Though the US and South Korea took a big step toward peace talks by delaying joint military drills until after the Paralympics conclude in mid-March, the US has stepped up pressure in other ways.

    US officials are now discussing interdicting ships they suspect of heading into North Korea, and the US has deployed all three varieties of strategic bombers to Guam as tensions soar between the two countries.

    SEE ALSO: The US reportedly wants a limited strike on North Korea to give Kim Jong Un a 'bloody nose'

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    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators

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    China's aircraft carrier Liaoning sails into Hong Kong, China July 7, 2017.      REUTERS/Greg Torode

    • China sailed it's aircraft carrier and other navy ships through the Taiwan Strait that separates self-ruled Taiwan from mainland China.
    • China has been increasingly hostile towards Taiwan, which it fears as an existential threat.
    • China has bumped up military drills and exercises around Taiwan.

    TAIPEI (Reuters) - A Chinese carrier group has sailed through the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the self-ruled island from its giant neighbor but no unusual activity was detected, Taiwan said on Wednesday, amid heightened tension with Beijing.

    Beijing has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward Taiwan since the election two years ago of President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

    China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, though she has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

    In recent months, China has stepped up military drills around Taiwan, alarming Taipei. China says the exercises are routine, but that it will not tolerate any attempt by the island to declare independence.

    Taiwan's Defence Ministry said a group of Chinese ships led by the Liaoning aircraft carrier entered the southwestern part of the Taiwan Strait in the early hours of Tuesday, though it stayed on the Chinese side of the waterway.

    As of midday on Wednesday the carrier group had left Taiwan's Air Defence Identification Zone heading in a northerly direction, the ministry said, adding it had monitored the group's movements throughout.

    "While the group was passing through the Taiwan Strait there were no abnormal activities, and people can rest easy," it added.

    China's Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Soviet-era Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, has passed through the Taiwan Strait before on its way to and from exercises in the South China Sea.

    While heavily traveled by commercial shipping and flights, the Taiwan Strait is also a sensitive military zone.

    This month, Taiwan complained about China launching a new air route for civilian flights that runs close to two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands off the Chinese coast in the strait, saying it threatened regional security and aviation safety.

    Liaoning china pla navy aircraft carrier

    China does not need Taiwan's permission to open new air routes, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, denying there was a safety risk.

    Taiwan said on Friday the new flight path was so close to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait that it would affect Taiwan air force exercises and other flight operations.

    "The planes can come very close to each other," an official added, referring to other connecting routes that China has opened and where Taiwan civilian flights already operate.

    "It becomes a very dangerous situation if we do not consult with each other."

    China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province, snapped official communication with its government after Tsai took office.

    SEE ALSO: Tillerson, reportedly the voice of restraint in the Trump administration, won't rule out a 'bloody nose' strike on North Korea

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    USS Fitzgerald

    • The commanding officers of two US Navy destroyers involved in deadly crashes last year face military criminal charges including negligent homicide.
    • The crashes killed 17 sailors combined.
    • The Navy investigated the crashes and found them both due to human error.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The commanding officers of two U.S. Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions last year in the Pacific Ocean face courts-martial and military criminal charges including negligent homicide, the U.S. Navy said in a statement on Tuesday.

    Filing charges against the officers marks the Navy's latest effort to address the problems that led to collisions involving its warships in Asia, in which 17 sailors were killed.

    The Navy has already dismissed several senior officers, including the commander of the Seventh Fleet, as a result of the collisions.

    Evidence supporting the charges against the commanders and several lower-ranking officers who served on the ships will be reviewed soon in investigative hearings, according to the Navy's statement.

    "The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses," the statement added.

    The commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer, which collided with a merchant ship near Singapore in August, faces charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the statement said.

    The commanding officer and three other officers on the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer, which collided with a Philippine container ship in June, face charges including dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the Navy said.

    Results from Navy investigations released in November found that both accidents were the result of human error by sailors aboard the ships, but determined that no single person could be blamed for the accidents.

    Beyond the courts-martial, the Navy is conducting additional administrative actions for members of both crews, including non-judicial punishment for four crewmembers of each vessel, according to the Navy statement on Tuesday.


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    raf typhoon trident juncture

    • Russia denied its planes entered UK airspace and scolded Britain for reporting that it scrambled jets to intercept them.
    • A spokesman for the Russian embassy in London said the statements were part of a "PR exercise."

    LONDON (Reuters) - Russia scolded Britain on Wednesday for casting it as an aggressor and said Prime Minister Theresa May was more interested in public rhetoric than dealing with the real threats facing the West.

    Britain scrambled two Royal Air Force Typhoon jets on Monday to intercept Russian planes near the United Kingdom's airspace, a defense ministry spokesman said, the latest incident where British forces had been deployed because of concern over a Russian military incursion.

    When asked for comment on the maneuvers, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in London said such statements from the British defense ministry were part of a public relations exercise aimed at undermining Russia's image.

    "We consider these and similar statements as a PR exercise, meant to demonstrate some assumed 'aggressiveness' from Russia, as well as panache of certain British politicians," the embassy said in a statement in English.

    "No incursion into UK airspace has ever taken place, and no Russian plane has been forced to land or even change its course," it said. "Russian planes carry out the routine flights in international airspace."

    Relations between Russia and Britain are strained. May last year accused Moscow of military aggression and in December, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there was abundant evidence of Russia meddling in foreign elections.

    The Kremlin, which under Vladimir Putin has clawed back some of the global influence lost when the Soviet Union collapsed, has denied meddling in elections in the West. It says anti-Russian hysteria is sweeping through the United States and Europe.

    "We will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity," May said in a speech at the Guildhall in London’s financial district on Nov. 13.

    The Russian embassy said May was speaking about vigilance without dealing with the real threats, which it didn't specify.

    "This imitation game, in the pattern of PM Theresa May’s speech ... is about showing off vigilance rather than dealing with real threats," the embassy spokesman said.

    Earlier this month, a British frigate escorted Russian ships near UK territorial waters following a similar deployment over the Christmas period and Britain regularly scrambles fighters to intercept Russian aircraft near its airspace.


    SEE ALSO: Rex Tillerson, reportedly the voice of restraint in the Trump administration, won't rule out a 'bloody nose' strike on North Korea

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    Putin Missile

    • A leaked draft of President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review seems to confirm that Russia has been building an underwater nuclear doomsday machine.
    • Reports of the torpedo sent a chill down the spines of experts, who say it could not only destroy a city but poison the area with radiation for years to come.
    • Russia may have intentionally let on that it was working on the doomsday device to sow fear in the US and deter attacks.

    President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review, leaked to HuffPost this month, seems to show the US believes Russia is building a dangerous new undersea nuclear weapon that critics say could cause widespread death and damage.

    "Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers," the leaked review says, adding that these systems include "a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, undersea autonomous torpedo."

    Printouts of plans for such a nuclear torpedo had been spotted in state TV footage of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and military chiefs in November 2015.

    What is Russia's doomsday machine?

    Russian status 6 nuclear torpedo dirty bomb

    The footage showed plans for a submarine that could travel 6,200 miles at 100 knots underwater and detonate a megaton-class thermonuclear weapon to create "wide areas of radioactive contamination," according to a BBC translation of the photographed document.

    The submarine was designed to "destroy important economic installations of the enemy in coastal areas and cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country's territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination, rendering them unusable for military, economic or other activity for a long time," the BBC reported.

    Since then, many have disputed the notion that Russia would build such a system. But the leaked draft of Trump's nuclear posture review indicates the US government at its highest levels believes the torpedo, known as the "oceanic multi-purpose Status-6 system," is real.

    Jeffrey Lewis, a leading academic on nuclear matters, quickly gave the Status-6 a catchier name: "Putin's doomsday machine."

    Not only could the weapon obliterate the area with potentially 100 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, but it could also leave behind long-lasting radioactive waste.

    Lewis has described the weapon as "bat-s---" crazy and "absurd." He previously told Business Insider that the idea was "deeply, deeply, deeply immoral" and that the US never considers weapons like this for its nuclear arsenal.

    For Russia, doomsday may be the point

    Russia Nuclear Jets Guam

    When the plans for the Status-6 leaked in 2015, the Brookings Institution characterized their appearance on camera as deliberate messaging rather than sloppy work.

    Nuclear weapons have been used exactly twice in combat — both times by the US, and both times dropped by a propeller aircraft over largely unprotected Japanese airspace at the close of World War II. No fancy intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, or long-range bombers or cruise missiles have ever delivered a nuclear weapon fired in anger.

    The real function of nuclear weapons today is political. Countries build them and bank on their deterrent effect, meaning they calculate that no one will attack a nuclear-armed nation.

    For Russia, the Status-6 doomsday machine wouldn't make much sense unless everybody knew about it.

    As Russia has become increasingly aggressive in its foreign policy while maintaining a weaker military than the US's and NATO's, it may have convinced itself it's time to show its doomsday weapons.

    SEE ALSO: Trump questions the US's nuclear arsenal — here's how the US's nukes compare with Russia's

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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