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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The former Director of National Intelligence broke with leading North Korea experts in saying the US should respond to provocative missile or nuclear tests with the use of force.
    • This idea fits with the "bloody nose" strategy the Trump administration is reportedly considering.
    • He detailed how the US military has used force to back down North Korea in the past, and suggested doing it again in the future.


    While the White House seems to mull over an attack on North Korea, former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair pointed out that the US military has backed down North Korea before, and if need be they should do it again.

    In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Blair debunked a few misconceptions popular among the public and policymakers.

    While Blair doesn't think that sanctions have been ineffective, that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons, or that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with an arsenal of nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) won't be deterred from attacking the US like the Soviet Union was, he also takes issue with the idea that military force doesn't work on Pyongyang.

    "Military preparedness, and the use of military force are vital components of American policy towards North Korea," wrote Blair. Citing the US and South Korea's joint war plan to reclaim the entire peninsula in the event of war, Blair wrote that North Korea would be wary of entering a war it knows it will lose. 

    "Damage will be heavy on all sides, but there is no question about the outcome," Blair wrote. 

    Blair pointed to a history of the US military asserting its dominance over North Korea as evidence that Kim doesn't want war, and instead wants to keep his provocations below the level that will prompt a strong US response.

    North Korea can and has been tamed with force

    north korea dmz tree cutting

    In 1976, US Army and United Nations  personnel went into the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to trim a tree that blocked the view of UN observers. North Korean soldiers showed up and killed two of the US Army officers with their own axes they had set aside while pruning the tree.

    Within hours, US, South Korean, and UN personnel returned with a massive convoy of military vehicles, attack helicopters, and soldiers trained in martial arts with axes. They came without warning and removed the tree entirely. The North Koreans could do little but watch in the face of a resolute, united front against them.

    "Every time the US-ROK response has been relevant and strong, supported by contingency plan preparations that make it clear that if North Korea escalates the Alliance is ready for major war, North Korea backs down. It will later in the future commit further and different provocations, but it will retreat in the near term," Blair wrote.

    Similarly, in 1994, when the US cooked up plans to bomb a North Korean nuclear reactor, Pyongyang soon submitted to talks, though they ultimately backed out.

    What is Pyongyang going to do about it?

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

    In light of that, the US and its allies "should respond promptly and disproportionately to North Korean provocations such as missile tests that land on or near American, South Korean or Japanese territory and nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean," Blair wrote, referring to North Korea's standing threat to detonate a nuclear missile over the Pacific Ocean or to fire missiles at US military bases in Guam.

    While most experts have dismissed the Trump administration's reported notion of a "bloody nose" attack on North Korea in response to some provocation as madness that will lead to nuclear war, Blair, who at one point commanded the US military's Pacific area of operation, disagrees. 

    If the US responded to some provocation with Pyongyang, Blair argued, "North Korea will understand that the actions are retaliation for what North Korea has done."

    Blair suggested the US and its allies "raise its readiness level so the North Koreans know that if they escalate the confrontation, they risk starting a war they know they will lose."

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea's 'kryptonite' — and it could topple Kim Jong Un without a shot

    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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    operation inherent resolve

    • US troops have started to draw down from Baghdad following ISIS' defeat within the country.
    • Iraqi sources say 60% of US forces will leave with about 4,000 staying behind to train Iraq's military.
    • Many US troops are now headed to Afghanistan instead.

    AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (AP) — American troops have started to draw down from Iraq following Baghdad's declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, according to Western contractors at a U.S.-led coalition base in Iraq.

    Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.

    Two Iraqi officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government have reached an agreement to draw down troops in Iraq for the first time since the war against IS was launched over three years ago.

    The Iraqi officials said the process has not officially begun.

    However, an AP reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the contractors' account of a drawdown. The contractors and the Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and declined to reveal the exact size of the drawdown.

    "Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq," coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP when asked for comment.

    One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all American troops currently in country will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with the United States. The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 U.S. troops to continue training the Iraqi military.

    A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 U.S. troops in Iraq as of late September.

    The U.S. first launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq in August 2014. At the time the military intervention was described as "limited," but as Iraq's military struggled to roll back the extremists, the U.S.-led coalition's footprint in the country steadily grew.

    "We've had a recent change of mission and soon we'll be supporting a different theater of operations in the coming month," U.S. Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond told the AP at Al-Asad.

    He spoke as he and a handful of soldiers from his unit conducted equipment inventory checks required before leaving Iraq. Raymond declined to specify where his unit was being redeployed, in line with regulations as the information has not yet been made public.

    The drawdown of U.S. forces comes just three months ahead of national elections in Iraq, where the indefinite presence of American troops continues to be a divisive issue.

    Al-Abadi, who is hoping to remain in office for another term, has long struggled to balance the often competing interests of Iraq's two key allies: Iran and the United States.

    While the U.S. has closely backed key Iraqi military victories over IS such as the retaking of the city of Mosul, Iraq's Shiite-led paramilitary forces with close ties to Iran have called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The prime minister has previously stated that Iraq's military will need American training for years to come.

    The Iraq drawdown also follows the release of the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy that cited China's rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia as the U.S. military's top national security priorities.

    "Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month in remarks outlining the strategy.

    Iraq declared victory over IS in December after more than three years of grueling combat against the extremists in a war Iraqi forces fought with close U.S. support. In 2014, at the height of the Sunni militant group's power, IS controlled nearly a third of Iraqi territory.

    While IS' self-styled caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria has crumbled and the militants no longer hold a contiguous stretch of territory, in Iraq, the group continues to pose a security risk, according to Iraqi and American officials.

    IS maintains a "cellular structure" of fighters who carry out attacks in Iraq aimed at disrupting local security, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Glynn told reporters during a Pentagon briefing last month.

    Glynn pledged continued support for Iraq's security forces, but acknowledged U.S.-led coalition "capabilities" in Iraq would likely shift now that conventional combat operations against the group have largely ceased.

    There were some 170,000 American troops in Iraq in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of the country to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. U.S. troop numbers eventually wound down to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief says the US military has backed down North Korea before, and can do it again

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: An exercise scientist explains what everyone gets wrong about stretching


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    syria russia su 25 jet crash

    • Syrian rebels shot down a Russian jet on Saturday and killed the pilot on the ground, according to Russia's Defense Ministry. 
    • Russia responded furiously with dozens of airstrikes that observers say hit hospitals and coincided with chlorine gas attacks.
    • Turkey also took heavy losses against the Kurds, who are backed by the US.
    • The US has said it would respond to future Syrian chemical weapons attacks with force.
    • It looks as if Russia may blame a Western source for the missile that took down its jet.


    Syrian rebels shot down a Russian jet on Saturday and then killed the pilot on the ground, Russia's Defense Ministry said, triggering a furious barrage of dozens of airstrikes that observers say hit hospitals and killed civilians.

    Adding to a chaotic weekend in the country, Turkish forces poured into Syria on Sunday to fight US-backed Kurdish militias there, suffering their heaviest day of losses so far with a tank being destroyed and troops coming under attack.

    Now in Idlib — a stronghold of rebel forces considered terrorists by Russia and Syria — reports of yet another episode of chlorine gas attacks have surfaced. Children are said to be among the victims.

    In neighboring Afrin, Turkey targeted Kurdish forces that the US had worked with to counter the Islamic State terrorist group.

    Caught in the crossfire are civilians, who are likely to pay the price of a furious Russia, which looks to have picked up its bombing runs to levels unseen since the fall of 2016.

    Babies on stretchers, hospitals on fire

    On Monday morning, social media is replete with horrific footage believed to be taken from the ground in Syria.

    The White Helmets, a volunteer organization whose members regularly pull civilians out of the rubble from bombings, posted pictures of babies in stretchers being taken from a burning hospital.

    Several videos show men being treated for attacks apparently from chemical weapons, which Syria and Russia have vigorously denied using.

    Russia vowed to find out who shot down its plane and where they got the weapon, which is said to be a man-portable air-defense, or Manpad, missile. Russian lawmakers went as far as saying they had information that "Western countries" had provided the system.

    Other Russian officials threatened to punish countries that may have provided the weapons to the Syrians who shot down their jet, an Su-25 attack plane.

    Throughout the first six years of Syria's bloody civil war, the US considered providing Manpads to Syrian rebels as a means of defending themselves against Syria's air force, which has been accused of bombing and gassing civilians.

    But as the war progressed and more and more hardline Islamist elements became entwined with the more moderate Syrian rebels, the US publicly declined to provide the rebels with such weapons, which can also be used to take out commercial aircraft. Over the weekend, the Pentagon denied providing Manpads to Syrian rebels.

    A new phase in the Syrian war?

    Russian Su-25 Syria

    But now Manpads are believed to have made their mark in Syria, possibly provided by powers that wish to erode Syria's or Russia's airpower or possibly plundered from Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces themselves.

    A soldier from the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that Turkey backs, was seen on video with a Russian-made Manpad in late January. In response to the highlighted threat from Manpads, Russia has ordered its jets to fly higher to avoid ground fire.

    On top of the brewing conflict over the fate of the Kurds in Afrin, the US has increasingly been discussing unverified reports of chemical-weapons attacks in Syria.

    US policy on the matter has dictated that if Syria uses chemical weapons on its own people, the US will retaliate with force, as it did in April. So far, the Trump administration hasn't shied away from implicating Russia in its prosecution of chemical-weapons violators in Syria. But any response now would come with Russia on edge and violence escalating between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

    SEE ALSO: The US just changed course in Syria — and could now look to confront Iran

    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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    syria russia su 25 jet crash

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has ordered its warplanes in Syria to fly higher to avoid being shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles after one of its jets was shot out of the sky at the weekend, the Izvestia daily reported on Monday.

    Syrian rebels downed the Russian SU-25 plane on Saturday in Idlib Province. The defense ministry said the pilot ejected, fought with rebels on the ground, then blew himself up with a grenade when they got close to him.

    Izvestia, citing the Russian Defence Ministry, said a decision had been taken that such planes would in future only fly above 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) to keep them safe.

    It said that such a policy had previously been in force, but that the SU-25s had for some reason started flying at lower altitudes in recent days.

    The Kremlin said that shoulder-launched missiles obtained by rebels now posed a threat to all planes operating in Syria, but that it was too early to say who had supplied the weapons system used to shoot down the Russian SU-25.

    "It's extremely worrying that shoulder-launched surface-to air missiles are in the hands of the terrorists," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

    "It's a huge danger for all governments."

    Peskov did not signal wider changes in Russia's policy in Syria where Moscow has been supporting President Bashar al-Assad's army for more than two years.

    He said that Russia had enough firepower left in Syria to deliver "crushing blows" to rebel forces as and when needed.

    'Hero of Russia'

    Russian Su-25 Syria

    The Russian Defence Ministry named the downed pilot as Major Roman Filipov and said he had been posthumously awarded with a Hero of Russia decoration.

    It said he had fought to his last breath after ejecting and parachuting to the ground where rebels had attacked him.

    "Major Roman Filipov fought an unequal battle with his service weapon until the last minute of his life," the ministry said in a statement.

    "When surrounded by the terrorists and heavily wounded, the Russian officer blew himself up with a grenade when the militants got within several dozen meters of him."

    Russian media have reported that Syrian and possibly Russian special forces are operating in the area where he was killed to try to retrieve his body, along with fragments of the projectile that struck his plane, to try to work out who supplied it to the rebels.

    "The pilot died heroically," said Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman. "We are proud of our heroes."

    SEE ALSO: All hell breaks loose in Syria after rebels shoot down Russian jet over the weekend

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what might happen if North Korea launched a nuclear weapon


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    FILE PHOTO - The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics mascot Soohorang stands at the Gangneung Olympic Village in Gangneung, South Korea January 25, 2018.  REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

    • South Korea lifted a ban on North Korean ships to allow a ferry to arrive on Tuesday carring a 140-strong orchestra.
    • Dozens of riot police kept back protestors, who held signs with Kim Jong Un's face crossed out.
    • The ferry was given to Kim Il Sung by ethnic Koreans living in Japan in 1992.

    SEOUL/MUKHO PORT (Reuters) - A North Korean ferry arrived in South Korea on Tuesday carrying a 140-strong orchestra to perform during the Winter Olympics this week, taking advantage of a rare sanctions exemption from Seoul 16 years after its previous visit.

    The 9,700-tonne ferry, the Mangyongbong 92, was escorted into the eastern South Korean port of Mukho, where throngs of protesters held large photos of the North's leader, Kim Jong Un, with black crosses drawn through them.

    The ministry said it had decided to temporarily lift a ban on North Korean ships to "support a successful hosting of the Olympics", which begin on Friday. It is also a fresh sign of a thaw in inter-Korean relations after months of tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

    Seoul banned all North Korean ships entering its ports and cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and aid, in 2010 in the wake of a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy warship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea denied involvement.

    Dozens of riot police with shields kept order as the ferry berthed. Protesters also waved South Korean and U.S. flags while singing the South Korean national anthem. No unified Korea flags could be spotted in the crowd.

    South and North Korea will march under a unified Korea flag at the opening of the Games while the two Koreas will also field a united women's ice hockey team.

    north korea olympics

    The art troupe from the North is led by star singer Hyun Song Wol and is scheduled to perform at Gangneung, near the Games venue of Pyeongchang, on Thursday and in Seoul on Sunday.

    It will use the vessel for transportation and lodging, the Unification Ministry said, while a ministry official said a small welcoming ceremony would be held to greet the visitors. The official asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

    The Mangyongbong 92 last crossed into South Korean waters when it carried a North Korean cheer squad for the 2002 Asian Games in the port city of Busan.

    Karaoke, ice cream 

    FILE PHOTO: North Korean ferry Mangyongbong No. 92, carrying 368 North Korean team supporters, is anchored at the Dadaepo port in Busan, South Korea, September 28, 2002.  REUTERS/Ahn Young-joon/Pool/File photo

    Named after a mountain peak, the Mangyongbong 92 was given by a group of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan in 1992 to Kim Il Sung, the North's national founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, to celebrate his 80th birthday, according to the Unification Ministry.

    It features dozens of cabins of different classes, including special rooms where Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather stayed, as well as a restaurant, a bar equipped with a karaoke machine, and a shop where guests can buy souvenirs and snacks, such as ice cream, video footage and images from the 2002 show.

    It can carry 350 passengers, Seoul officials said.

    The ethnic Koreans who donated the ferry had used it to travel between Japan and North Korea, sending money and other resources back to North.

    However, Japan barred the ship from its waters in 2006 in response to a long-range missile test by the North, resulting in a sharp fall in trade, remittances and other exchanges.

    The ferry had also been suspected by Japan and others of being used to smuggle parts for Pyongyang's illicit nuclear and missile programs.

    North Korea's state media has rejected the smuggling accusations as a plot to "justify the hostile policy" of the United States and its allies.

    "The conservative media and persons claimed that the use of 'Mangyongbong-92' ... during the Olympic period falls foul of the 'independent sanctions' by the U.S. and South Korea," the official KCNA news agency said last month, when the two Koreas were holding talks on the North's participation in the Games.

    "This represents the unpleasant and uneasy mind of the U.S. and the South Korean conservative forces displeased with the trend for the improvement of the north-south relations created after entering the new year," it said.

    SEE ALSO: Mike Pence plans to blast North Korea's 'charade' at the opening ceremony of the Olympics this week

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 5 common 'facts' about Earth that everyone gets wrong


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    FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a military uniform, gestures as he attends the 67th founding anniversary of the First Scout Ranger regiment in San Miguel town, Bulacan province, north of Manila, Philippines November 24, 2017.        REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

    • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned all foreign scientific research off the country's Pacific coast and told the navy to chase away unauthorized vessels.
    • He earlier allowed Chinese oceanographers to operate there, and he gave no explanation for the change.
    • The area of focus is Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

    MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned all foreign scientific research off the country's Pacific coast and told the navy to chase away unauthorized vessels, despite earlier allowing Chinese oceanographers to operate there.

    There was no clear explanation for the about-face by the mercurial Duterte, who has cultivated warm ties with China, ostensibly to attract loans and investments and lessen Manila's dependence on the United States.

    The area of focus is Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines' continental shelf. Manila last year renamed it "Philippine Rise".

    "Let me be very clear about this: the Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration," Duterte told a cabinet meeting on Monday, according to a Facebook post by his Agriculture Secretary, Emmanuel Pinol.

    The area is roughly the size of Greece and believed to be rich in biodiversity and tuna. Scientists from the United States and Japan have surveyed it numerous times.

    However, Chinese interest, including some 18 official requests in 17 years, has caused concern among Philippine nationalists mistrustful of its intentions after decades of disputes and perceived encroachments by Beijing in the South China Sea.

    Benham Rise is not in the South China Sea and Beijing has made no claim to it.

    According to Pinol, Duterte said the navy should deploy vessels to chase away any fishing or research vessels, and he wants the air force to patrol the area.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed Duterte's order, which he said was over a "national security issue".

    Roque gave no explanation as to why only a few weeks ago Duterte personally endorsed China's research at Benham Rise to be performed jointly with Filipino scientists.

    "Our sovereign right is unquestioned," Roque told a regular news briefing.

    "All licences are deemed cancelled. There are no foreign entities conducting scientific research," Roque said, adding that innocent passage would be allowed, in accordance with international law.

    In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said a Chinese scientific ship, with four Philippine scientists on board, had recently completed a scientific mission to the east of the Philippines, though not around Benham Rise.

    "China respects the Philippines' sovereign and jurisdiction rights over the relevant waters," Geng told a daily news briefing.

    Pinol said the agriculture department had sent two research vessels to monitor "foreign groups" and the military would deploy unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.

    He said the president's order stemmed from a statement from a "low-level diplomat of another country" who said the area does not belong to any country. He did not elaborate.

    SEE ALSO: Mike Pence plans to blast North Korea's 'charade' at the opening ceremony of the Olympics this week

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 5 common 'facts' about Earth that everyone gets wrong


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    minuteman iii 3 icbm nuclear missile us dod

    WASHINGTON (AP) — There's a place for arms control in the Trump administration's new nuclear strategy, but it's a very small place.

    A 74-page summary of the strategy says new advances in arms control are "difficult to envision." It notes that such agreements can foster cooperation and confidence among nuclear weapons states and reduce the risk of miscalculation that could lead to war, but it also accuses Russia of undermining those aims by violating numerous treaties.

    The new U.S. posture focuses heavily on what the administration sees as an overdue modernization of the nuclear arsenal.

    But its diminution of arms control as a central part of the nuclear strategy may be just as striking. That probably will arise at a House hearing Tuesday featuring Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

    SEE ALSO: US ballistic missile defense just doesn't work — but we keep spending billions and billions on it

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What happens to your body when you start exercising regularly


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    jim mattis

    • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis used to question the US's nuclear arsenal and had called for certain elements to be removed or reduced.
    • But since joining the Trump administration, Mattis has seemingly reversed his position, and he now supports building more.
    • Mattis' U-turn suggests he has gained information that nuclear weapons will become important as the Pentagon confronts China and Russia.


    The retired US Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis used to doubt the need for the US's massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, but he has changed his tune since joining President Donald Trump's administration as secretary of defense.

    When Trump's team this month rolled out the Nuclear Posture Review, a report laying out US nuclear policy, Mattis, who vocally opposed expanding or even keeping all of the nuclear arsenal in the past, gave it his blessing.

    In 2015, Mattis questioned whether the US still needed ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, as he found the risk of accidental launches a bit troubling. When the Senate was confirming him as Trump's secretary of defense, Mattis refused to offer his support for a program to update the US's air-launched nuclear cruise missile.

    But now Mattis has signed off on a new nuclear position that not only will modernize the ICBMs and cruise missiles but also calls for the creation of two new classes of nuclear weapons.

    "We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be," Mattis wrote in the review, perhaps an acknowledgment that as secretary of defense Mattis learned something about US national security that changed his mind.

    The nuclear review, rolled out this year along with new national defense and national security strategies, points to a US more focused on combating major powers like Russia and China. Before joining the president, Mattis openly questioned the purpose of US nukes: Do they exist only to deter attacks? Or do they have an offensive value?

    The nuclear posture now advocated by Mattis calls for an increase in an already massive arsenal and actually advocates building smaller nuclear weapons to make them more usable in "limited" nuclear conflicts.

    Times a-changin'

    china navy

    In the years since 2015, when Mattis spoke of reviewing the US's 400-some hair-triggered nuclear ICBMs, the world was a different place but starting to change. China was building islands in the South China Sea, and Russia had only just swept into Crimea.

    Now the US has resolved to match Chinese and Russian military strength and change up the rules of engagement. The nuclear review advocates using nuclear force against nonnuclear attacks, like massive cyber campaigns targeting US infrastructure.

    Additionally, the review indicates that the US believes Russia is building an underwater nuclear torpedo as a kind of doomsday device.

    Mattis has always offered thoughtful answers and pledged to operate on the best information he had on the topic of nuclear weapons, but he has clearly done an about-face since joining the Trump administration.

    The abrupt change in Mattis' nuclear posture prompts the question: What new information did he receive upon joining the Trump team?

    SEE ALSO: US ballistic missile defense just doesn't work — but we keep spending billions and billions on it

    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

    • North Korea made unusually bizarre attacks on President Donald Trump after Trump started criticizing Pyongyang for its abysmal human rights record.
    • North Korea mocked Trump as a "dolt" and saying he "cannot deodorize the nasty smell from his dirty body woven with frauds, sexual abuses and all other crimes."
    • North Korea's hysterical response makes it seem like Trump is striking a nerve with his embrace of North Korea's people and defectors.


    North Korea offered a typically bellicose but unusually bizarre response to President Donald Trump's increased scrutiny of Pyongyang's abysmal human rights record, attacking Trump's personal cleanliness in the process.

    The tirade from Pyongyang follows Trump hosting North Korean defectors in the Oval Office, and his inclusion of a double amputee and North Korean defector in his State of the Union address, where he also pointed to the "depraved" nature of the Kim regime. 

    North Korean media called the visit by defectors an "intolerable politically motivated provocation and tyrannical blackmail," the Japan Times notes.

    The article bashing Trump, which appeared in North Korea's most widely circulated paper, connected Trump's recently increased interest in human rights in North Korea to rumblings out of the White House that he's planning military action.

    "There is a foolish attempt to make pretense for provocation and pave the road for invasion ahead of conducting the military adventure 'bloody nose strategy,'" the paper wrote. 

    According to the paper, "dolt-like Trump should know that his backbone would be broken, to say nothing of a 'bloody nose,' and the empire of America would go to hell and the short history of the US would end forever, the moment he destroys even a single blade of grass on this land."

    The paper then said the US should "urgently detain Trump" to put him in a mental hospital, before attacking Trump for his hygiene, which they apparently perceive to be bad.

    "No matter how desperately Trump may try to defame the dignified and just system in the DPRK with the worst invectives, he cannot deodorize the nasty smell from his dirty body woven with frauds, sexual abuses and all other crimes nor keep the U.S. from rushing to the final destruction."

    North Korea is really, really touchy about its human rights record

    Kim Jong Un

    North Korea has a history of responding harshly, even hysterically, to mentions of their human rights abuses. No form of political dissent or free speech that does not agree with Kim Jong Un's narrative is tolerated in the country.

    Tens of thousands of North Koreans languish in prison camps, some of whom have been sentenced to terms longer than a single life time, meaning their children will be born into prison.

    When Trump spoke to the North Korean defectors on Friday, he touched on the seemingly accelerating pace of defectors from the country. He listened to the defectors' tales and congratulated them on taking the ultimate risk to secure their freedom.

    Judging by the North Korean response, Trump may have struck a nerve.

    SEE ALSO: Why Trump meeting with North Korean defectors is a big threat to Kim Jong Un

    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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    Sea Vixen

    While the British boast a perfect record in world wars — including a gritty victory over Germany's seemingly unstoppable Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain — it is a country that has made some truly bad aircraft.

    The Spitfire fighter and the Lancaster bomber ruled the skies throughout World War II. The Harrier Jump Jet served at sea honorably for decades. But the aircraft you don't hear about are usually pretty awful.

    "If you want something done slowly, expensively, and possibly very well, you go to the British," begins the first-ever YouTube video from Hushkit, an aviation blog from Joe Coles.

    From a nuclear-capable, fatality-prone navy plane to impossibly hard to fly transport planes, relive the forgotten history of the 10 worst British planes ever built in the video below:

    SEE ALSO: Former F-35 pilot explains how the US Marine Corps' version makes China's 'carrier killer' missiles irrelevant

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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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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks with a Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force officer as he inspects PAC-3 missile interceptors with Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan February 7, 2018.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai

    TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that Washington would soon unveil its toughest ever economic sanctions on North Korea as part of a push to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

    Pence, speaking to reporters after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said that the United States would soon unveil the "toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever."

    Calling North Korea the "most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet," Pence said the United States and its allies including Japan would keep maximum pressure on Pyongyang until it took steps toward "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea to send Kim Jong Un's sister to the Winter Olympics in South Korea

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    NOW WATCH: An exercise scientist explains why you shouldn't do sit-ups or crunches


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    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

    • Syria says Israeli warplanes struck a military position near Damascus on Wednesday, but their air defenses stopped most of the missiles.
    • Syria says the Israeli warplanes launched missiles while inside Lebanon.
    • Israel doesn't respond to reports of their military campaign in Syria, but have made it clear they will do what it takes to stop Iran and Hezbollah.

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian military position in a rural area near Damascus on Wednesday, triggering Syria's air defense system which destroyed most of the missiles, a Syrian army statement carried by state television said.

    The statement said several missiles were launched by the Israeli jets from inside the territory of neighboring Lebanon at 03:42 am local time.

    "The general command of the armed forces holds Israel fully responsible for the dangerous consequences of its repeated, aggressive and uncalculated adventures," the army statement said.

    In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: "We do not respond to such reports."

    The Syrian army said it had destroyed most of the Israeli missiles fired at its position, but did not give details of any damage or casualties.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the missiles targeted "positions of the Syrian army and its allies" in the region of Jamraya, west of Damascus, which was also hit in December.

    The Israeli air force has said it has struck arms convoys of the Syrian military and Lebanon's Hezbollah nearly 100 times since the war in Syria began more than six years ago.

    Israel regards the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the biggest threat it faces on its borders.

    It has grown deeply alarmed by Iran's expanding clout during the conflict, and has warned it would act against any threat from Tehran.

    SEE ALSO: Mattis has flipped on nuclear weapons since the Pentagon decided to take on China and Russia

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    Trump football

    • President Donald Trump has ordered the US military to put on a grand parade, a request Democrats and commentators have used to liken him to a dictator.
    • The US has previously put on many military parades, however, often displaying its nuclear weapons at the height of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union.
    • Trump's military and foreign policies involve a return to the Cold War era of great-power competition.
    • The US military is posturing itself toward confrontation with a rising Russia and China.


    President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to prepare a grand military parade in Washington, DC, and the initial response has been largely negative.

    Democratic lawmakers quickly came out against it Tuesday night, with Rep. Jackie Speier of California telling CNN"we have a Napoleon in the making here" and saying "everyone should be offended" by the idea.

    "Oh my god... he wants to be Kim Jong Un," the MSNBC personality Joy Reid remarked on Twitter in response to the news.

    The Pentagon is said to be exploring dates for such a parade. But if it does happen, Trump wouldn't be the first US president, or even the first modern one, to hold a military parade in Washington, DC.

    There's a long history of military parades in the US, but its recent history is anchored in the Cold War, when the US showed off nuclear missiles long before North Korea's Kim dynasty even had the capability.

    Recent history of US military parades — and their nukes

    In 1953 and 1957, Dwight Eisenhower's inaugurations included nuclear-capable missiles rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.

    In 1961, John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade included four types of nuclear missiles, the nuclear historian Stephen Schwartz pointed out on Twitter.

    Both Kennedy and Eisenhower presided over some of the most tense days of the Cold War-era nuclear-arms race with the Soviet Union.

    In Kennedy's case, a frightened US had just watched the Soviets' Sputnik satellite, mankind's first, passing through the skies. American schoolchildren were drilled on how to hide under desks in the event of a nuclear attack. After all, if the Soviets could put a satellite in space and fly it around the world, they could also put up the bomb.

    On the other end of the Cold War, when the US emerged victorious from the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush brought back the military for another parade.

    The US victory had been decisive, with Saddam Hussein's army, the world's third-largest at the time, decimated by superior US military power. Though 20,000 to 30,000 US casualties were forecast in the conflict, where chemical weapons had killed scores of civilians, fewer than 300 US troops died.

    The US brought its troops home for a parade in June 1991, when Bush's approval rating was soaring.

    Later that year, the Kremlin lowered the Communist hammer-and-sickle flag for the last time. The Soviet Union imploded, and the cold war ended.

    The Cold War is back on, parades and all

    us army gulf war tank

    Since the end of the Cold War, the US has withdrawn troops from Europe and taken measures to reduce its military footprint and nuclear stockpiles. The Obama administration increasingly treated Russia like a partner and less like a competitor.

    But late in Obama's presidency, the tide started to turn. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 to a muted US and NATO response.

    Russia intervened in Syria's civil war the next year and immediately started bombing US-backed forces. Additionally, Russia stands accused of violating arms-control agreements with the US and placing nuclear weapons in Europe, much as it did in the Cold War.

    China, over the same period, embarked on a massive, ambitious campaign to rebuild its military and dominate the South China Sea, a shipping lane where annual commerce worth trillions of dollars passes through, and where China has ignored international law in building artificial islands in contested territory.

    The return to Cold War footing for Eastern powers isn't Trump's doing and didn't happen on his watch, but the US's embrace of a new Cold War definitely is.

    Trump takes aim at China and Russia, looking to fight fire with fire

    russia victory day parade

    The Trump administration recently released a series of documents outlining the US's foreign policy and military bearings. In the National Defense Strategy, the National Security Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump administration has consistently named its biggest challenges as taming the rises of Russia and China.

    Trump's new nuclear posture looks past arms control and toward an arms race.

    Russia regularly holds military parades. So does North Korea. So do many US allies, including many democracies.

    Trump's military parade may be costly, and it may tax an already stretched military, but in context it marks a return to Cold War-era great-power competition.

    SEE ALSO: Trump will meet North Korean defectors in the Oval Office — here's why that's a big threat to Kim Jong Un

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    donald trump inauguration

    • President Donald Trump has instructed the US military to prepare and produce a grand military parade in Washington DC, the first of its kind in decades.
    • Russia, China, and North Korea also hold military parades, and their equipment is easier to move around than much of the US's.
    • But the US has a major advantage that none of its rivals do — US military personnel are volunteers, and its citizens are free to attend and speak about the event as they choose.


    President Donald Trump has instructed the US military to prepare and produce a grand military parade in Washington DC, the first of its kind in decades.

    Since the close of the Cold War, military parades have been associated with authoritarian powers like China, Russia, and North Korea, who show off their newly bulit military platforms to the chagrin of military analysts around the world.

    While the US has the best military in the world, there are some things Russia, China, or North Korea can do in a parade that the US simply can't.

    For example, Pennsylvania Avenue probably can't handle a long convoy of heavy military vehicles. Today's M1 Abrams tanks weigh a whopping 67 tons. World War II era military parades featured tanks that weighed about half that.

    The weight and treads of an Abrams tank might just tear up the road. When China and Russia put on military parades, they roll through state-of-the-art military vehicles, while the US's main battle tank was first built in 1979. In many ways Russia and China's parades would likely out class the US's in terms of how new their equipment is.

    Will Trump show nukes?

    A Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile system drives during the Victory Day parade, marking the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

    Additionally, Russia, China, and North Korea like to parade their ICBMs around, but the US can't really do that. Unlike the authoritarian nuclear powers across Asia, the US parks its ICBMs in silos, not atop huge military trucks.

    When the US does move its ICBMs around, it does so in plain looking trucks. The US has paraded nuclear weapons down Pennsylvania Avenue before, but today's nuclear weapons are far more descrete looking.

    But there is a nuclear platform that would make sense for a parade and avoid tearing up the road — nuclear bombers. The US could fly B-2 and B-52 bombers overhead, as well as stealth jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. 

    In terms of air power, the US has much more to show off than Russia, China, or North Korea, which can't even fly its planes due to a lack of fuel.

    The US has something Russia, China, and North Korea can't touch

    Tears of joy west point us army pride patriotism

    While the US military doesn't exactly lend itself to parading, it has something worth showing off that China, Russia, and North Korea can't touch — soldiers who actually want to be there.

    The pride of the US military is not any one single platform, or any combination thereof. All major militaries have planes, tanks, and missiles, but the US has an all-volunteer force, while Russia, China, and North Korea rely on conscripts.

    Even more important than troops marching though, are the people watching. In the US, anyone of any status can think and say or write what they like about the soldiers. They can attend, or not. The revelers on the sidelines of the parade w0uld be proud US citizens attending of their own free will.

    That's simply not the case in North Korea, Russia, and China.

    SEE ALSO: Trump is bringing back the Cold War with nukes, an arms race, and a military parade

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    North Korea parade february

    • North Korea defied the world by holding a massive parade and show of force with ballistic missiles Thursday despite being under heavy sanctions.
    • Kim Jong Un, one of whose sisters is scheduled to visit South Korea for the Olympics, gave a speech warning against invasion.
    • North Korea showed off several types of missiles, two of which are believed to be capable of hitting the US.


    North Korea on Thursday, the eve of South Korea's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, rolled out a long convoy of missile trucks and paraded them through the North's capital of Pyongyang.

    Kim Jong Un gave a speech in which he appears to have made boilerplate remarks commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army and warning off its enemies.

    "At a time like this when the US and its followers are making such a fuss around the Korean Peninsula, our military should remain on high alert and step up preparations for fight, so that invaders cannot violate ... the dignity ... of our sacred nation even by 0.001" millimeter, Kim said, according to AFP's Seoul correspondent, Hawon Jung

    One of Kim's sisters is expected to attend the Olympics in Pyeongchang, where she will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but that was not discussed.

    Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the games, but North Korea has said it has no intention of meeting with him. The focus of this parade was clearly on North Korea's fighting strength and not efforts for peace.

    As soon as images of missiles appeared in Pyongyang, analysts got to work. Three types of missile piqued their interest: six mid-range Hwasong-12 missiles; three Hwasong-14s, North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missile; and four Hwasong-15s, the most recently tested missile, which experts say can strike anywhere in the US.

    The parade paled in comparison with one in April of last year, when North Korea displayed more missiles and a wider variation, but it featured an increased emphasis on long-range missiles that could hit the US and its territories. 

    North Korea has previously threatened to fire Hwasong-12 missiles toward the US military base on the Pacific island of Guam and to test a nuclear bomb over the Pacific with a long-range missile.

    Either test could swiftly lead to US retaliation and a larger war. 

    Nonetheless, amid heavy sanctions, North Korea's successful military parade perhaps quelled rumors that Pyongyang's spirit had been crushed by President Donald Trump's maximum-pressure campaign.

    Though fuel prices in North Korea have doubled over the past year, which may have been responsible for a reduction in military exercises in January, Kim's government found the resources to put the show on.

    See the highlights of the parade below:

    kim jong un february parade north korea

    north korea parade apc february

    north korea parade artillery february

    north korea parade hwasong 12 february

    north korea parade hwasong 14 february

    north korea parade hwasong 15

    So far, one missile truck above all has puzzled analysts:

     

    SEE ALSO: How a US military parade would compare to North Korea's, Russia's, or China's

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    US Marines Syria

    • The US led an attack that killed more than 100 pro-Assad regime soldiers in Syria on Thursday.
    • The attack was a response to a pro-Assad airstrike on the headquarters of a long-time US ally in Syria.
    • The US has been edging closer and closer to fighting the Syrian government and Russia since the fall of ISIS.


    A US attack on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad killed more than 100 in the country's north on Thursday, and the regime came roaring back with airstrikes of its own on rebel forces near Damascus.

    The airstrikes from Assad killed 21 and injured 125, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday.

    Assad's strikes followed what the US called an "unprovoked attack" by his forces on the headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of anti-Assad fighters the US has trained and supported for years.

    The US responded with artillery, tanks, and rocket fire.

    In the exchange, no US forces were reported hurt or killed, but 500 of Assad's were said to be engaged, many wounded, and 100 dead.

    Syria map 2018

    "We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh in September 2017," a US military official told Reuters.

    The pro-Assad forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for [ISIS] from 2014 to 2017."

    But Syrian state media characterized the event differently, saying the US had bombed "popular local forces fighting" ISIS, and that it was a US "attempt to support terrorism." The Assad regime and its Russian backers have an established history of calling anyone who doesn't support the regime a terrorist.

    Though some of the anti-Assad resistance has become entwined with Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, the US vets the groups it works with, and maintains that the SDF are moderate rebels who were instrumental in the defeat of ISIS.

    Syria wants the US out, but it won't go without a fight

    Su-25 crash Syria

    Syria's air offensive on rebel-held areas near Damascus has been going on for days, with local reports claiming that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians.

    Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Tuesday.

    Syria has seen a dramatic uptick in air raids by Russian and Syrian jets after a Russian jet was downed by Syrian rebels using a portable anti-air missile system.

    Though Russia announced its forces would withdraw from Syria in December, the recent rash of renewed strikes show they have stayed put, and are likely responding to an increased need to support the Assad regime.

    In January, Syria vowed that it would eject US troops from the country, but since then the US announced plans to stay there long enough to counter Iran's growing influence.

    Meanwhile, the US began a more vocal campaign of accusing Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons in the conflict.

    The US has repeatedly flirted with the idea of carrying out another punitive strike against the Assad regime as reports of gas attacks grow more numerous. 

    SEE ALSO: Mattis has flipped on nuclear weapons since the Pentagon decided to take on China and Russia

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    north korea parade hwasong 15

    • North Korea's military parade showed off seven ICBMs that can carry nuclear weapons to the continental US.
    • North Korea has made brisk progress in producing missiles that pose a threat to the US, though the missiles it used may have been props.
    • But props or not, North Korea has broadcast loud and clear that it now has many missiles that can strike the US.


    North Korea's military parade on Thursday rolled out seven intercontinental ballistic missiles that experts assess can strike the US — and it's more than the country has ever shown before.

    Before the crowd in Pyongyang, where below freezing temperatures reddened the spectators' faces, North Korea put on its usual display of military might with rows of troops and tanks, but also showed off two new inventions: the Hwasong-14 and the Hwasong-15.

    The missiles were both tested in 2017 and have demonstrated they have the range to strike the US mainland. North Korea has used both missiles to threaten US citizens.

    north korea parade hwasong 14 february

    The Hwasong-14, a smaller missile, was first tested on July 4, 2017 to the surprise of North Korea experts, some of whom thought that an ICBM capability would continue to elude North Korea for years. North Korea tested it again on July 28, when it flew over 2,300 miles above the Earth before crashing down 620 miles away in the Sea of Japan.

    hwasong north korea test trajectories

    Experts assessed that even though the missile fit the definition of an ICBM by flying more than 5,500 kilometers, it still probably couldn't haul a heavy nuclear warhead to important US cities like Washington DC or New York City.

    But at the end of November 2017, North Korea again shocked critics by testing an entirely new, as of yet unseen design — the Hwasong 15.

    The massive missile flew almost 2,800 miles above earth before crashing into the Sea of Japan. This time, experts were nearly unanimous. The larger warhead, with its larger nosecone, resembled the US's Trident missile, the most powerful warhead the US ever deployed.

    The consensus among analysts is that North Korea's Hwasong-15 ICBM can strike anywhere within the US with a heavy nuclear warhead, or multiple nuclear warheads.

    But though the missile has the reach, it may not have the durability. North Korea has never tested an ICBM at full range, and therefore has not demonstrated its ability to build a warhead that can survive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, let alone its ability to guide such a missile.

    On Wednesday, a US envoy to North Korea said the country could likely master the technology needed to deliver a nuclear blast on Washington DC in only months.

    North Korea, a paranoid country bent on regime survival as it defies international law, most likely would not display all its missiles at once, for fear that the US would bomb the parade. Additionally, the missiles shown in the parade may not be operational, or have been faked by propaganda purposes.

    Exactly how many missiles it has in its arsenal is unknown, but North Korea has now told the world it has multiple missiles it can strike the US with.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea paraded ICBMs in a show of force on the eve of South Korea's Olympics

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    North Korea parade february

    • At a military parade on Thursday, North Korea showed off a mystery missile that nobody had seen before.
    • Some experts think it looks like a newer Russian missile, which could suggest Moscow is giving covert aid to Pyongyang. Another expert said it looked like a South Korean design.
    • The missile poses a big problem for US forces in South Korea and could have devastating effects if used.


    North Korea's military parade on Thursday featured much of what we've come to expect from Pyongyang: grandiose speeches, choreographed crowds, and a procession of missiles.

    But it also featured a mystery missile never before seen.

    While many analysts have focused on the big intercontinental ballistic missiles like the Hwasong-14 and the Hwasong-15 — and the threat they pose to the US mainland — a smaller missile slipped by relatively unnoticed.

    Here are a few shots of the new system:

    north korea parade mystery missile

    north korea parade mystery missile

    The author of the Oryx military blog pointed out the system's resemblance to a Russian system, the Iskander.

    Take a look at the Iskander:

    russia Iskander M missile

    Justin Bronk, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that North Korea's mystery missiles looked "enormously like Iskander missiles" and were not ones that North Korea had "been seen with before."

    Bronk pointed out that Russia has a history of helping North Korea with its missile program. Talented engineers left unemployed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and often found good-paying work in North Korea, Bronk said.

    But the Iskander isn't a Cold War design. If Russia collaborated with North Korea as recently as the Iskander, it would have huge geopolitical implications and strain the US's already fraught relationship with Russia.

    The new missile, however, is not confirmed to be a Russian design.

    Mike Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it was "inconsistent with the Iskander" and was just as likely a clone of South Korea's Hyunmoo-2 missile system. (North Korea has in the past been found to obtain South Korean defense information through hacking.)

    Regardless of its origin, the little missile may be a big problem for the US

    US Soldier F 16

    Regardless of where the information for the mystery missile came from, it poses a major threat to US forces in South Korea and the region.

    Bronk said North Korea's existing fleet of ballistic missiles didn't have the accuracy of more-modern systems like the Iskander. If North Korea were to deploy the newer, more accurate ballistic missiles, that could lay the groundwork for an opening salvo of an attack on South Korea that could blindside and cripple the US.

    US missile defenses could become overwhelmed with a large number of precise short-range missiles, which the mystery missile appears to be. US military bases, airfields, and depots could fall victim to the missile fire within the first few minutes of a conflict.

    Whatever the mystery missile's origin, its appearance is likely to have geopolitical and tactical implications for the US's push to denuclearize Pyongyang.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea paraded ICBMs in a show of force on the eve of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea

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    Assad

    • The US has a plan to kick Syria's Assad out of power by treating the country like North Korea.
    • Syria probably needs $200-300 billion in reconstruction after a civil war and protracted fight against ISIS, but the US says Assad won't see a dime until he holds elections.
    • Assad has been linked to war crimes, gross human rights violations, and chemical weapons use, and the US wants to see him brought to justice at the Hague, rather than killed.


    After seven long years of bloody civil war, the US just laid out a strategy to have Syrian President Bashar Assad removed from power by essentially treating the country like North Korea.

    Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, David Statterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, described how the US would remove Assad from power without using its military might.

    "Syria needs reconstruction funds of between $200-300 billion plus. The international has community has committed itself not to provide those funds" until Syria holds UN-observed, fair elections and reforms its constitution, Statterfield said.

    "We cannot conceive of circumstance in which a genuinely fair electoral process overseen by the UN with participation of the Syrian displaced community could lead to a result in which Assad remained at the helm," he said.

    The US has about 2,000 boots on the ground in Syria, air bases in nearby countries, and has cycled through a few aircraft carriers to destroy ISIS and push them out of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has now lost almost all of its territory, and large swaths of Syria are held by US-backed forces that don't support Assad. Assad himself lacks control of the eastern part of his country, where most of the oil lies.

    Assad, an accused war criminal who the US has punished with cruise missile strikes in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians, is no friend to the US, and the US won't simply give his country back.

    Syria needs cash and the US ain't buying

    aleppo syria

    With US forces holding the purse strings and oil fields in Syria, the US intends to make Syria an international pariah state much like North Korea.

    "The US has provided nearly 7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance" to Syria since the beginning of the war, Statterfield said. 

    But "unlike in Iraq, we do not have a trusted government partner to work with" in Syria, he said. "We are not working with, and we will not work with the Assad regime."

    Much of Syria has been reduced to rubble, as Russia and Syria have bombed the country's western coastline to kill rebels and the US has combed through the eastern stretches to knock out ISIS. Air forces often target roads, bridges, and important infrastructure to hobble the flow of enemy fighters on the ground.

    While Russia has the planes and bombs to continue airstrikes, Statterfield said the US is willing to bet it doesn't have the cash to rebuild it by itself.

    Furthermore, Russia committed to a political solution to the Syrian civil war in November. Statterfield characterized Russia as trying to steer the solution towards leaving Assad in power. With a concerted effort led by the US at the UN, he said, the international community can deny Syria's government the funding it would need to remain.

    Assad becomes Kim Jong Un, cut off and clinging to power

    putin and assad

    Under the US plan, Syria won't see a dime of reconstruction money until they put together a fair election. Assad, who has never faced a real opponent in a fair election, and who has spent the last five or so years reportedly gassing his own people with airstrikes, is unlikely to win such an election, according to Statterfield.

    Statterfield was realistic and admitted the process would be extremely difficult, noting "Assad will cling to power at almost any cost."

    The other prong of US strategy in Syria, limiting Iran's influence, will be dealt with separately, according to Statterfield.

    But the US has now outlined a credible strategy to undermine Russia and Iran's wish to keep Assad, who experts say drives radicalization and terrorism with his brutal military campaign against rebels, in power.

    SEE ALSO: The US just changed course in Syria — and could now look to confront Iran

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    Pence Pyeongchang Kim Yo Jong

    • US Vice President Mike Pence signaled a major shift in US policy on North Korea after leaving the Winter Olympics, saying the Trump administration was willing to talk to Kim Jong Un's government without preconditions.
    • North Korea earlier extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to be the first head of state to meet Kim Jong Un.
    • North Korea put on a charm offensive at the Olympics, but some analysts say it has a weak position and may only be trying to buy time or put off an eventual war.


    US Vice President Mike Pence signaled a major shift in US policy on North Korea while returning home from the Pyeongchang Olympics, where he had an icy standoff with Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong.

    Speaking with The Washington Post's Josh Rogin aboard Air Force Two on his flight home, Pence said the US was willing to participate in direct talks with North Korea's leadership without preconditions — something experts have long urged the administration to do.

    The Trump administration’s "maximum pressure" strategy, whereby the US and its allies seek to exert economic, diplomatic, and military pressure on North Korea, had previously called for North Korea to begin denuclearizing before any official talks between the countries could occur.

    On Sunday, Pence added an element, calling the new strategy "maximum pressure and engagement at the same time."

    "The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization," Pence told The Post. "So the maximum-pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk."

    North Korea's Olympic charm offensive

    North Korea cheer squad 5

    The major change in US policy comes amid a perceived North Korean charm offensive at South Korea's Olympics. But beyond dispatching his younger sister, who heads up the country's propaganda department, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered a material concession to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

    The North Korean delegation to the Olympics proposed the first meeting between North Korea's shadowy leader and another head of state, to take place with Moon "at an early date."

    In making the request, North Korea did not demand South Korea stop military exercises with the US, and it did not demand the withdrawal of US forces from the Korean Peninsula, but it also did not agree to stop its nuclear program.

    Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, told NK News that Kim's concession sought to help Pyongyang in "escaping from a serious international isolation."

    The Trump administration's pressure campaign increasingly appears effective as fuel prices soar and businesses fold on both sides of North Korea’s border with China.

    "Kim Jong Un moved away from the original negative stance on the inter-Korean summit and change his stance of holding the summit without conditions," Cheong said.

    Pence said that the adjusted US strategy involved following up inter-Korean talks with US-North Korea talks and that Moon pushed the North Koreans to talk to the US at the Olympics, according to The Post’s Rogin.

    Despite North Korea's concessions, the outlook is bleak

    North Korea

    Even though the sanctions on North Korea by the US and international community look to be bearing fruit, few experts project a good outcome.

    "The fundamentals have not changed," Andrei Lankov, a director of the Korea Risk Group, told NK News. Lankov said talks "can help to win time" and "can postpone the revival of highly dangerous tensions, for a few weeks or a few months."

    But as Moon sat next to Kim’s sister and watched the Olympic skaters, protesters outside burned North Korean flags. North Korea's olive branch comes amid news that the US is considering a military strike on Kim's forces and amid increased scrutiny by President Donald Trump of the country’s human-rights record. Because of North Korea's perceived weakness, one could doubt the sincerity of the talks, but the US's recent record isn't so great either.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said months ago that the US would talk to North Korea only to have the White House contradict him later. Though Pence told The Post he and Trump had talked every day during his trip and were on the same page, a tweet from the president could reverse everything.

    Whether North Korea's leadership sincerely wants to thaw relations with the South or whether it merely wants to buy time and delay any further escalation from the US remains to be seen.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea's 'Princess' Kim Yo Jong threw Pence side-eye, cheered on a joint Korean hockey team, and pushed propaganda in her whirlwind trip to the Olympics

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    NOW WATCH: Here's what might happen if North Korea launched a nuclear weapon


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