North Korea is adopting a stringent position on the recent AUKUS security deal in which the United States and Great Britain will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. Pyongyang has stated that it believes the deal holds the potential to spark a nuclear arms race and destabilize the balance of power in the Western Pacific. “These are extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race,” a North Korean foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by state media. “It is quite natural that neighboring countries including China condemned these actions as irresponsible ones of destroying the peace and stability of the region and the international nuclear nonproliferation system and of catalyzing the arms race.”
North Korea does not have nuclear-powered submarines and its inventory of platforms capable of delivering nuclear warheads is open to speculation. Therefore, the North really doesn’t have a dog in this race. So, why would it take the time to come out in opposition to the AUKUS deal if it has very little to do with Pyongyang? The answer to that is simple: Regional prestige. North Korea views itself as a major player in Asian geopolitics. In reality, the warnings by the North are little more than grandstanding and a ham-handed attempt to attract more attention to recent ballistic missile and alleged cruise missile tests. This latest round of weapons tests by North Korea attracted little attention from the United States, much to Pyongyang’s disappointment. Kim Jong Un’s regime is undoubtedly hoping its words will succeed where its missile launches failed.
As for the AUKUS deal, its plain to see that China is its intended target, not North Korea.
Less than one month after exiting the INF Treaty (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) the United states has conducted its first post-treaty test of a ground-based cruise missile. The test was conducted on San Nicolas Island and took place on the afternoon of 18 August. San Nicolas is a small island located roughly 60 miles off the coast of California and is part of the Pacific Missile Range. The weapon was a variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) which will likely prove to be the foundation of the new system. It was launched from a Mk 41 VLS (Vertical Launch System) cell set up on a trailer. Following over 500 kilometers of flight the missile impacted its target accurately.
The Trump administration and Pentagon have wasted little time in moving forward on testing, and design of missile types once prohibited by INF. This was to be expected given that Russia has had a significant head start in designing, testing, and ultimately producing missile systems in direct violation of the treaty. Now, free of the shackles that INF imposed, the United States is rapidly playing catch up.
Predictably, Russia and China have condemned the US for this test. Both nations released separate statements criticizing Washington, and warning that this could bring about a new arms race. Moscow and Beijing conveniently forget to mention that they’ve both been developing similar missiles for some time. It’s the same old story, similar to what took place in the early 80s when the Reagan administration addressed the gap between US and Soviet intermediate-range missiles in Europe at the time. The Soviets had deployed the SS-20 missile in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and it was considerably more capable then the Pershing I missile fielded by the US and NATO at the time. Reagan closed the gap by deploying the Pershing II and Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) to Europe amid anti-nuclear protests across Western Europe, and much anxiety in Moscow. It was the fielding of these two systems that directly led to the INF Treaty being signed in 1987.
This time around, things are different. Yet it heartening to see the United States is moving in the right direction at the moment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly captured the world’s attention with his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday. The speech centered on the unveiling of a supposedly new generation of Russian nuclear weapons designed to be invulnerable to all US defenses. Some of the weapons that Putin described seemed to spring straight from the script of a Dr Strangelove sequel. An ICBM with more range, and capable of carrying more warheads than any before it, a stealthy long-range cruise missile, and a high speed, extended-range torpedo ideal for use against port facilities and US carrier groups. Along with the unveiling of new weapons, Putin issued a stark warning that Russia would use these weapons, as well as its older nuclear weapons against Europe and the United States in response to an attack on Russia.
Putin’s saber-rattling was well received domestically, which makes sense considering the speech was geared towards the domestic audience. This is, after all, an election year for Putin, and even though he is expected to easily win another term, keeping his base satisfied is important. Internationally, the speech raised eyebrows, and triggered concern about an impending nuclear arms race. The US government reactions were somewhat blasé. For many in Washington, Putin’s talk of a fielding a new generation of nuclear weapons was nothing new, and lacked substance. This is not the first instance of Putin rattling his saber directly at the United States, and it likely will not be the last.
For Russia, Putin’s bluster came at just the right time. February was difficult month on the international front. Russian combat losses spiked in Syria as the conflict there teeters on the brink of expanding and escalating. The bloody stalemate continues in eastern Ukraine, and the first shipments of US weapons are expected to begin arriving in Ukraine within days. Putin’s speech will do much to perk up Russian citizens and help them forget that their country’s two major foreign adventures appear fated to drag on with no end in sight for quite some time yet.
I’ll be blunt: The Iranian nuclear deal is the very epitome of a bad deal. The drawbacks outnumber the potential benefits by a wide margin. The agreement was negotiated to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In exchange for acquiescing to inspections and such, Tehran will receive a veritable gift basket of concessions. The sanctions that have been in place for years and are hindering Iran’s economy will be lifted. Iranian monetary assets will be unfrozen. In essence, Tehran will be allowed to rejoin the world. Commerce markets will be reopened. So long as Iran abides by the rules and resume uranium enrichment, the perks remain in place. Only when there’s evidence that the agreement has been violated will Iran face penalties. In theory, the agreement will almost certainly prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. In practice, it may be an entirely different story. Time will tell.
What the agreement does not prevent or deter is a conventional arms buildup. Now, soon to be rich with cash and burgeoning relationships with Russia and other nations, Iran is already making moves to bolster and perhaps eventually expand the size and capabilities of its armed forces.
Despite public statements to the contrary, America’s allies in the Persian Gulf region and Middle East as a whole, are wary of the nuclear agreement. A nuclear armed Iran is unthinkable. An Iran with improved conventional forces might not be an easier scenario to digest. The Gulf States and other nations in the region are not going to hedge their security and ultimately their sovereignty on a treaty that permits Iran to build up its conventional armed forces in exchange for promises to shelve its nuclear ambitions.
This series will be divided into two parts. The first will be published on 1 September, 2015 and look at the potential conventional arms race that’s brewing in the Persian Gulf. Part two will examine the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region should Iran violate the agreement and decide to move forward in building a nuclear weapon.
It’s August already. As usual, the year is moving by at a fast clip. After the latest Greek financial crisis came to a conclusion, I took a break from blogging for the last half of July. Call it a summer vacation. Now here I am, fully refreshed and ready to resume the blog.
August will be a busy month. As usual, there will be updates published on relevant events and current situations across the world. Also, expect to see at least one detailed article per week throughout the month. I might take some time to tinker with the layout of the blog a bit too, but there will not be any permanent changes until September. This blog’s readership is increasing, much to my delight and surprise. As a result, I want to see if there are any ways to make Today’s DIRT more aesthetically pleasing and easier to access for readers, old and new.
I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful first weekend of August!
Upcoming Articles For August
The Brewing Arms Race In The Persian Gulf– The terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement have not been embraced by most of the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. With sanctions being removed, Iran will be free to purchase advanced conventional arms and bolster its military power. The Gulf states are wary of this and are already beginning to take steps towards strengthening their own militaries. Especially in light of what has been happening in Yemen. On the flip side of the coin, the nuclear agreement has many holes in it. It is still quite possible for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Even the chance of an Iranian bomb might be enough to begin a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf. We will examine that as well.
The South China Sea Runaround- China continues to build artificial islands and outfit them with military equipment. The response from the US and her regional allies have been low key and not very effective in deterring the People’s Republic from slowing down construction. What are the Chinese intentions? How will the US eventually respond to this?
Operation Desert Shield 1990 – Operation Desert Shield began twenty five years ago this month. The military buildup that eventually led to Operation Desert Storm and the liberation of Kuwait was a herculean logistical effort. It also marked the beginning of a permanent US military presence in the Persian Gulf. In this article we’ll examine the lessons of Desert Shield and also see how the US efforts to defend Saudi Arabia in 1990 helped lead to the rise of Osama Bin Laden, the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Global War on Terror.
Unknown Subject/Guest Author– The final in-depth piece of August will be an article written by Lee Kluck. There will be more information on the topic later in the month.