FOCUS ON NORTH KOREA: It’s August and the president and Congress have left Washington, but the vexing problem of North Korea is not going anywhere. President Trump, on a “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf resort, consulted by phone last night with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, tweeting afterward: “Just completed call with President Moon of South Korea. Very happy and impressed with 15-0 United Nations vote on North Korea sanctions.”
The U.N. resolution, including a ban on coal and other exports, was passed unanimously by the Security Council Saturday. It could cut North Korea’s exports by a third, costing Pyongyang about $1 billion in revenue, something U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said would give the regime leaders “a taste of the deprivation they have chosen to inflict on the North Korean people.”
The sanctions, which have the support of both Russia and China, were topic A at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN summit, in the Philippines. Speaking to reporters in Manila, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the next step is to see that the sanctions are enforced by everyone. Tillerson has said he’s open to talking to North Korea, but only after they stop missile tests. “We have not had an extended period of time where there have not taken some sort of provocative action,” Tillerson said. “This is not a ‘give me 30 days and we are ready to talk.’ It’s not quite that simple. So it is all about how we see their attitude towards approaching a dialogue with us.” Tillerson avoided direct contract with the North Korean foreign minister who was also attending the summit. “We have other means of communication if they have a desire to talk.”
IF THE PHONE DOESN’T RING, IT’S KIM: There’s still no indication that North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is cracking under pressure. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency carried a statement today calling the U.N. sanctions a “violent infringement of its sovereignty” part of a “heinous U.S. plot.” It included a vow to keep building up its nuclear arsenal and launch “thousands-fold” revenge against the United States. The statement said the sanctions will not force Pyongyang to negotiate. “It’s a wild idea to think the DPRK will be shaken and change its position due to this kind of new sanctions formulated by hostile forces,” said the statement.
DOUBTING KIM’S CAPABILITIES: North Korea's latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile has outside experts warning that most major U.S. cities are now within striking range. But the Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva has a more skeptical assessment. Selva said Thursday it is unclear whether North Korea has the capability to target the United States, despite two successful ICBM tests, and that several key hurdles still lie ahead for it.
While Selva believes the North’s rudimentary ICBM has the range to hit the U.S. there’s a lot more to being able to target America. It is far less certain, he says, that Pyongyang has the technology to send a missile on a long arc across oceans, direct it back through the atmosphere with a re-entry vehicle and strike a target with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. "What he's saying is essentially that no, L.A. or Seattle, you are not likely to be struck by a North Korean nuclear weapon tomorrow if something goes really bad," said Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
MINI NUKES, MAXI DETERRENCE: There is a paradox when it comes the deterrence mission for U.S. nuclear weapons. The whole point of having nukes is to make sure that they are never used. The capability to destroy an enemy with a massive nuclear counterstrike is intended to deter potential adversaries, and prevent major world war. But if nuclear weapons are so powerful they would destroy the whole world, they can’t be used unless the war is already lost. For nuclear weapons to be a credible deterrent, there has to be a possibility they could be used. That has the U.S. exploring variable yield weapons, what we used call “tactical” or “battlefield,” nukes.
“So that is a path we’re pursuing pretty quickly,” Gen. Selva said. “And it’s not for the reason many people believe, which is that makes the weapons more useful.” Read more here:
Good Monday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten). Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24) is off this week. Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: Highly respected Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis is scheduled to conduct his last Pentagon press “gaggle” today. His off-camera, on-the-record briefings have been one of most well-attended in town, especially early on in the Trump administration when it seem like the only game in town. Davis was known for factual, non-political briefings that focused on operational updates, and straight-forward policy explanations. When he returns from an August vacation, he will serve as an adviser to chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White, a political appointee.
HASHTAG: #FIREMcMASTER: President Trump came to the defense of his national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster last week when McMaster began taking flak in what seemed to be a coordinated social media campaign calling for his ouster. McMaster’s housecleaning at the NSC has angered some on the political right, prompting the president to email a statement of support to the New York Times. “General McMaster and I are working very well together… He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.” The #FireMcMaster hashtag was tweeted more than 50,000 times last week, and the Times reported some “social media organs” were tied to the Russian government.
Asked about that on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “I don't want to comment on the specific report … but I will say that Russia has a long history of using disinformation, deception, subterfuge and espionage to influence Western democracies.” Cotton, who originally suggested the general for the post back in February, says he still has confidence in him. “I think H.R. McMaster is a great American. There are not many generals out there who are highly decorated in two different wars and also have bestselling Ph.D.s about civil-military relations.”
Over on CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff, a ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he saw Russia’s fingerprints all over the #FireMcMaster hashtag. “I think it's indicative of the idea that the Russians don't particularly like Gen. McMaster. They may not like his policies, what he's advocating to the administration, or they may just be seeing — seeking to sow further discord among Trump administration officials, feeling that that would weaken the administration.” Schiff also gave McMaster a vote of confidence, calling him “a good man,” and “a straight shooter,” and expressed the hope Trump would keep him on. “He is one of the people, frankly, one of the few people, that people on both sides of the aisle have confidence in that are within this administration.”
RUSSIA RELATIONS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov at the ASEAN summit and later told reporters he told the Russian diplomat that Moscow interference in the 2016 elections “had created serious mistrust.” Tillerson said he tried to help Lavrov understand "just how serious this incident had been,” but added, “we simply have to find some way to deal with that.”
Last week President Trump blamed Congress for the poor relations with Moscow, but on CBS, Sen. Cotton said it's clear where the fault lies: “Russia remains an adversary of the United States. We have some overlapping interests. It would be better if our relationship was better,” Cotton said. “But our relationship is not good right now because of Vladimir Putin.
AFGHANISTAN STRATEGY: Cotton also expressed the hope Trump won’t throw in the towel in Afghanistan over his frustration over the lack of progress. “We don't want to see what happened in Mosul in 2014, when the Islamic State took over that city, happened in Kandahar, Kabul, or Jalalabad, and let that space become an area from which terrorist extremists can plot and launch attacks against the United States and our citizens again.”
But he admitted the U.S. is not winning after nearly 16 years of war. “We aren't making enough progress. And in military terms, if you're not winning, sometimes, you are losing,” Cotton said.
CONSENSUS ON LEAKS: The new focus to find and prosecute leakers in the government by Attorney General Jeff Sessions got a boost from a top official in the Obama administration, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “The leaks right now are really bad. I've never seen it this bad. There should be a concerted effort to identify and go after leakers,” Johnson said on CBS.
On Friday, Sessions announced a new focus on leaks by the Justice Department, and a report from Republicans in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this month estimated that the Trump administration was facing leaks "seven times higher than the same period during the two previous administrations."
Johnson’s support came with a caveat. “The one note of caution I give the attorney general is what I tell younger lawyers, bad facts make bad law. So before you decide to take on journalists, reporters and perhaps subpoena their sources, be aware that the courts are going to get involved and that has the potential for making bad law in this area.”
T-X BID GOES TUSKEGEE: With a $16.3 billion Air Force contract in play, the Italian aerospace and defense company Leonardo is pairing up with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen in its T-X trainer jet bid. In a video released by the defense firm, Jerry Hodges, 92, a former lieutenant with the World War II-era African-American Army Air Corps unit, can be seen getting behind the yoke of Leonardo's T-100 simulator on Thursday during a convention in Florida. Leonardo CEO Bill Lynn said it plans to build its manufacturing facility at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala., where the famous unit trained. The company, which some analysts see as an underdog bidder, is whipping up publicity as the Air Force considers industry proposals and moves toward awarding a contract later this year for 350 new trainers to replace its aging T-38 Talons.
DEMS WARN MATTIS ON TRANSGENDER BAN: Trump's ban on transgender military service is an "unconstitutional directive," a group of 53 House lawmakers, which included members of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, have warned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The group wrote a letter to Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford “to remind you not to comply with any unconstitutional directive which may ultimately be issued.” The warning appeared to raise the stakes on Trump’s series of tweets late last month declaring transgender troops will not longer be allowed to serve in any capacity. "The president's proposal appears to be based on raw political calculation" and any ban would be "unconstitutional on its face," the lawmakers wrote.
V-22 CRASH UPDATE: The wreckage of the MV-22 Osprey, which crashed during exercises over the weekend, has been found in waters off the east coast of Australia. Three Marines are missing and presumed dead. The MV-22 was assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when the aircraft entered the water. The ship’s small boats and aircraft immediately responded in the search and rescue efforts, and 23 of the 26 Marines were rescued.
MISSING SAILOR: The Navy on Friday suspended its search for a sailor believed to have fallen overboard during operations near the Philippines, ending three days of searches, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The USS Stethem sailor, identified as Lt. Steven D. Hopkins, is believed to have gone overboard on Wednesday and a multinational search ensued, though ultimately no trace was found. U.S. P-3 Orion patrol aircraft surveyed the area and Japan's maritime self-defense force also looked for the sailor using helicopters. The Chinese navy, which was apparently in close vicinity, also aided the Navy in its search.
Washington Post: With U.S. general under fire, Afghans fear being abandoned by Trump
New York Times: Joint Taliban-ISIS attack kills dozens, Afghan officials say
Defense News: Staffing questions permeate AT&L restructure
AP: Venezuela troops quash anti-Maduro attack on military base
Reuters: Russia's Lavrov meets Tillerson, says feels U.S. ready to continue dialogue
Defense Tech: South Korea will allow deployment of full THAAD battery
Wall Street Journal: France opens terror probe after knife-wielding man is detained at Eiffel Tower
Defense One: How green energy will help slow nuclear proliferation
MONDAY | AUG. 7
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Teleconference on the future of U.S.-Russia relations. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | AUG. 8
8 .m. 5701 Marinelli Road. Global explosive ordnance disposal symposium and exhibition. ndia.org
8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington works workshop - Navigating the DOD. ndia.org
10 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou and former State Department official Matthew Hoh discuss a petition to Congress and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calling for removal of all U.S. military aircraft from Syrian skies. press.org
11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Defending the homeland and the future of the U.S. countering violent extremism policy with Katharine Gorka, senior adviser for the Department of Homeland Security. heritage.org
FRIDAY | AUG. 11
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Middle East missile realities discussion with Uzi Rubin, former director of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization. mitchellaerospacepower.org
1:30 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The future of U.S.-Taiwan relations in new administrations. Heritage.org