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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider
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    Trump Merkel

    • President Donald Trump on Wednesday followed up on a week of bashing NATO allies on Twitter with an in-person tirade against Germany.
    • He said Russia basically controlled Germany because of German energy dependence on Moscow.
    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed a massive pipeline that would allow increased consumption of Russian energy.
    • Russia's main source of revenue is energy exports, and Europe is its main client.
    • By funding Russia, Europe allows the kind of aggression from the Kremlin that NATO was designed to stop.
    • Germany's military has serious readiness problems, and Merkel has not prioritized fixing them.

    President Donald Trump followed up on a week of bashing NATO allies on Twitter with an in-person tirade against Germany's planned energy cooperation with Russia.

    In a heated meeting in Brussels with the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Trump claimed that Moscow basically controlled Berlin because of Germany's dependence on it for energy.

    "It's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we're supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year from Russia," Trump told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a working breakfast to open the summit.

    "Germany is totally controlled by Russia," Trump said. "Because they're getting between 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline."

    Trump was presumably referring to Nord Stream 2, a pipeline project backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that will allow for more consumption of Russian energy.

    "You tell me if that's appropriate," Trump said, "because I think it's not, and I think it's very bad thing for NATO."

    A Reuters review of Germany's official data shows that 35.3% of its imports of oil and gas comes from Russia.

    While Trump has routinely misrepresented the nature of NATO's funding and how the alliance works to share the burden of mutual defense, he's correct that energy dependence on Russia from Germany, and all of Europe, gives Moscow influence.

    "Russia is so dependent on Europeans buying their energy that if Europe did even a partial embargo and cut its energy purchases from Russia in half, it would have a crippling impact on the Russian economy and make it impossible for Putin to pay for his foreign aggression," Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert at the Atlantic Council, previously told Business Insider, mentioning Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Russia's main source of income is energy exports. With oil prices plummeting over the past few years, Russia's economy has suffered greatly. But it has actually increased exports to Europe over the past few years, helping it carry out the type of foreign military interventions that NATO was designed to stop.

    Europe, which is Russia's main client, bought almost 30% of its oil from Russia in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea. In January, Russian gas exports to Europe hit an all-time high, with Russia controlling about 40% of Europe's supply.

    Experts have consistently warned that Russia uses Europe's energy dependence to influence its policies.

    The Trump administration has tried to compete with Russia in the energy sector in Europe, but the US relies on shipping tankers of natural gas and oil, a process likely to be undercut by a pipeline like the Nord Stream 2.

    Germany has a big target on its back

    German air force Eurofighter Typhoon

    Trump's attack comes at a time when Germany, Europe's biggest economy, spends relatively little on defense and has a woefully unprepared and inoperable military.

    In May, the German news outlet Der Spiegel reported that only four of Germany's 128 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets were ready to fly combat missions. Germany's defense minister has called the country's defense spending "inadequate" as Merkel prioritizes social works instead.

    About 35,000 active-duty US troops were stationed in Germany last year.

    Germany spends 1.24% of its gross domestic product on defense but has committed to hitting 2% by 2024, something Trump, and other US leaders before him, have tried to hasten.

    Defense spending is unpopular in Germany, however, and Trump may only make that problem worse with Merkel struggling to hold together a weak coalition government.

    "I think the president is right," Mark D. Simakovsky, an Atlantic Council expert who previously served as the Europe/NATO chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, told Business Insider.

    "He does need to call for more burden sharing. Allies are not doing enough to provide adequate security. He's right to go to Europe criticizing and complaining to NATO allies, but he's not right in using that as the only issue he's focused on."

    "Germans need to do more and can afford to do more," on defense spending, Simakovsky said, but "you can make it harder to meet that threshold when Trump is so unpopular."

    SEE ALSO: Merkel fires back at Trump after he says Germany is 'totally controlled by Russia'

    DON'T MISS: Trump and Merkel are headed for a one-on-one showdown after Trump said Germany was Russia's puppet

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    Trump Merkel

    • President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear headed for a one-on-one confrontation on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.
    • The two world leaders are expected to meet soon. Trump reportedly plans to bring up his contention that Russia controls Germany with its energy dominance.
    • Merkel has already fired back at Trump, saying that she lived in Germany under Soviet control and the government today is different and that Germany is a solid US and NATO ally.
    • But Merkel has a difficult political situation at home, and Germany has not yet met some of its NATO commitments.

    President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear headed for a one-on-one confrontation on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels after Trump slammed Germany as being controlled by Russia.

    Trump and Merkel are expected to have a "pull aside" meeting in which Trump will bring up his contention that Russia, through its supply of oil and gas to Germany, controls the country's politics, The New York Times' White House correspondent Julia Davis reported on Wednesday.

    "Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60-70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline," Trump said at a working breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

    "You tell me if that's appropriate, because I think it's not, and I think it's a very bad thing for NATO, and I don't think it should have happened," Trump said. "And I think we have to talk to Germany about it."

    A Reuters review of Germany's official data shows that 35.3% of German imports of oil and gas come from Russia, but the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is expected to increase such energy trade.

    Trump went on to bash Germany's defense spending, which stands at 1.24% of its gross domestic product. The country has committed to reaching 2% by 2024, but Trump has pushed it to get there sooner.

    "I think it's very unfair to our country," Trump said. "These countries have to step it up not over a 10-year period — have to step it up immediately. Germany is a rich country. They talk about they're going to increase it a tiny bit by 2030. Well, they could increase it immediately."

    Merkel fires back

    g7 leaders trump merkel summit

    Just hours after Trump's comments, Merkel fired back, saying she lived in East Germany under Soviet control and that things are different now.

    "I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany," she said. "Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany."

    Merkel also defended Germany's role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, pointing out that German troops were still fighting for US interests in Afghanistan after the US invoked NATO's mutual-defense clause following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    "Germany is the second-largest provider of troops — the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO and until today we have a strong engagement toward Afghanistan," she said. "In that we also defend the interests of the United States."

    Trump found Merkel's weak spot, and he's hammering it

    Donald Trump and Angela Merkel

    Merkel faces serious difficulties in meeting Germany's defense-spending commitments to NATO. They are unpopular domestically, and she is already struggling to stay atop a shaky coalition government.

    At the same time, Germany's military is in a poor state, and the country's own defense minister has criticized a lack of readiness and defense spending. In May, the German news outlet Der Spiegel reported that only four of Germany's 128 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets were ready to fly combat missions.

    While the US has moved to increase its troop presence in Germany and Eastern Europe as a counter to Russia, Merkel's government has sought to increase some energy purchases from Russia, the very force NATO seeks to defend against.

    But as Mark D. Simakovsky, an Atlantic Council expert who previously served as the Europe/NATO chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, told Business Insider, Trump is unpopular in Europe, and that could make upping defense spending even harder for Merkel.

    SEE ALSO: Trump slams a weakened Germany as 'controlled by Russia' in blistering open to NATO summit

    DON'T MISS: Merkel fires back at Trump after he says Germany is 'totally controlled by Russia'

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    Kim Jong-un North Korea nuclear bomb

    • A North Korean diplomat reportedly told an Israeli diplomat in 1999 that Pyongyang would provide ballistic missile technology to Iran unless it paid $1 billion.
    • North Korea has nuclear weapons, but it's deterred from using them because it would be nuked right back in a more massive response.
    • But if North Korea sells nuclear weapons and related technology, another rogue state or terror organization may feel less restrained to actually use them.
    • Even if North Korea doesn't sell weapons, it can still blackmail countries like Israel with its nuclear leverage. 

    A North Korean diplomat reportedly told an Israeli diplomat in 1999 that Pyongyang would provide ballistic missile technology to Iran, a state sworn to destroy Israel, unless it paid up to the tune of $1 billion.

    North Korea has a long and well documented history of providing weapons technology, including chemical and nuclear weapon infrastructure, to countries like Iran and Syria. 

    While Pyongyang commands a few dozen operational nuclear warheads, according to intelligence reports, its real threat to the world lies not in starting an outright nuclear war, but in selling nuclear weapons to states, or terrorists, that may use them.

    It's unclear if Israel ever paid North Korea's blackmail, though Israel would later destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor that North Korea was suspected of helping build.

    North Korea selling nukes is a bigger threat than just building them

    hwasong nuclear ballistic missile icbm test launch north korea kcna

    If North Korea launched a nuclear attack, it would swiftly find itself on the receiving end of more powerful, more precise nuclear weapons. North Korea's nuclear weapons serve mainly to deter attacks.

    But because of North Korea's decision to defy international law by testing and developing nuclear weapons, it finds itself under heavy sanctions and impoverished. 

    This leaves North Korea as a cash-hungry state with an excess of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. A terror group or fellow rogue state, seeing the legitimacy and national power nuclear weapons have bestowed upon North Korea, might seek to buy nuclear technology off Pyongyang.

    While many experts generally expect North Korea to maintain the status quo with its nuclear weapons by using them mainly to deter enemies, it's less clear that Iran, Syria, or especially a terror network would show such restraint. 

    “Depending on the demand, we certainly cannot exclude the possibility that North Korea will sell its nuclear weapons for cash,” said Nam Sung-wook, a former South Korean intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal, who first reported on North Korea's attempted blackmail. 

    The UN has concluded that North Korea has a long history of weapons cooperation with Iran and Syria, the US's two foremost nation-state enemies in the Middle East. Iran's stated goal is to destroy Israel, and while their conventional military offers them little hope of achieving that, nuclear weapons actually could do the job. 

    Trump isn't doing anything about this

    trump kim singapore

    The US under President Donald Trump has lowered the threat of outright nuclear war with North Korea following talks and a summit with Kim Jong Un, but no work towards denuclearization appears to have actually taken place. 

    North Korea has not shared with the US any details of its nuclear program, and the US has no specifics from the Kim regime on how many weapons it has or where it keeps them.

    So despite Trump's insistence that North Korea isn't a threat anymore, there's absolutely no way of knowing if Kim would provide nuclear weapons to aggressive states, or use that leverage to blackmail countries for fear of nuclear war. 

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    Su-57 T-50

    • Russia announced earlier this month that the Su-57, its proposed entry into the world of fifth-generation stealth fighters, would not see mass production.
    • The jet had some promising capabilities in combat, but design and production difficulties made it a challenging project with limited export potential.
    • This move represents a failure of Russia to manage its huge defense budget and breadth of projects and to find buyers for its version of a jet meant to take on US stealth fighters. 

    Russia announced earlier this month that the Su-57, its proposed entry into the world of fifth-generation stealth-fighter aircraft, would not see mass production.

    "The plane has proven to be very good, including in Syria, where it confirmed its performance and combat capabilities," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said on Russian TV on July 2, as reported by The Diplomat.

    But despite Russia's nonstop praise for the plane and dubious claims about its abilities, Borisov said, per The Diplomat: "The Su-57 is considered to be one of the best aircrafts produced in the world. Consequently, it does not make sense to speed up work on mass-producing the fifth-generation aircraft."

    Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that Borisov's comments "could be charitably described as an unreasonably optimistic reason why they stopped production."

    Basically, Borisov said the plane is so much better than everything out there that Russia doesn't need to build it — a claim Bronk finds unlikely.

    Instead, Russia will stick to what it's good at, with upgraded fourth-generation aircraft in service instead of the Su-57, which was originally meant to replace the older fighters.

    The Su-57, a plane designed to function as a killer of US F-35 and F-22 stealth jets with an innovative array of radars, saw a brief period of combat over Syria, but the deployment lasted only days and didn't pit the jet against any threats befitting a world-class fighter.

    Initially proposed as a joint project with India, the Su-57 hit trouble when neither side could agree on how to split the production and technological development. After 11 years in the program, India withdrew, leaving Russia to go it alone with a weak economy.

    Now, India has been discussed as a potential buyer of the F-35 in another blow to Russia's dream of developing its own fifth-gen fighter.

    The Su-57 was never really 5th-generation — and never really stealth

    Su-57

    A senior stealth scientist recently told Business Insider that though the jet claimed a stealthy profile, it had glaring and obvious flaws. A 2016 report from IHS Jane's said the jet was fifth-generation "in name only."

    But the Su-57 carries a massive payload and was expected to one day carry nuclear weapons. Like the Su-35 before it, had super maneuverability beyond that of any US jet.

    By all means, the Su-57 appeared a next-level dogfighting jet capable of taking out the US's best fighters in close combat, but its failure to integrate stealth made getting in close with an F-35 or F-22 an unlikely bet.

    Bronk said Russia must have looked at the program and realized that it didn't have the potential — even with upgrades and maturation — to ever work out to be worth the price. At about $40 million a unit, Russia's Su-57 is less than half the price of an F-35, but considerably more expensive than its other jets.

    "Russia is more or less admitting defeat in building a feasible fifth-generation fighter," Bronk said.

    For that price, according to Bronk, Russia can just put the fancy radars and missiles on its older planes in greater numbers, as the Su-57's airframe was never really stealth in the first place.

    Russia is working on new tanks, submarines, and nuclear weapons, all of which tax its already large defense budget. With other projects going forward, it appears the Su-57 has become the first casualty of a budget crunch.

    As the US's F-35 starts to come online in significant numbers and China's J-20 stealth jet deploys in earnest, it looks as if Russia is getting left behind in the world of top-class militaries.

    SEE ALSO: Russia's newest fighter jet is 5th-generation 'in name only'

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    f 35b

    • The US Navy deployed the USS Essex, a small-deck aircraft carrier, to the Western Pacific with a deck full of US Marine Corps F-35Bs Joint Strike Fighters — but it did it with secrecy.
    • The US typically hypes up F-35 deployments, but this time it was silent, perhaps signaling a big shift.
    • The US has major adversaries in the Western Pacific and may be shifting to a more operational approach to keeping them in check, rather than using media attention. 

    The US Navy broke with its tradition of hyping up F-35 deployments when it sent the USS Essex jump-jet carrier into the Western Pacific with a deck full of the revolutionary fighter jets this week — and it could signal a big change in how the US deals with its toughest adversaries.

    When the USS Wasp became the first small-deck aircraft carrier to deploy with US Marine Corps F-35Bs earlier this year, the media was in on it. But the Essex's departure marks a change, as the Navy announced the deployment only after the ship departed, USNI News noted.

    The Navy regularly deploys capital ships like small- and large-deck carriers for patrols around the world but has only twice deployed ones like these.

    The F-35 has become the most expensive weapons system in history and earned its share of criticism along the way as costs ballooned and deadlines fell through. The Marine Corps' F-35B is designed to land vertically and take off from short runways, like an amphibious assault ship, and will replace the AV-8B Harrier in ground and air attack missions; the Navy's F-35C has a tailhook to snag an arresting cable and land on an aircraft carrier.

    Naturally, the US military would be keen to show off the jets, which it bills as a revolution in aerial combat because of their stealth design and advanced sensors and controls. But it seems it has opted to skip the public-relations coup for something a bit more operational.

    The Navy wants to change the media's expectations regarding ship deployments to the Pacific, sources told USNI News.

    The US military usually prides itself on publicizing its ship deployments and often says its carrier deployments are drawn up apolitically and months ahead of time, but insisting on some level of secrecy betrays that.

    What does the US Navy have to hide in the Pacific?

    USS Ronald Reagan Navy

    The US has major adversaries in the Pacific — namely China and, to a lesser extent, North Korea.

    It makes sense that with dialogue underway with North Korea, the US would want to quiet big deployments to the Western Pacific, and a high-profile deployment of next-generation stealth jets could seriously spook North Korea.

    But it's China's navy that poses the biggest threat to the US, and it's possibly the reason the US is staying quiet.

    When the USS Ronald Reagan, the US's forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Japan, patrolled the South China Sea, which China unilaterally claims as its own in defiance of international law, the US said very little about it. Repeated requests for comment from Business Insider went ignored.

    The US uses its Navy to challenge what it calls excessive maritime claims of dozens of nations around the world in passages called "freedom of navigation" operations. Basically, if a country claims an excessive amount of maritime territory, the US usually sails a destroyer through to inform it that its claims are not recognized.

    China views these patrols as a challenge to its sovereignty and makes a big deal out of them. For the US, it's better if the challenges to China's claims are the norm and not a news story. Some observers have speculated that the US wants to send a message to China's military leadership without the publicity that may compel them to escalate.

    By keeping quiet high-profile deployments to the Pacific, the US could be signaling that it's getting ready to put the ball back in China's court, with high-end military hardware checking it and disputes handled between navies rather than via press releases.

    SEE ALSO: Russia admits defeat on its 'stealth' F-35 killer by canceling mass production of the Su-57 fighter jet

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    Trump soccer ball

    • President Donald Trump has said he is considering second meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    • But meetings with those leaders so far have proved damaging to the US government.
    • Trump appeared to take Russia's word over that of his own security services regarding Russian election meddling.
    • Trump has also said he believes North Korea is denuclearizing — because Kim told him so.
    • US intelligence reports paint a different picture.
    • Trump's meetings with Putin and Kim were panned by critics including some Republicans and have driven some members of the intelligence community to the brink of resignation.
    • Many former top intelligence officials who can't see why Trump would seem to side so heavily against the US now openly ponder whether Trump is a "controlled spy."

    President Donald Trump has said he is considering more meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite meager results and a furious backlash from recent summits between him and the two men.

    Neither his June summit with Kim nor his one-on-one meeting on Monday with Putin produced known tangible gains for the US public, something critics have pointed out.

    Trump's summit this week with Putin in Finland was nearly universally panned even by Republicans after he appeared to take Russia's word over that of his own intelligence services on whether the Kremlin hacked Democratic National Committee servers to meddle in the 2016 US election.

    "My people came to me … They said they think it's Russia," Trump said Monday at a joint press conference with Putin after the two met in private. "I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia."

    "I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump added. The next day he tried to walk that comment back, saying he actually meant to say he didn't see any reason it "wouldn't" be Russia.

    Similarly, Trump accepted a vague, nonbinding agreement from Kim to denuclearize, which again pinned his confidence on his personal trust in the North Korean leader.

    While Trump has talked up the prospect of improved relations with North Korea and Russia — both nuclear-armed states with grudges against the US — his efforts have yet to yield major results.

    As one of the few explicit promises Kim made in a joint statement with Trump after the two met in June, the North Korean leader agreed to an "immediate" repatriation of the remains of US troops killed in the Korean War.

    A month later, no such repatriation has taken place, and the North Koreans have skipped meetings to set up what could be a relatively straightforward process.

    Trump has continued to take Kim's word that North Korea is denuclearizing, but US intelligence services have found evidence that the country's nuclear-weapons programs have actually advanced since the talks.

    North Korea, thereby, has succeeded in the same way Russia has, by pitting Trump against his own intelligence services.

    What's the US public getting out of this?

    trump kim singapore

    And while Trump may have succeeded in warming relations on two fronts, he is yet to produce any tangible results for Americans. Neither Putin nor Kim has agreed to take any actions in the US's security interests.

    Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter that"'good' relations with Russia is not a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but only a means to other ends."

    What those other ends are for Trump, who did not strongly condemn any Russian behavior or suggest any major changes, remains unclear.

    Trump's dislike of the 'deep state' goes both ways

    Christopher Wray

    Trump campaigned on "draining the swamp" of anonymous bureaucrats and frequently targets what he calls a "deep state" of faceless intelligence officials acting as political operatives — and the animosity appears mutual.

    After Trump's apparent siding with Putin in questions of Russian election meddling, both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats hinted that they may resign.

    Coats quickly made public his misalignment with Trump on Russia and said he'd have handled things differently. Trump reportedly then floated the idea of firing Coats.

    Trump has also consistently attacked the FBI's investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

    His reluctance to criticize Russia or Putin has prompted experts who formerly held top posts within the intelligence community to begin forming a consensus view that Russia has some leverage over Trump, with some rationalizing his behavior as that of a "controlled spy."

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    North Korea

    • North Korea is believed to have started dismantling rocket launching and testing facilities in a major US victory after what have been fraught, slow-moving talks.
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally promised President Donald Trump these sites would get taken down, so this could go a long way toward building confidence.
    • The sites are key — and not just because Trump and Kim talked about them. They represent major friction points that could send the US and North Korea spiraling back toward war.
    • North Korea still has a long way to go toward denuclearization.
    • Virtually every other area of cooperation with Pyongyang has gone poorly, even insultingly, for the US.

    North Korea has reportedly started dismantling rocket launching and testing facilities that President Donald Trump has said it agreed to in an off-the-books deal, and it's a major US victory in what have been fraught, slow-moving talks.

    Following the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the two sides released a joint statement that contained weak and vague language around denuclearization, much to the dismay of North Korea watchers hoping for concrete action.

    But in a press conference after the summit, Trump announced two bombshells: The US would halt military drills with South Korea, and North Korea had agreed to dismantle a missile test site.

    More than a month since the summit, the US has kept its end of the agreement, but only on Monday did the West get any indication that North Korea was holding its end.

    Satellite imagery reviewed by 38 North, a website that covers North Korea, suggests North Korea is dismantling key parts of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, where Kim has presided over the launch of rockets meant to put satellites in orbit.

    So far, a rail-based site for transporting the rockets and a vertical engine testing stand have been dismantled, 38 North reports.

    In absolute terms, this represents only a tiny fraction of North Korea's nuclear infrastructure. But the action there has key components that may give cause for hope.

    These sites are vital

    Kim Jong Un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released April 9, 2016. KCNA/via REUTERS

    North Korea, in past negotiations with the US, has proved extremely lawyerly and adept at finding loopholes in its agreements.

    In 2012, when Kim had just taken power, the US under President Barack Obama negotiated a freeze on North Korean missile testing. Later, North Korea announced it would instead launch a rocket intended to carry a satellite into orbit.

    Satellite launch vehicles are not missiles. They deliver a satellite into orbit, rather than an explosive payload to a target.

    But both satellite launch vehicles and long-range missiles use rocket engines to propel themselves into space, meaning that working on one is much the same as working on the other.

    The US, troubled by this obvious betrayal of the spirit of the agreement, then exited the deal.

    By removing the rail infrastructure to set up satellite vehicle launches, North Korea may have signaled it won't look to exploit the same loopholes that have wrecked past deals.

    At Sohae, where cranes have been spotted tearing down an engine testing stand, the North Koreans have previously worked to develop engines for their intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    ICBMs threaten the US homeland in a way that could fray US alliances in Asia and eventually even unseat the US as a dominant power in the region. As Business Insider previously reported, freezing North Korea's ICBM program has been a key focus of the Pentagon for years.

    Only a small amount of actual work has taken place in dismantling the sites, but the significance of the sites, and their place in Trump and Kim's budding relationship, gives reason for hope.

    Confidence-building

    trump kim singapore

    So far, North Korea has dragged its feet even on simple tasks, like returning some remains of US troops killed in the Korean War, despite promising immediate action.

    Since the Singapore summit, satellite imagery has picked up signs that North Korea may actually have advanced its nuclear and missile programs. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea recently, Kim didn't meet him and instead toured a potato farm.

    Kim sent Trump a nice letter in mid-July, but it contained no specifics on the US's declared goal of denuclearization.

    Trump said he negotiated the closing of these facilities with Kim after the joint declaration was signed, but North Korea waited over a month before delivering.

    During that time, Trump repeatedly stressed that he believed North Korea would follow through based on his personal read of Kim's personality.

    In that way, North Korea has kept its direct promise to Trump and demonstrated, for perhaps the first time, a real willingness to scale back the key parts of its missile system.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea reportedly pushed $1 billion nuclear blackmail to Israel — and it shows Pyongyang's real threat

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    Iron Dome

    • Israel's military said on Tuesday that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace and "intercepted" the plane.
    • The plane crashed in Syria near the country's border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown.
    • For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.

    Israel's military said on Tuesday that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and "intercepted" a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.

    The plane crashed in Syria near the country's border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, The New York Times reported. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.

    For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.

    Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel earlier this year destroying much of Syria's anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.

    The Israel Defense Forces said a Russian-made Syrian jet "infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace" before being intercepted.

    "Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force's activity," the IDF added. "The IDF is in high alert and will continue to operate against the violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement," the UN resolution that ended the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Syria.

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    RTR2VQX9

    • Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions against its oil exports imposed by the US with military action to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, but the US would shut it down quickly.
    • The Strait of Hormuz sees around 30% of the world's oil supply pass through, so the US and its allies in the Middle East would have it back open in days.
    • Iran must know it can't hold the strait, but a former US ambassador told Business Insider it's likely a bluff to try to send a message about oil prices, which Iran could manipulate and use to help break US-imposed sanctions. 

    Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions against its oil exports imposed by the US with military action to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the sea passage into the Persian Gulf that sees around 30% of the world's oil supply pass — but if they did, the US would shut them down in days. 

    "As the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, (Iran) has been the guarantor of the security of shipping and the global economy in this vital waterway and has the strength to take action against any scheme in this region," Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri said, according to Reuters.

    Iran's threat to shut down a major international waterway vital to providing food and commerce for hundreds of millions in the region follows its president saying the US could find itself in the "mother of all wars" with the Islamic Republic. 

    But Iran's military wouldn't last more than a few days against the US and its allies, and according to experts, Iran must know this, and is likely bluffing as they have in past threats to close the strait. 

    “In the event Iran choose to militarily close the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. and our Arabian Gulf allies would be able to open it in a matter of days,” former Adm. James Stavridis told CNBC on Monday.

    Stavridis, who served as NATO's supreme allied commander Europe, said that Iran would likely try to mine the waterway to ward off traffic, and may also resort to sending out its small, fast attack craft on suicide runs against US Navy ships that could do some damage. 

    But the US wouldn't go it alone, and Iran would quickly find the waterway unmined, its fast attack craft at the bottom of the strait and its coastal missile batteries destroyed.

    What's behind Iran's bluff? Oil

    fleetmon strait of hormuzFormer US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, now an expert at the Washington Institute, told Business Insider that it's "highly unlikely" Iran would move on the Strait of Hormuz, "but just the threat of doing that sent oil prices up."

    President Hassan Rouhani, in warning Trump about the "mother of all wars" tried "to warn not so much Trump, but all of the customers of Iranian oil that if they all stop buying Iranian oil when US sanctions take effect on November 4, it will hurt prices," said Jeffrey. 

    Manipulating oil prices and wielding its massive oil production infrastructure represent "the weapon that the Iranians can most easily use," in combatting US sanctions, Jeffrey said. Rather than violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran deal, Iran prefers to force nations to trade with it in spite of US sanctions by putting pressure on overall supply.

    "If they would have been violated the JCPOA," said Jeffrey, "they’d lose the support of western Europe."

    "They're doing this to spook consumers," of Iranian oil, said Jeffrey. 

    "If the Iranians want to escalate" tensions into fighting along the Strait of Hormuz, "we saw that movie in '88 and in the end they lost their navy," said Jeffrey, referring to the Operation Praying Mantis, when the US responded to Iran mining the strait with an aircraft carrier strike group that decimated its navy. 

    SEE ALSO: Iran harassed and humiliated the US Navy under Obama — here's why it stopped under Trump

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    Trump Xi

    • The annual must-pass defense bill's final product will not include a full ban on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, but will instead block them from contracts with the US government.
    • While the move was seen as a major concession to Trump and China, the softened language in the bill is unlikely to imperil its chances of passing.

    WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were very concerned about the nefarious Chinese smartphone maker ZTE ever since the Trump administration decided to begin easing the punishments levied on the company for violating US sanctions.

    But when the conference committee tasked with hashing out the House and Senate differences in the annual National Defense Authorization Act eased back on what was previously considered a key national security concern, lawmakers gave a collective groan at the major concession to President Donald Trump.

    Now, they are likely moving on without a fuss.

    The original language passed by the Senate in June included a full ban on sales for ZTE. Late last week, the conference committee went in another direction, changing language in the legislation to only ban ZTE from contracts with the US government.

    A handful of lawmakers lamented the move, saying Trump and Republicans were letting the Chinese skate free.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that "Republicans chose to fold and cravenly sell out America’s workers and national security."

    Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been one of the most critical of ZTE, seemed baffled at Republicans' leniency on the telecommunications giant.

    "I don't understand," Rubio said during an appearance on CNN. "If we know for a fact that no country in the world spies on us more than China does, no country in the world steals intellectual property from us more than China does, and they used their telecommunications companies to do it, installing back doors into routers, all sorts of things, why we would allow them to remain in business in the United States?"

    "So that’s why knowing that and knowing what my colleagues know about ZTE, I don't understand why they would give in so easily, so quickly and cave on something that would have put them out of business by denying them access to U.S. semiconductors," he added.

    'What we'll see is how China responds'

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, told Business Insider that the lenient ZTE ban is about trade more than national security and that "we got to get some W’s on the board when it comes to trade negotiations."

    But Graham did not dismiss the security concerns, even though China has been afforded a lot more breathing room than the previous language allowed.

    "What we’ll see is how China responds," Graham said. "We’ll see if they do something that’s inconsistent with a sort of a second chance they’ve got, I think no matter what President Trump says we’ll come down hard."

    The general feeling from staffers on Capitol Hill is that the watered down ban for ZTE is not likely to be a hurdle for the bill's passage. The bill is a must-pass piece of legislation and is full of other major components relating to national security and defense.

    Simply, a bill this big has too many other things that will make lawmakers will want to vote for it, even if it goes easy on a company closely aligned with the Chinese government's intelligence agency.

    Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, essentially told Business Insider as much.

    "That’s unfortunate," Kaine said of the softened ZTE language. "I mean, I signed the conference report. I think there’s a lot of good in it. But I think that’s unfortunate."

    SEE ALSO: Rebuking Trump can be risky — so Republicans take to congressional hearings to berate administration officials on trade

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    NOW WATCH: North Korean defector: Kim Jong Un 'is a terrorist'


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    navy seal training

    With the beginning of summer, pools all over the US are opening for recreational swimming — but in the Navy, recruits are getting ready for the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, that will turn some of them into Navy SEALs.

    In the SEALs, where recruits of the elite special operations unit are pushed to their limits, there is no room for inefficiency. So it developed a more efficient swimming stroke: the combat swimmer stroke.

    The stroke combines the best elements of breaststroke and freestyle to streamline a motion that not only reduces resistance on a swimmer's body, but makes the swimmer harder to spot underwater.

    Here's a sample of the stroke:

    Unlike freestyle, the combat sidestroke calls for the swimmer to stay submerged for most of it.

    To do the combat swimmer stroke, dive in or kick off as you would in freestyle, but at the end of your glide, do a large, horizontal scissor kick instead.

    Now comes the unique part — as the horizontal scissor kick tilts your body so that one arm is slightly higher than the other, pull that arm back while leaving the other outstretched.

    Turn your face up toward the surface as you pull that arm down, take a breath, and begin to pull down your other arm. Another scissor kick, then reset your arms. You should not switch your orientation or the order in which you pull back your arms.

    Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

    Using the combat swimmer's stroke, Navy SEALs can go for miles in grueling training events that push their physical and mental strength.

    SEE ALSO: Forget 'Hell Week' — a Navy SEAL reveals the hardest part of training

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    Osama Bin Laden US War in Afghanistan terrorism

    • Osama Bin Laden has gone down as one of the most vicious figures in history, but he admittedly lacked the courage to fight in an actual battle.
    • Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence who knew Bin Laden said: "He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle."
    • Bin Laden is best known for coordinating violence and terrorism, and not for actually fighting himself. 

    Osama Bin Laden, the terror leader behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, has gone down as one of the most vicious figures in history, but he admittedly lacked the courage to fight in an actual battle.

    In an interview with The Guardian on Friday, Bin Laden's family and those close to him opened up about his personal life and the fallout he brought down on Saudi Arabia after his rise to infamy. 

    Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence for 24 years until September 1, 2001, told The Guardian that "there are two Osama bin Ladens... One before the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and one after it."

    Bin Laden got his first taste of warfare in Afghanistan during its 1970s war with the Soviet Union, but it turned out he wasn't made of soldiering stuff. 

    "He was very much an idealistic mujahid [this word has a similar meaning to jihadist]. He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle, and when he woke up, the Soviet assault on his position had been defeated," Turki said. 

    Bin Laden's family portrays him as drifting towards radicalism and away from the family in the decades between that struggle and 2001 in The Guardian interview. The family has tried to distance itself from Bin Laden's acts of terrorism, but his youngest son went to Afghanistan to "avenge" his death, they said. 

    Bin Laden famously led Al Qaeda and planned the 2001 attacks. Again, Bin Laden himself did not engage in the hijackings, and simply coordinated them behind the scenes. 

    When Bin Laden finally came face to face with US forces, taking the form of US Navy SEALs storming his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, initial US government reports said he hid behind women in the complex to use them as a human shield.

    Later the White House walked back those statements. The Pentagon never released images of Bin Laden's body, and the SEALs that participated in the attack all say it's because he was left in unpresentable shape.

    SEE ALSO: The bin Laden family says Osama's youngest son went to Afghanistan to 'avenge' his father

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    Iran Navy

    • Iran had 50 or so armed speedboats training on swarming maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, and despite their small size and low tech, they could seriously damage the US Navy.
    • The ships aren't that great, but excel in the exact areas that the US Navy isn't well suited to handle.
    • Iran has the first mover advantage against the US, meaning a sneak attack could quickly sink massive US ships, even if they lose their whole speedboat fleet in the process -- as is likely.

    Iran has dispatched its elite Islamic Republican Guard Corps navy to the Strait of Hormuz, a massively valuable waterway that Tehran has threatened to close as retaliation against the US— and despite their small size and dated ships, these commandoes could do real damage to the US Navy.

    The US Navy stands unmatched on earth in terms of size and ability, but Iran's IRGC ships are small, fast, deadly, and designed specifically to present an asymmetrical threat to the toughest ships on earth. 

    The IRGC doesn't have any interest going toe to toe with the US Navy by building its own destroyers or carriers, instead, it's formed a "guerrilla army at sea" of vicious speedboats with guns, explosives, and some anti-ship missiles, Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider.

    "They understand full well that there’s a decisive qualitative disadvantage against the US and its allies," Lamrani said of the IRGC. "They know they can’t win, so they plan to attack in a very fast way with many, many small ships swarming the US vessels to overwhelm them."

    Currently, that situation is exactly what the IRGC is training for. US officials said that more than 50 small boats are now practicing "swarming" attacks to potentially shut down the strait which sees about 30% of the world's oil pass through, according to Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson.

    For the Iranians, it's a suicide mission. But in Iran's struggle to oppose the US at any cost, something it sees as a spiritual matter, they could employ these little ships and irregular warfare to cripple the US Navy.

    How the US would fight back

    us navy uss boxer gunner

    If the US knew a hostile group of IRGC fast attack craft were swarming around the Gulf trying to close down the Strait of Hormuz, there's no question its destroyers and other aircraft carrying ships could unleash their helicopters to strafe the ships to the bottom of the sea. With enough notice, nearby US Air Force planes like the A-10 Warthog could even step in. 

    "The biggest weapon [US Navy ships] have against these swarm boats is the helicopter. Helicopters equipped with mini guns have the ability to fire very fast and create standoff distance to engage them," said Lamrani.

    If some swarming ships did break through, the Navy has automated close-in weapons systems and missiles it can fire to pick the ships off. But, "the problem is, with these swarm boats, there's only so much they can engage before the vessels get in range and cause damage."

    But Iran holds the first mover advantage

    iran irgc navy fast attack craft

    Iran holds the first mover advantage. The US Navy regularly transits the Persian Gulf, and it does so peacefully. The US and Iran are not at war, so when Iranian ships have harassed the US Navy in the past, they've come within a hundred yards of the billion-plus dollar ships before being warded off by warning shots

    That means the ideal scenario for the US, where it sees the enemy a ways out and can call in devastating air power, likely won't happen. Iran knows it can only win with a sneak attack, so Lamrani thinks that's how they'll do it. 

    "If they decide to do this, they’re going to go as fast as possible, in as many numbers as possible before they get wrecked," said Lamrani.

    The US Navy's lack of training against low-end threats like speedboats further exacerbates the problem. Navy watchers frequently point out the force is stretched thin across a wide spectrum of missions, and that surface warfare, especially against a guerilla force, hasn't been a priority. 

    Ultimately, no serious military analyst thinks 50 or so Iranian speedboats could hold off the US Navy for long, but caught unawares, the first round could deal a devastating loss to the US. 

    "Given the constraints, this is a very, very effective tactic, very cost effective," said Lamrani. "Even if they lost an entire fleet of speedboats and they managed to sink an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, a destroyer," the effect would be devastating. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump is pushing for a summit that would deeply humiliate Iran's leaders — but they need it too

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    trump rouhani iran 2x1

    • The Trump administration on Monday announced it would reinstate sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
    • Iran has responded to looming sanctions with military threats but backed it up with little action.
    • Iran's economy is tanking for numerous reasons, but the sanctions could seriously rock the country, which is already seeing massive protests.
    • Iran has its back against a wall and faces economic or military defeat by the US or a humiliating summit with Trump.
    • An expert told Business Insider that Iran could negotiate with the US through Russia to save face.

    The Trump administration on Monday announced it would reinstate sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal — and Iran has made no shortage of vitriolic threats about what it may do in response.

    Beginning Tuesday, the US plans to sanction Iran's central bank, sending a clear message to the US's European allies: Do business with the US, or do it with Iran, but not both.

    The US plans to follow up with another round of sanctions in November targeting Iran's lifeblood: its oil exports.

    In response to the looming sanctions, Iran has shuffled around its policies regarding foreign currency, fired the head of its central bank, jailed scores of people involved in currency exchange, and made threats to shut down regional oil shipping with military force. It even threatened to destroy everything owned by President Donald Trump.

    "It's pretty clear the Iranians are suffering a fair degree of anger over the economy," Dennis Ross, who has worked on Middle East policy in four US administrations, told reporters on a call set up by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    Iran's currency, the rial, has tanked this year, losing about half its value against the dollar. "In the past week, the price of toothpaste has risen three times," Ross said.

    Amid the economic struggles, Iran has seen wave after wave of protests from both rich and poor citizens, protests the government has often suppressed violently. Ross said that it was unusual to have bazaar vendors, truckers, and conservative towns protesting and beaten back by riot police and that the recent protests were "noteworthy."

    Ross said, however, that Trump's election and a mounting anticipation that sanctions would return had some effect on Iran's economy but were "not the root cause."

    He instead pointed to corruption, talent mismanagement, years of isolation from international business standards, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' massive role in the economy, and a lack of transparency as proving inhospitable to investment.

    At the same time, Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions dealt Iran a huge blow, which will significantly hurt its earning potential and liquidity. Ross said that while China may still buy Iranian oil amid the US sanctions, it could ask for a discount; while India may still buy Iranian oil, it may offer to pay only in rupees.

    Iran makes big threats and takes little action

    RTR2VQX9

    Michael Eisenstadt, an expert on Middle East security and defense, told reporters on the Washington Institute's call that while Iran had talked a big game, it carefully measured its actions to avoid a strong US response.

    "Iran faces a dilemma," Eisenstadt said. "In the past, Iran's main response was to redouble efforts in the nuclear domain" as a response to US pressure, but Iran has reduced its nuclear infrastructure as part of the nuclear deal with the US and other countries.

    Iran has made threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, where about 30% of the world's oil exports pass through, but Eisenstadt and other experts dismissed this as bluster.

    Instead, Iran could send missiles to its Houthi allies in Yemen to target oil shipping from US allies, as it already has. Iran could attack US troops in Syria. It could detain US citizens, wage a cyberattack, or harass US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.

    Iran hasn't really done any of those things yet. When Iran's military has lashed out or tested the US in Syria, the US has beaten its forces back emphatically, as has Israel.

    Putin the peacemaker?

    putin trump helsinki

    As Iran finds itself increasingly boxed in by US pressure, Trump has dangled the humiliating prospect of a summit with the country's leadership.

    "Iran, and it's economy, is going very bad, and fast!" Trump tweeted on Saturday. "I will meet, or not meet, it doesn't matter - it is up to them!"

    A summit with Trump would greatly shame the theocratic rulers of Iran, as they frame their government as a revolutionary act opposing US hegemony and cry "death to America."

    But according to Ross, Iran may have another option: Russia.

    "I have a suspicion that even if it doesn't come directly, I can easily see in six months the Iranians turning to the Russians and letting the Russians be their channel," to negotiate with Trump, Ross said. "Given the Trump-Putin relationship, we can see Russia coming and offering something, opening up a negotiation."

    By dealing through Putin and not Trump, Iran could save face while dealing with Trump's withdrawal from the deal and its other economic issues.

    SEE ALSO: Iran is training tiny speedboats to seize a key waterway — and it could actually cripple the US Navy

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    msdf maya aegis destroyer japan

    • Japan launched a new destroyer with top-of-the-line US missile-defense technology earlier this month.
    • Japan's military is a self-defense force, and the ship is meant only for training and diplomatic outreach.
    • But China, which wants to seize control of the South China Sea, portrayed it as a menace.
    • Defense cooperation between the US and Japan ushered in an era of peace that enriched the world, including China, but now a powerful China seeks to unseat the US as the world's superpower, and its response to the destroyer demonstrates that.

    Japan recently launched a new class of destroyer with top-of-the line US missile-defense technology, and despite Japan's mostly defensive posture, China portrayed the ship as a dangerous menace.

    The seven decades since World War II, which concluded with the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, have seen the rise of a strong US-Japanese alliance and peace across the Pacific.

    Japan, following its colonization of much of China during the war, renounced military aggression after surrendering to the US. Since then, Japan hasn't kept a standing military but maintains what it calls a self-defense force. Japan's constitution strictly limits defense spending and doesn't allow the deployment of troops overseas.

    But threats from North Korea, which several times has fired nuclear-capable missiles over Japan, have prompted a desire in Tokyo for missile defenses, which the US has obliged, manifesting itself in part in Japan's new Maya destroyer class.

    "It's not a big deal that they have this ship," Veerle Nouwens, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. "They're using it for military exchanges or diplomacy. That's effectively what it's doing by going around to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore."

    The new destroyer isn't a radical departure from Japan's old ones and will spend most of its time training with and visiting neighboring militaries. The destroyer isn't exactly a rubber ducky, but it has one of the more peaceful missions imaginable for a warship.

    One reason it may have drawn rebuke from Beijing is simple geography. This destroyer will have to pass through the South China Sea, and that is extremely sensitive for Beijing, which unilaterally claims almost the whole sea as its own in open defiance of international law.

    China's Global Times state-linked media outlet responded to the ship's launch by saying it was "potentially targeting China and threatening other countries," citing Chinese experts.

    "Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples," one such expert said, "which will certainly destabilize other regions."

    China's real game

    map china sea

    "China seeks full control over the South China Sea," Nouwens said. "We can say that quite squarely. It seeks to displace the US from its traditional position from its regional dominance in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific more widely."

    Since World War II, the US, particularly the US Navy, has enforced free and open seas and a rules-based world order. Imposed at a massive cost to the US, this order has enriched the world and specifically China, as safe shipping in open waters came as a given to businesses around the globe.

    But now, Nouwens said, "China is threatening to lead to a situation where that may not be a given anymore."

    China has repeatedly threatened force against countries that seek to undertake simple activities, like fishing, within their own UN-designated maritime borders. But when a US Navy ship passes through the South China Sea, Beijing calls it provocative, unhelpful, or destabilizing.

    "When other countries do it, it's threatening," Nouwens said. "When China does it to other countries, it's fine."

    That the only two countries to ever engage in nuclear war can now work together as partners looking to protect the rights of all countries on the high seas might represent a welcome and peaceful development.

    But for Beijing, which fundamentally seeks to undermine that world order to further its goals of dominating Asia, it's cause for worry.

    SEE ALSO: 'Leave immediately or you will pay': China is threatening foreign ships and planes, but the US military isn't changing a thing

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    Tu 22M3

    • Russia will roll out an upgrade to its Tu-22M supersonic, nuclear-capable bomber on August 16.
    • The upgrade modernizes the avionics and communications, but its integration with anti-ship missiles makes it a huge threat to US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups.
    • Both Russia and China have very long range, very fast missiles that could possibly sink a carrier.
    • The US is working on a new unmanned tanker jet for aircraft carriers to extend its range and fight back the competition. 

    Russia's long-awaited upgrade to the Tupolev Tu-22M, the Tu-22M3M, will roll out on August 16, and bring with it a missile that's a nightmare for the US Navy to defend against, The Diplomat reports

    The Tu-22M, an airframe that first flew in 1969, features a variable wing and a massive payload at around 2.4 tons, rivaling the B-1B Lancer, the US's only supersonic bomber.

    The upgraded Tu-22M3M focuses on modernizing the avionics, communications, and controls on the Cold War era bomber, according to the report. But the Tu-22M3M's integration with some of Russia's deadlier missiles, and role as a nuclear-capable maritime strike jet pose a serious challenge.

    Not only can the Tu-22M carry nuclear weapons, it has some formidable anti-ship weapons and even an air-launched ballistic missile. 

    The KH-32, the Diplomat reported, has been purpose-built to take on US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups, the most expensive and powerful ships in the world. 

    With a claimed range of 620 miles and a flight pattern that soars it up into the stratosphere before diving down low to approach a target at speeds up to four times the speed of sound, the KH-32 takes advantage of both high and low altitudes.

    This varied flight path and incredible speed present a very hard target for US Navy missile defenses to intercept, and the missile's claimed range means Russian Tu-22M3M pilot can fire from a safe distance outside the maximum range of US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets, which max out at around 550 miles. 

    Russia has developed over the last few decades long range missiles meant to target US aircraft carriers as a means of neutralizing the US's massive advantage in carriers. Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is an outdated ship with a host of mechanical issues and will be offline for years during an overhaul. 

    China, the US's other great power competitor, which has in many ways eclipsed Russia, has also worked on a gang of new missiles that combine nontraditional flight paths with supersonic bursts of speed to get through US defenses.

    US carrier strike groups rely on guided missile destroyers and cruisers to defend the capital ship, the carrier, from incoming enemy missiles. Currently, the US hopes to overcome the Russian and Chinese missile gap with an unmanned refueling tanker aboard aircraft carriers that could extend the range of the jet fighters on deck. 

    SEE ALSO: Beijing's response to Japan's new destroyer shows its authoritarian endgame in the South China Sea

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    yemen bus bombing

    • Saudi Arabia's spokesman for the Gulf Arab coalition fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen had to defend the bombing of a school bus full of children.
    • Saudi Arabia called massive attention to its human rights practices this month when it attacked Canada's human rights record after being challenged to release jailed women's rights activists. 
    • Retaliating against Canada, Saudi Arabia canceled all flights to the country and suspended Saudi access to medical treatments there, potentially hurting its own citizens and keeping Canadian Muslims from visiting Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage later this month. 
    • Saudi Arabia also crucified a man on Wednesday in a rare form of punishment that served as another blow to its global image. 

    Saudi Arabia's spokesman for the Gulf Arab coalition fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday defended the bombing of a school bus full of children, in the latest episode that has prompted renewed scrutiny over the kingdom's human-rights practices.

    An airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition hit dozens, including children on a school bus on Thursday, according to local officials and medical providers.

    Reuters reporters saw responders rush children to medical help. A spokesperson for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said the attack showed a "clear disregard for civilian life."

    Saudi Arabia has long faced criticism over its role in the Yemen conflict, which has gone on for three years and taken an extreme toll on civilians.

    The conflict, driven by Saudi's rival, Iran-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the internationally recognized government in Yemen's most popular cities, has killed more than 10,000.

    The fighting has led the Saudi-led coalition to blockade Yemen's ports for fear of Iranian weapons getting in, causing mass starvation, malnutrition, and one of the worst cholera outbreaks of the century in the Arab world's poorest country.

    The air strike "conformed to international and humanitarian laws," Saudi spokesman Col Turki al-Malki said in a statement. He added that the strike responded to persistent missile attacks on Saudi cities and said Houthis hide among civilian populations to use them as human shields, a tactic also employed by ISIS and other terror groups

    Thursday's airstrike left "scores killed, even more injured, most under the age of 10," a Red Cross official told Reuters, and comes at a bad time for Saudi Arabia's image globally. 

    Saudi Arabia's brutal week on human rights

    Mohammed bin Salman Silicon Valley 00007

    On Friday, Canada's foreign ministry asked for the "immediate release" of women's rights activists imprisoned in the country. The call triggered an intense backlash from Saudi Arabia that saw trade, medical, and student exchanges swiftly halted between the two countries.

    Saudi state-owned media then took Canada to task for its own alleged human rights abuses that included the jailing of a Holocaust denier and other arrests. Saudi media's treatment of the situation gained wide attention in the West, where the spotlight was then thrust back on the kingdom.

    On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia beheaded and crucified a Myanmar man accused of a litany of high crimes. The rare form of punishment received wide media attention, in part for its juxtaposition with Saudi's recent defense of its human rights record.

    Saudi Arabia is ruled by its interpretation of Islamic law, requiring women to dress in conformity with Islamic code and considering them in the care of male guardians. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has led an effort to modernize the country and improve human rights, but it remains largely a theocratic monarchy. 

    But of all the charges against Saudi Arabia's domestic human rights record, its participation in the fighting in Yemen has drawn perhaps the sharpest rebuke. Iran, another Middle Eastern theocracy with a similarly poor human rights record, has long drawn rebuke from the US and its allies for some of the same practices in place in the kingdom.

    Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in the Middle East and a large buyer of US military equipment. When Saudi warplanes, or those of its Gulf Arab allies, fly missions to Yemen, they drop US-made bombs and refuel from US-made tankers. 

    Saudi Arabia's position as a massive oil exporter willing to work with the West has long shielded it from human rights criticism.

    SEE ALSO: Trudeau made a glaring tactical error that's getting Canada hammered by Saudi Arabia

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    space

    • In laying out its plans this week for the future of space, the US took a big shot at China's ambitions.
    • The head of the Chinese lunar-exploration program recently described space as if it were the South China Sea, an area Beijing has seized with force and militarized after wrecking the environment to build new islands.
    • The US is the only power strong enough to stop Beijing in the South China Sea — or in space.
    • Space is full of chokepoints and strategic locations that China could pin down and establish control of.
    • The US is locked in a fight to maintain an edge on China to keep space free and open.

    When Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday set forth the US's vision for the future of space exploration and combat, he took a not-so-subtle shot at China, signaling a coming space race between the world's two biggest powers.

    First, Pence brought up a 2007 episode in which China shot down one of its own satellites as a "highly provocative demonstration of China's growing capability to militarize space" (though the US has satellite-killing missiles too).

    But the real dig at China that hints at the future of space conflict came in a more subtle fashion.

    "While other nations increasingly possess the capability to operate in space, not all of them share our commitment to freedom, to private property, and the rule of law,"Pence said. "So as we continue to carry American leadership in space, so also will we carry America's commitment to freedom into this new frontier."

    Pence also mentioned Russia, but one of the "other" nations at the top of Pence's mind is China, where space exploration has boomed and Beijing has already started talking about celestial bodies as if they're a birthright.

    Here's Ye Peijian, the head of the Chinese lunar-exploration program, last year:

    "The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don't go there now even though we're capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won't be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough."

    Ye's mention of the Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese also claim and contest, and of Huangyan Island, which the Philippines also claim and contest, recall Beijing's behavior in the South China Sea.

    China unilaterally, and in violation of international law, claims 90% of the South China Sea, a resource-rich shipping lane and maritime chokepoint. China has heavily militarized artificial islands it built there at tremendous cost to the environment. If Beijing locked down the South China Sea, it could consolidate much of Asia's lifeblood under the de facto control of its authoritarian government.

    Space works in much of the same way.

    china space agency

    "What appears at first a featureless void is in fact a rich vista of gravitational mountains and valleys, oceans and rivers of resources and energy alternately dispersed and concentrated, broadly strewn danger zones of deadly radiation, and precisely placed peculiarities of astrodynamics,"Everett Dolman, a professor of comparative military studies at the US Air Force's Air Command and Staff College, wrote in his book on astropolitics, as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has highlighted.

    In other words, the pushes and pulls of gravity cause space to work much like the sea. While it lacks physical terrain, it has its own kind of chokepoints, high ground, runways, and thoroughfares.

    'Totally at war with China'

    china space program

    As China ramps up its space program, it stands accused of stealing technology from the US on a massive scale. The space race of the 1960s proved that countries with the strongest industrial base and manufacturing excel in space. China has done everything in its power to match the US in those areas.

    "Make no mistake about it that we are — we are totally at war with China right now," said Jim Phillips, the CEO and chairman of the nanotechnology firm NanoMech, as Brietbart notes. "It's not a war of bombs. It's a war of cyberwarfare, and it's also a war of GDP and jobs. And the one that has the most GDP and the jobs is going to be the clear winner."

    Phillips said nanotechnology, which could aid in manufacturing the advanced materials seen as vital for future space travel, will determine the next space race's winner. He accused China of aggressively stealing nanotech secrets.

    "At that point, China will have the new world," he said. "America will no longer have a disproportionate financial advantage that gives it the moral, economic and the leadership authority it has now. When this happens, America loses; the world changes. Everything changes." China, he said, "won't have to use its military."

    But the US, for now, appears unwilling to let China have its way in either the South China Sea or space.

    "Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security," Trump said in June. "When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space."

    SEE ALSO: 'Keep out!' China sends six warnings to a US Navy plane, but the US didn't back down

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    turkey syria

    • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to leave NATO and the West behind for a long time, but he really doesn't have other good options.
    • Turkey engages in several behaviors that the rest of NATO finds unhelpful or downright toxic.
    • US President Donald Trump's sanctions on Turkey have tanked its economy — but instead of making good on the threats to walk, Turkey is holding on for dear life.
    • Turkey's economy has been poorly managed and relies on huge influxes of cash, which other potential allies like Russia or Iran just can't provide. 

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now feuding with his NATO ally US President Donald Trump, wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times on Friday painting his country as the victim of bullying from the US that could result in Ankara "looking for new friends and allies."

    Erdogan's plea for US concessions came after the Turkish lira tanked sharply, bringing markets in Europe and Asia down with it.

    Turkey's economic woes are partly caused by a dispute over the fate of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor whose release Trump reportedly lobbied unsuccessfully for, prompting US sanctions that are contributing to the crisis.

    Turkey has cozy relations with Russia and Iran, and Erdogan's suggestion that Ankara could find "new friends" seems tailor-made to bring fear to European and North American capitals.

    But according to Jonathan Eyal, the international director of the Royal United Services Institute, Turkey has long been looking for other friends and allies, and that's part of the problem.

    "Turkey has no intention of respecting the American sanctions on Iran," Eyal told Business Insider. "It has also said it respects none of the American priorities in Syria. It has offered to buy Russian missiles and other equipment."

    He added: "At every count and on every part, it's gone against not only the US interests, but the interests of the Western alliance."

    Turkey's on-again, off-again proposal to buy Russian missile defenses, for example, shows how the country has frequently courted over-the-line behavior much to the anger of NATO.

    If Turkey were to buy Russian missile defenses, Russia would get a window into NATO's first line of defense. With the US's trillion-dollar F-35 stealth jet coming online specifically as an effort to defeat Russian defenses in the case of war, this represents a hard red line, and Congress has acted accordingly by banning the sale of F-35s to Turkey.

    Erdogan's back is against the wall

    trump like what looking sideways surprised Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    If Erdogan were to follow through on his threat to leave NATO, he would open a gaping hole in the alliance and possibly give Russia yet another strategic inroad to influence Europe. But it would most likely only further isolate Ankara from the prosperous West.

    "When the Turkish lira collapsed, so did the Russian ruble," Eyal said, as Russia has invested heavily in Turkey. "If Erdogan wants to shake hands as friends in poverty with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he's welcome to do it."

    Trump's sanctions on Turkey alone almost certainly didn't tank the lira, as sanctions rarely have so profound an effect — instead, it's Turkey's mismanaged economy that relies on huge influxes of outside cash as inflation rises and Erdogan resists combating it with higher interest rates because he ideologically opposes it.

    Possible other friends for Turkey, like Russia and Iran, just don't have the cash to bail out Ankara. China might, but it would insist on its own terms, which a fiercely independent Erdogan might not accept.

    Empty NATO threats

    Trump at NATO

    Even Russia doesn't believe Erdogan's veiled threat to leave NATO.

    "We're not building illusions along with these relations," Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said of Russia's recent closeness to Turkey, according to Bloomberg.

    Jim Townsend, a NATO expert at the Center for a New American Security, told Business Insider: "Turkey will always remain in NATO. Turkey gains nothing by leaving NATO. They can leave NATO if they want, but they're not going to."

    As Turkey is not a member of the European Union, its only real input to Europe's security posture comes from its participation in NATO, Townsend said. Meanwhile, Turkey conducts most of its trade with Europe.

    Without a credible source of alternative military or financial backing, Turkey is now faced with a binary choice, according to Eyal.

    "The only way this could be resolved now is either the US is going to climb down and accept some sort of deal, or Erdogan will have to lose face, big time," he said.

    But with the US economy doing well and Turkey's economy and prospects quickly tanking, Erdogan has little room to maneuver. He has plenty of reason to wish for mercy from the US, but little reason to expect it unless it falls in line with the US's calls to release Brunson and drop the Russian missiles.

    SEE ALSO: Turkey could solve its banking crisis with one simple mechanism — but Erdoğan is ideologically against it

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    WILKES BARRE, PA - AUGUST 02: President Donald J. Trump singles out the media during his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. This is Trump's second rally this week; the same week his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort started his trial that stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russias alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

    • President Trump's long-desired military parade is now expected to cost $80 million more than expected, CNBC reported Thursday.
    • Congress has already authorized the parade, which is slated to take place on November 10 in Washington.

    WASHINGTON — The grand military parade that President Donald Trump wants to hold in the nation's capital in November is now expected to cost $92 million — $80 million more than the original estimate.

    According to a report by CNBC, the Department of Defense now assesses that the parade will cost significantly more, including $50 million from DOD and $42 million from interagency partners. The original cost estimates were in the realm of $12 million.

    A massive parade down the streets of Washington is an expensive endeavor, which would include a large-scale security operation on top of the other costs to put it on this fall.

    In May, when Republicans were getting ready to include funding for the parade in their annual defense bill, a Republican aide clarified that any equipment used would be at the discretion of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

    "Of course you're gonna see a 21-gun salute, you're gonna see firing of cannons, and things like that — that's OK — that's traditional ceremonial function," the aide said. "What we don't wanna see are tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue."

    But the CNBC report noted that the parade is currently expected to include "approximately eight tanks, as well as other armored vehicles, including Bradleys, Strykers and M113s."

    Trump demanded that the administration begin exploring a large parade for himself after attending the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

    Trump's parade, which will run down Pennsylvania Ave, is slated for November 10.

    SEE ALSO: The frontrunner to replace Paul Ryan is trying a unique strategy to rally the GOP base around him

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