CONTAINING NORTH KOREA: President Trump is scheduled to speak by phone this morning with Chinese President Xi Jinping to consult about the next moves regarding North Korea, which is showing signs of conducting another intercontinental ballistic missile test in defiance of international demands and U.N. resolutions. The talks come as Trump issued a veiled threat over the weekend to cut off trade with China. “The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” Trump tweeted Saturday. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.
Ending trade with China would deal a body blow to the global economy, and put at risk recent economic gains touted by Trump. Anthony Cordesman, a policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes in paper published yesterday that North Korea needs China more than China needs North Korea, but so does South Korea. “South Korea exported $137 billion worth of goods to China in 2016 (vs. $70 billion to the U.S.) and imported $90 billion worth of goods from China (vs. $44 billion from the U.S.),” writes Cordesman. “South Korea is of vastly more economic importance to China than North Korea – which is little more than an expensive and irritating economic liability. North Korea can only offer China geography and a political buffer that has the disadvantage of being an embarrassing third-generation hereditary fascist dictatorship cloaked in the name of communism, a failure in every area where China has succeeded, and a potential risk of being dragged into another Korean War.”
WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA WANT? “I don’t think North Korea is begging for war, I think they are begging for attention,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN yesterday. Clapper, who is now a CNN contributor, is one a handful of people who has actually met with the North Koreans face-to-face. “One of the demands they made clear to me when I visited was to at least enter into discussions about a peace treaty … and I don't find it unreasonable for them to want that.” The Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace agreement, and the uneasy truce has been in place for more than six decades. “There is still room for dialogue,” Clapper said. “The North Koreans are on a very predictable trajectory. They have been pursuing this for 20 years.”
PUTIN: SANCTIONS WON’T WORK: Meanwhile South Korea President Moon Jae-in is in Vladivostok, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an economic summit. Putin called for talks with North Korea, saying sanctions are not a solution. “Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear program is a crude violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, undermines the non-proliferation regime and creates a threat to the security of northeastern Asia,” Putin said at news conference, with Moon. “At the same time, it is clear that it is impossible to resolve the problem of the Korean Peninsula only by sanctions and pressure.”
Moon, who Trump accused of being too willing to appease the North, stood by the harder line advocated by the U.S. He said it was inevitable oil supplies to the North would be cut and asked Putin to cooperate, according to Reuters.
NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR DISASTER?: A mountain used by North Korea for underground nuclear tests including its sixth and most powerful on Saturday might be in danger of collapsing and spreading dangerous radiation across the region, according to a group of scientists in China. "We call it taking the roof off. If the mountain collapses and the hole is exposed, it will let out many bad things," a former China Nuclear Society chairman and researcher on the country's nuclear weapons program told the South China Morning Post. A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016, Thae Yong-ho, warned this year of a possible nuclear disaster related to the test site, and said such an event could bring about the collapse of the regime. The release of nuclear radiation could cause the North to lose control of its northern border with China and trigger a massive exodus of refugees, Thae said.
A secondary seismic shock following the North's test of what is believed to be a powerful hydrogen bomb Saturday was initially interpreted as a likely collapse of the cavern inside Mount Mantap, which is part of the regime’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site. But analysis of satellite imagery by the site 38 North on Tuesday found that the test appears to have triggered only landslides. "There does not appear to be any evidence of a collapsed crater, as might have been suggested from the post-test tremor," according to the site.
Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). 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: Defense News is holding its daylong 2017 conference in Arlington with keynote speeches by Rep. Mac Thornberry, the House Armed Services chairman; Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer; DoD Comptroller David Norquist; and Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the director of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The event also includes a morning panel on Navy capabilities and an afternoon panel on space operations and missile defense. More information and today’s agenda is here.
The Common Defense 2017 forum is also being held today at the National Press Club. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Thomas Goffus speaks on priorities in defense cooperation at 8:10 a.m.; Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, director, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Lawrence Martin, assistant deputy under secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, participate in a panel on security assistance at 9:20 a.m.; Beth McCormick, director, Defense Technology Security Administration, participates in a panel on export control at 2:45 p.m.; and John McGinn, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, participates in a panel on expanding the industrial base at 3:30 p.m.
And because you can’t have enough of these events on a single day, the Intelligence & National Security Summit is also being held today at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center downtown. Army Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander, U.S. Army Cyber Command, and Rear Adm. T. J. White, commander, Cyber National Mission Force, U.S. Cyber Command, participate in a panel on cyber readiness at 12:45 p.m. Marine Maj. Gen. Michael Groen, director for Intelligence, J-2, Joint Staff, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Marrs, assistant deputy chief of staff, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, U.S. Air Force, Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ballard, commander, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, and Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, deputy chief of naval operations for Information Warfare, director of Naval Intelligence, participate in a panel on defense intelligence at 2:30 p.m. This event will be streamed live here.
NEW WEAPONS SALES: Trump has once again prompted some head-scratching with his tweet yesterday that he will permit U.S. allies Japan and South Korea to purchase “many billions of dollars' worth” of high-tech military equipment to contain North Korea. "I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. That followed a Monday statement from the White House that the president “provided his conceptual approval” for the purchase of “many billions of dollars' worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea.”
The BBC reported that the South Korean president’s office had no clue what Trump was talking about, and that no new commitments had been made to purchase weapons. At the Pentagon, no one was aware of any new sales in the pipeline, but also noted it routinely doesn't comment on pending or potential sales, and that once finalized they are typically announced by the State Department, which has jurisdiction over approving foreign military sales.
PERHAPS MORE F-35s: "There will be the F-35," Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner when asked what kind of equipment the U.S. wants Japan to have. But Yoho was fuzzy on the details. "It's more like a letter of an intent," said Yoho, who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel's Asia-Pacific subcommittee. "I think it's an agreement that, ‘yes, We will do this, we will support more arms sales.' " He couldn't say which side first proposed the military sales, but said the agreements are "mutual" for the two allies. Japan is already planning acquire 42 F-35s, according to Lockheed Martin. Four of those are built at Lockheed's factory in Fort Worth, Texas, and the remaining 38 are to be produced at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Final Assembly and Check Out facility in Nagoya, Japan.
NORTHROP CONTRACT: The Air Force yesterday awarded Northrop Grumman a $265 million contract for maintenance and logistical support for the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. “BACN is a high-altitude, airborne gateway that translates and distributes voice communications, and other battlespace information from numerous sources,” Northrop said in a release. The node is carried on E-11A aircraft.
SENATE PUSH FOR BRAC: The Pentagon has come out in favor of a proposal by Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed that would authorize a new round of military base closures around the country, as well as potentially set up a clash with the House. “It's a matter of improving the military value and the effectiveness and lethality of our military forces. That's why we continue to push hard, and we support the Senate's attempt to try to get a BRAC authorization inserted into the  defense authorization act,” said Lucian Niemeyer, a newly appointed assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. The chairman and top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee drafted the legislation this summer as a possible amendment to the Senate's annual defense policy bill, which is set to be debated on the chamber floor this month.
McCain’s clout could re-energize what appeared to be a dead issue this year. "BRAC always is hard, and it's not popular, it's not something Congress likes to do, and so the key element is there has to be a champion," said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the House and Thornberry, McCain's Armed Services counterpart in that chamber, have already rejected a new round of closures in their version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in July. If McCain successfully gets a BRAC amendment into the Senate’s NDAA bill, the future of base closings may depend on whether Thornberry is prepared to strike a compromise during House-Senate conference negotiations to hammer out a final bill. "There's also the ability for him to give up on one thing in order to get something else," said Niemeyer, who is a former Senate Armed Services staff member.
PREPARING FOR IRMA: In the face of another potentially catastrophic hurricane, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state of Florida as it braces for Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm ever. The Category 5 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, is now over the islands of the northeast Caribbean, and appears on track to hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly making landfall in Florida by this weekend.
Scott, a Republican, sent a letter to Trump formally requesting an emergency declaration to unlock federal resources for all 67 Florida counties. The governor also activated 100 Florida National Guard members to help prepare for Irma, which the National Hurricane Center upgraded to a Category 5 storm, and directed all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard to report for duty Friday. Scott said he is prepared to activate Florida National Guard members as needed in preparation for the hurricane.
The Navy says more than 5,000 active-duty military, civilians, contractors and families based at Naval Air Station Key West are under mandatory evacuation orders. U.S. Northern Command issued a statement yesterday saying it’s looking at “numerous sea-based options” to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency and international mission partners. “Additionally, the command is deploying numerous Department of Defense civil support subject matter experts who will assist State, Territorial and International mission partners in identifying potential support areas where DoD's unique capabilities may be required to assist in the response efforts.”
ANOTHER TRANSGENDER SUIT: An advocacy group in California sued Trump in federal court on Tuesday over his directive to bar transgender military service, the fourth such lawsuit since he declared the new policy in a series of tweets in July. "President Trump has attacked American heroes who have risen above discrimination, hostility and lack of acceptance to serve our country by putting their lives on the line in its defense," Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement. Plaintiffs include a 27-year-old soldier and two transgender people who are hoping to enlist in the military. The group is suing Trump as well as Mattis, Navy Secretary Spencer, acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
Last week, a group of transgender troops, a service academy midshipman and a teenage ROTC member who had filed suit Aug. 9 asked a D.C. district court for an injunction to stop the Trump administration from instituting any part of a transgender service ban while the case is being heard. Similar lawsuits were filed in August by the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland and Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in Washington state.
NOMINATIONS: The White House has sent a list of 46 nominees to the Senate yesterday. They include:
-- Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Behler, chief operating officer of the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, to be the director of Operational, Test and Evaluation for the Pentagon, and
-- Thomas Modly, managing director in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Government and Public Services sector, to be undersecretary of the Navy. He has served as deputy undersecretary of defense for Financial Management.
BORIS SAYS WE’RE ‘BOORISH’: Putin criticized the U.S. on Tuesday after Washington ordered Russia to close three of its U.S. facilities, saying the Trump administration behaved in a "boorish manner" and confuses countries such as Australia and Austria.
"That the Americans reduced the number of our diplomatic facilities, that is their right," Putin said Tuesday during a news conference in Xiamen, China, according to Reuters. "The only thing is that it was done in such a clearly boorish manner. That does not reflect well on our American partners. But it's difficult to conduct a dialogue with people who confuse Austria and Australia. Nothing can be done about it. Probably such is the level of political culture of a certain part of the U.S. establishment." Putin also said he would ask Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take legal action against the U.S. in response to the State Department's order.
"As for our buildings and facilities, this is an unprecedented thing," Putin said. "This is a clear violation of Russia's property rights. Therefore, for a start, I will order the Foreign Ministry to go to court, and let's see just how efficient the much-praised U.S. judiciary is." The State Department brushed off the lawsuit threat soon after.
AND THERE COULD BE MORE EXPULSIONS: Putin also said he is considering expelling another 155 State Department personnel from Russia, which would further escalate the diplomatic tit-for-tat with the U.S. "So strictly speaking, the number of American diplomats in Moscow should be not 455 but 155 fewer, if we are talking about parity," Putin told reporters. "So, we reserve the right to take a new decision on the number of American diplomats in Moscow. We will not do this immediately but will see how things develop."
AND THEN HE SAID THIS: Putin also called out a reporter Tuesday for asking whether he was disappointed by Trump, saying the U.S. president was not his "bride." "He's not my bride, and I'm also not his bride or groom," Putin said. "Trump is guided by the national interests of his country, and I by mine."
THE DISASSOCIATED PRESS: The Pentagon is instituting a new policy that will reduce the number of reporters who travel with the U.S. defense secretary on his overseas trips. For decades the traveling press corps included all the major wire services, led by the venerable Associated Press, an American newsgathering cooperative that traces its history back to before the Civil War. But under the new, more restrictive policy, Pentagon officials say there will be room for only one wire service to travel with Jim Mattis, and that seat will rotate among three wire services: the AP, a non-profit news cooperative, the British news agency Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, a French wire service. The Associated Press has traveled on every overseas trip with the defense secretary for as far back as anyone can remember. The new policy allows for only six seats on the secretary’s plane: one wire service, one newspaper, a radio pool reporter, and a three-person pool TV crew.
Mattis says he enjoys his interactions with reporters, and does not consider them adversaries, but he has also questioned the value of taking a large contingent of reporters with him on foreign trips. He’s been known to jokingly tell the reporters, “I don’t know why you want to travel with me,” noting he often can’t tell them much.
Pentagon officials say the policy is a reflection of the popularity of Mattis (all the news media want to travel with him because he is a “superstar” of the Cabinet, in the words of one official), and the limited number of seats on the aircraft.
SORRY ABOUT THAT: U.S. Forces Afghanistan issued an unusual press release yesterday, an unqualified mea culpa attributed to Maj. Gen. James Linder for distributing “religiously insensitive material.”
“On September 5, U.S. forces conducted a leaflet drop in Parwan Province. The design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam,” the statement from Linder said. “I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide. There is no excuse for this mistake. I am reviewing our procedures to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable. Furthermore, I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.”
FATAL F-16 CRASH: A U.S. Air Force pilot was killed yesterday when an F-16 crashed in southeastern Arizona, according to the local sheriff.
Washington Post: As Hurricane Irma bears down, the Coast Guard makes sense of its grueling response to Harvey
New York Times: Trump’s phone buddy in North Korea crisis: Shinzo Abe
War on the Rocks: Awaiting the new defense strategy
Reuters: Putin Warns U.S. Not To Supply Ukraine With Defensive Weapons
Military.com: Governor calls for new Navy base in Alaska
USA Today: Can North Korea target a U.S. city? Experts say not yet
Foreign Policy: My summer holiday to the Forever War
Wall Street Journal: Syrian army makes major advance on ISIS stronghold
Reuters: Saudi Says Iranian Talk Of Rapprochement Is Laughable
USNI News: VIDEO: Russian frigate fires 3 cruise missiles on ISIS targets in Syria
Air Force Times: The Air Force repaired more than half its C-5s after a stand-down this summer
UPI: General Dynamics receives contracts for upgraded Abrams tanks
WEDNESDAY | SEPT. 6
7 a.m. 1250 S. Hayes St. Defense News conference on defining the military agenda with Rep. Mac Thornberry, Rep. Kay Granger, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, and DoD Comptroller David Norquist. Defensenews.com
8:10 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Common Defense 2017 at the National Press Club. ideea.com
8:10 a.m. 801 Mt. Vernon Place. NW. Intelligence & National Security Summit. Information here
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. How to organize military space with Rep. Mike Rogers and former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. csis.org
10 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Headliners newsmaker: CIA analysis of Soviet navy. press.org
10:30 a.m. 419 Dirksen. Priorities and challenges in the U.S.-Turkey relationship. foreign.senate.gov
2 p.m. 124 Dirksen. Subcommittee markup of the Fiscal Year 2018 state and foreign operations appropriations bill. appropriations.senate.gov
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Launch of the State Department reform report with Rep. Ed Royce. atlanticcouncil.org
THURSDAY | SEPT. 7
9:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Asia’s reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. power in the Pacific century. wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 2172 Rayburn. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget for maintaining U.S. influence in South Asia with Alice G. Wells, acting assistant secretary of state. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10:30 a.m. 106 Dirksen. Full committee markup of the Fiscal Year 2018 state and foreign operations appropriations bill. appropriations.senate.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Navy readiness and the underlying problems associated with the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain with John H. Pendleton, director of defense force structure and readiness issues at the Government Accountability Office, and Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Forces. armedservices.house.gov
2 p.m. 2172 Rayburn. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget of the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau with Nathan Alexander Sales, the department coordinator for counterterrorism. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. The challenges of recruiting and retaining a cybersecurity workforce. homeland.house.gov
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. Subcommittee hearing on the challenges of recruiting and retaining a cybersecurity workforce. homeland.house.gov
FRIDAY | SEPT. 8
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Discussion with Rep. David Cicilline of whether Russia’s RT news network register as a foreign agent. atlanticcouncil.org
10:30 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. National security imperative of addressing foreign cyber interference in U.S. elections. brookings.edu
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The current state of Islamist terrorism 16 years after 9/11. heritage.org
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A world history of the Cold War with author Odd Arne Westad. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | SEPT. 11
1 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. A group of 9/11 family members and technical experts call on Congress to launch new World Trade Center investigation. press.org
TUESDAY | SEPT. 12
7:15 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Dr. Washington, D.C. chapter defense leaders forum with Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. ndia.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. The state of security in Africa with retired Gen. Carter Ham, former commander of U.S. Africa Command. cfr.org
5:30 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How cyber, robots and space weapons change the rules for war with John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general. aei.org
WEDNESDAY | SEPT. 13
9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The United States, the Soviet Union, and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1966-1968. wilsoncenter.org
9:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Asia disaster response and cybersecurity in a time of rising challenges and constrained resources. wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Liberal democracy as the path to greater security with Brookings President Strobe Talbott. brookings.edu
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A book discussion on James Reston, Jr.’s “A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial.” wilsoncenter.org
11 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Intellectuals and a century of political hero worship from Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez. cato.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. How political neglect is choking American seapower and what to do about it with Seth Cropsey, former deputy undersecretary of the Navy. heritage.org
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Why Iraq and Libya failed to build nuclear weapons. wilsoncenter.org