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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Police and forensic officials inspect the scene of a blast near the office of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern Indian city of Bangalore Wednesday. At least 16 people were injured after a blast near the BJP office in Bangalore on Wednesday, police said. (Reuters)

Bomb blast in southern India raises concern about rising terrorism in Bangalore

By Staff writer / 04.17.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

A bomb exploded close to a ruling political party’s office in Bangalore today, raising questions about the security of India's technology capital on the last day to file nominations for next month’s statewide elections. 

The explosive was placed on a motorcycle parked about 100 yards from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters, and eight of the estimated 16 injured were policemen on duty, reports the Associated Press.

Many leading software and startup companies house their headquarters in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state in southern India. State elections are slated to take place on May 5.

"It was definitely a explosion. What kind of explosion I can't say at this stage. We initially thought it was a gas cylinder explosion. [Now] we believe it is a motorcycle blast – a motorcycle [has been] destroyed," said Bangalore police chief Raghavendra Auradkar. 

Federal junior Home Minister RPN Singh told BBC that investigators were "looking at all possibilities" and has asked that people not "give credence to rumours."

"We have very sketchy information of what really happened," Bipin Gopalkrishna, additional director general for law and order in Karnataka, told The Wall Street Journal.

But according to R. Ashok, Karnataka state’s home minister and BJP party member, the blast was a terror attack and the BJP party office was “the probable target.” Surveillance has been stepped up in area train stations, airports, and roadways, and the government has asked for calm throughout the city, reports the Indian Express.

Security experts have warned that Bangalore is increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attacks and may be becoming a safe place for terrorist groups, reports The New York Times. The last major attack there took place in 2008, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The government’s ability to curb terrorism in India is an important political indicator, Reuters reports. Earlier this year, Hyderabad suffered two near-simultaneous bicycle blasts in a busy fruit market, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Local police had apparently been warned of a possible terror attack, raising additional concern over India’s ability to respond to terrorist threats.

“What gets missed is that every terror strike in India is a failure of Indian intelligence agencies: They have a very poor record of solving terrorism cases and most of the people who get charged for these terrorist incidents, ultimately get acquitted by courts but not before getting their lives destroyed,” says Kashif-ul-Huda, editor of TwoCircles.net, a website on Indian Muslim issues.

A Congress Party spokesman drew swift and critical response today when he published on Twitter that the blast would likely help the BJP party in state elections.

"If the blast near BJP's office in Banglore is a terror attack, it will certainly help the BJP politically on the eve of election (sic)," tweeted Congress Party Spokesman Shakeel Ahmed, according to India’s Zee News.

The BJP party responded that Mr. Ahmed’s comments were “insensitive and inhumane.”

A sign warns of a British police security operation taking place along the forthcoming London Marathon route in London, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. British police are reviewing security plans for Sunday's London Marathon in the wake of the bombings in Boston Monday. ((AP Photo/Sang Tan) )

In wake of Boston Marathon bombs, London Marathon reviews security

By Staff writer / 04.16.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Organizers of the London Marathon, the world's next major marathon, are reviewing their security measures but promise that the race this Sunday will go on, despite concerns over the attacks on the Boston event, which left at least three people dead and 130 people injured.

Chief Superintendent Julia Pendry, the Metropolitan Police officer in charge of the London Marathon's security, told the BBC that "We will be reviewing our security arrangements in partnership with London Marathon." And London Marathon chief executive Nick Bitel told the BBC that he "fully expected" the event to go ahead as planned.

He said security plans "take account of many contingencies, including this type of threat and incident, but one can't be complacent and when it has happened, you need to then review those plans you have in place to see what else may be necessary."

UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, noting that London has experience with major sporting events, including the 2012 Olympics, said that "This is one of those instances where the best way to show solidarity with Boston is to continue."

The two Boston bombs, which exploded four hours and nine minutes into the marathon and 12 seconds apart, turned the 117th version of the city's marathon into chaos, wounding scores of race watchers and blowing out windows within yards of the finish line. The Boston Globe reports that officials called the investigation of the attack "very active and fluid." No one is yet in custody in connection with the attack, and no suspects have been named or claimed responsibility, The Christian Science Monitor reported. 

The city has stepped up security amid the investigation, closing off a mile-long, three-block-wide swath of Boston's Back Bay area, centered on Copley Square, while investigators scour the area for evidence. The Globe reports that National Guard, local SWAT teams, state troopers, and other police forces will remain on patrol in Boston, and will search bags on the MBTA, Boston's public transportation network.

The Boston Marathon explosions highlight the impossibility of completely protecting outdoor sporting events around the globe, the Globe notes. And marathons pose a particularly large challenge, because they sprawl across cities and towns along open roads.

(For a database of international incidents related to marathons, click here.)

“I’ve lost sleep over the fact that you have 52 miles of open roadway, 26 on each side,” said Guy Morse, who served as Boston Marathon race director from 1985-2000 and BAA executive director from 2000-2010. “That’s the way I looked at it. You look at both sides of the road, as well as the course itself. It is impossible to secure it to the extent necessary. So, it has significant ramifications for major events.

“From the Olympics on down, we’re all in the same mode of providing as effective a security net as we can for runners and spectators.”

Mr. Morse worries that increasing security around marathons could undermine the characteristics that give them such an appeal.

“One of many things it could mean is that the public is pushed even further back,” said Morse. “But I don’t want to think about a scenario where you finish marathons in a stadium where no one can get in. This sport is much about the spectators as well as the athletes. It’s a relationship that’s important to the marathon world and marathoning.”

The Associated Press reports that Olympic organizers of the 2016 Games underscored their commitment to security in Rio, and said they "are working very closely with our government partners to deliver safe games in 2016." World Cup organizers in Brazil, which will also host the 2014 soccer tournament, did not comment on the Boston attack.

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning cruises for a test on the sea in May 2012. Global military spending dipped last year for the first time since 1998, as defense outlays shrunk in the West but rose in Russia, China, and the Middle East, a Swedish-based arms watchdog said Monday. (Li Tang/Xinhua/AP/File)

Global defense spending dips for first time in 15 years

By Staff writer / 04.15.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Global military spending dropped in 2012 -- the first such drop in 15 years – fueled primarily by major US and Western defense reductions that offset significant increases in military outlays made by Russia, China, and other nations, according to a Swedish defense watchdog.

Citing new figures it released today, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that global spending on the military dropped 0.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, to a total of $1.75 trillion worldwide. The decrease was due in large part to reductions in spending in North America and Western and Central Europe, which accounted for almost 60 percent of the world's military expenditures, as the US wound down its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Europe cut budgets amid regional austerity.

SIPRI reports that US expenses dropped 6 percent from 2011 to a total of $682 billion in 2012. Although its spending still dwarfs that of all other nations -- SIPRI notes that the US spent more than the next 10 nations on the list combined -- its 39 percent share of global spending is the lowest it has been since 1991.

Much of the drop came from decreases in its operations Iraq and Afghanistan, which fell from $159 billion in 2011 to $115 billion in 2012. SIPRI anticipates that US military spending will continue to drop in the coming years, as the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan and sequestration takes effect upon the military budget, resulting in an estimated $55 billion drop every year through 2021.

Western and Central Europe, beset by the eurocrisis and ongoing austerity measures to contain it, saw a 1.6 percent drop in expenditures, primarily driven by cuts in Europe's south, which has been hardest hit by the economic recession.

The West's cuts to military spending were offset in major part by increases elsewhere in the world, particularly China and Russia, SIPRI adds. China and Russia, the second and third highest military spenders behind the US, both increased their outlays. China spent an estimated $166 billion in 2012, an increase of 7.8 percent from 2011, and Russia spent roughly $90.7 billion in 2012, a 16 percent increase over the previous year. Russia's increase was the largest among the top 15 military spenders in 2012.

China's increase in spending comes amid increasing tensions in East Asia over disputed waters among the various regional powers. China, Japan (the No. 6 military spender at $59.3 billion in 2012), Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations all have made competing claims over islands -- and their associated underwater territories, which include fishing and natural resource stocks -- in the South China Sea and other regional waters.

Military concerns in the region have been further fueled by the ascension of new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has adopted the belligerent rhetoric of his father and repeatedly threatened the US and South Korea (the No. 12 spender at $31.7 billion).

As a result, China has spent a great deal of attention on modernizing its military, "building advanced stealth jet fighters, developing an anti-ship missile that could keep US vessels 1,500 km (about 932 miles) away from the Chinese coastline, and refurbishing an old Soviet aircraft carrier with which to run sea trials," the Monitor reported last year.

Still, SIPRI researcher Sam Perlo-Freeman told the Associated Press that the gap in military spending between the US and China still measured about 4 to 1 in 2012, and that the gap in actual capability was even larger -- the US has 11 aircraft carriers compared to China's one Soviet hand-me-down, for example.

"It takes time for changes in military spending to translate into sustained changes in military capabilities," Mr. Perlo-Freeman said.

Russia's military spending boost comes amid President Vladimir Putin's promise to radically overhaul its military in the next decade. Before his election, Mr. Putin called for "$772 billion to be spent on 400 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, 2,300 late-generation tanks, 600 modern combat aircraft – including at least 100 military-purpose space planes – eight nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 50 surface warships as well as a whole new inventory of artillery, air defense systems, and about 17,000 new military vehicles," the Monitor reported a year ago.

Putin continued the drumbeat for an upgraded military in February, saying that "Russia’s armed forces must reach a fundamentally new capability level within the next 3-5 years."

US Secretary of State John Kerry (l.) and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se shake hands during their news conference at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday. Kerry arrives in Seoul for his first visit to South Korea as secretary of State. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)

North Korea nuclear missile capability: Do they have it or not?

By Staff writer / 04.12.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Only one sentence in a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report on North Korea was declassified, but it set in motion another political and media maelstrom as John Kerry arrives in Seoul for his first visit to South Korea as secretary of State.

The sentence said "DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however the reliability will be low.” US Rep. Greg Lamborn (R) of Colorado read it aloud during yesterday’s House of Representatives armed services committee meeting.

In other words, the DIA thinks North Korea might have nuclear weapons small enough to fit on the head of a ballistic missile, but even if North Korea does, they are unlikely to be capable of reaching a specific target.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that an unnamed defense official says that the DIA assessment "doesn't reflect the consensus of the US intelligence community" and that the various intelligence agencies frequently have different threat assessments, with the DIA often giving "the most alarming view."

CNN quotes Pentagon spokesman George Little also urging a more nuanced view yesterday. "It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage," he said.

Bloomberg notes that Mr. Lamborn's district includes the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the US Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, and the US Air Force Academy, and that he is seeking more money for missile defense. 

The bungled intelligence leading up to the Iraq war still hangs over Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who are clearly seeking to avoid the perception that the intelligence community is "deliberately exaggerating" North Korea's capabilities, Bloomberg reports. 

Similarly, CNN notes that the DIA has been wrong in the past – in 2002 it produced an assessment that "formed the basis for arguments that Iraq had nuclear weapons."

Differing assessments can be attributed to the dearth of solid intelligence on North Korea, as well as variance in officials' assessment of leader Kim Jong-un's rationality. One view is that Pyongyang would not risk the possibility of "massive and possibly nuclear retaliation," nor the damage it could do to its own country if it tested a nuclear missile and it misfired, reported Bloomberg.

But concerns are serious enough for high-level state visits, with Secretary Kerry hurrying off to Seoul, then China, the country with the greatest leverage over North Korea. Kerry's goal is to convince China that its own "interests" are at risk because of North Korea's threats and that denuclearization of the North should be Beijing's goal, CNN reports.  

Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon, coauthors of the book "Crisis on the Korean Peninsula," wrote in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times that while the uncompromising US response has been justified, the US needs to take a more "creative" approach. They caution against any actions that would make leader Kim Jong-un feel backed into a corner, and broach the unconventional tactic of temporary sanctions:

Temporary sanctions accomplish several goals. They constitute a firm response themselves. But because they do not last forever, they provide an incentive for better North Korean behavior. They also give a nod to China's worry that strong-armed international action against the Kim regime, however justified, is risky. Chinese leaders may or may not be right, but there can be little doubt this is how they think.

At this point it is too late to turn existing, permanent [United Nations] sanctions into temporary ones without any North Korean concessions, as that would reward Pyongyang's behavior. But we do need to look for ways to de-escalate this crisis. We also need to look for ways to more generally contain the downward trajectory of Pyongyang's relationship with the outside world. As bad as things are now, they can get worse if the regime reactivates its plutonium-producing reactor or expands its suspected uranium enrichment, with the possibility that bombs could be sold abroad.

The two authors acknowledge that their advice is "strange talk" amid such high tensions, but warn that without a clear strategy, the US leaves room for small actions to "metastasize." They urge the US to make promises of broad assistance and a removal of punitive measures against North Korea – or risk pushing Kim Jong-un further down the road he is on.

"We need to create a light at the end of the tunnel, even if the light will be very faint for some time to come," they write.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting at Lancaster House Thursday April 11, 2013 in London, England. (Peter Macdiarmid/AP)

Foreign ministers struggle to find common ground on Syrian conflict (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.11.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Syria and North Korea top the agenda as foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations meet today in London. While the G8 countries are united in their determination to dial down tensions on the Korean peninsula, how to respond to the Syrian conflict has proved much more divisive.

"There is no disagreement with the United States over North Korea," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday at a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry

But there are no signs of a policy shift that could bring a resolution to the Syrian conflict, which has been going on more than two years and has left more than 70,000 dead. Russia's opposition to stronger action against President Bashar al-Assad is widely viewed as a key obstacle to more collective action against the regime, a longtime Russian ally. A US official told Reuters that "there was no sign of any change in Moscow's stance on Syria."

Some members of the G8 – made up of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and Russia – met with members of the Syrian opposition on the sidelines of the talks yesterday. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) appealed once again for weapons and humanitarian support for their fight against President Assad.

Mr. Kerry noted it was key for the opposition to become better organized, reports Reuters. The SNC has been plagued by internal divisions and a leadership that is often accused of being too far removed from opposition fighters on the ground. Its presence on the sidelines at this week’s gathering is an attempt to garner greater international legitimacy, security analyst Michael Stephens told Reuters.

"It shows there's a graduated process, where they went from laughing stock to being approved by the Arab League to being listened to by G8 leaders," Mr. Stephens said. "There's a groundswell of support that appears to be building up behind them."

However, evidence of links between some rebel factions and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq – which officially incorporated Syrian militant group Jabhat al-Nusra into its ranks this week – has deterred Western nations from arming the Syrian opposition, and is still stymieing some kinds of assistance, BBC reports. In late February, the US announced it would boost the size and scope of its aid to Syria, delivering nonlethal aid directly to rebels, but still refused to provide arms.

However, The New York Times reports that heading into the G8 talks, there were “signs that Britain and France were prepared to let the European Union arms embargo expire by the end of May so that they could increase their assistance [to Syria].”

“We certainly believe that it’s necessary to continue, if the situation continues to deteriorate, to increase the practical help we give to the Syrian opposition,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “We think that as things stand today, there is going to be a very strong case for further amendments to the embargo or the lifting of the embargo.”

The New York Times reports that in Washington, President Obama has “agreed in principle” to further assist the military wing of the Syrian opposition.

“Our assistance has been on an upward trajectory, and the president has directed his national security team to identify additional measures so that we can increase assistance,” a senior administration official told The Times.

A report on the Syrian Air Force's operations, released yesterday by the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, highlights the disparity between the Syrian government and rebel forces. The report notes that more than 4,300 civilians have been killed by aerial attacks by the Air Force since July 2012.

"The aim of the airstrikes appears to be to terrorize civilians from the air, particularly in the opposition-controlled areas where they would otherwise be fairly safe from any effects of fighting," Human Rights Watch employee Ole Solvang told the Associated Press.

While the rebels have made major gains, they often cannot hold on to the territory because of the regime's superior air power. The continued threat from the air has also stalled efforts to effectively govern rebel-held areas, allowing opposition leaders from the Western-backed alliance only brief excursions into areas under rebel control.

Chinese paramilitary policemen build a fence near a concrete marker depicting the North Korean and Chinese national flags with the words 'China North Korea Border' at a crossing in the Chinese border town of Tumen in eastern China's Jilin province, Dec. 2012. (Ng Han Guan/AP/File)

Just how bothered is Beijing about North Korea?

By Staff writer / 04.10.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Chinese tour operators are halting scheduled trips into North Korea at the request of local officials, as the hermit kingdom's neighbors await an expected missile test off the North Korean east coast.

Reuters reports that authorities in the Chinese city of Dandong, located on the North Korean border, have told tour operators in the city to stop overland tours into North Korea, apparently due to safety concerns.

"There were tourists that were planning to go there today, but then we received the notification, so they've all gone back home," said an employee of Dandong China International Travel Service, who asked not to be named.

Five other travel agencies confirmed they had stopped tours that use the land border crossing into North Korea at Dandong. One cited a notice from the government tourism bureau in Dandong.

"All (tourist) travel to North Korea has been stopped from today, and I've no idea when it will restart," another travel agent in Dandong told Reuters by telephone.

"I think it is because of the situation in North Korea," she said, declining to give her name.

Reuters adds that the central governments of both China and North Korea deny that they have given orders to halt tourist activity. A Chinese spokesman said that the tourism groups had stopped operations of their own volition.

The move to halt tourism comes amid expectation that North Korea will soon conduct a missile test along its east coast. CNN reports that an unnamed US official said Washington believes the launch could come at any time and without warning, as several missiles have been fueled for launch according to surveillance.

What this means for the Korean Peninsula seems to be of great debate in the Chinese press, according to the BBC, though blame appears to be falling on the US and its allies as much as upon Pyongyang. Zhang Liangui, a North Korean expert at the Chinese Communist Party's Central Party School, told the state-run Global Times that he foresees a "70- 80% likelihood of war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula" with the North attempting to forcibly reunify the Koreas. But Cai Jian, deputy director of the Centre for Korean Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the Times that the North's belligerence was primarily psychological, directed at the US and South Korea.

While the BBC notes that several experts in the Chinese press blame the US for provoking Pyongyang's antics, it also cites Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University, as saying that North Korea is becoming "a headache" for Beijing that could necessitate the US and China working together to rein it in.

The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford reported on Monday along similar lines, though noting that such cooperation was possible "only up to a point." While neither Beijing nor Washington want to see North Korea's belligerence explode into actual conflict, Beijing is not willing to push Pyongyang too hard for fear of toppling the regime – a consequence that Washington would certainly welcome.

Still, Chinese patience may be wearing thin. Mr. Ford noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech Sunday that "no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains” – an unusually public rebuke of North Korea, as well as a more typical criticism of the US.

That was a slap at both North Korea and the United States, whose current military maneuvers in South Korea first prompted Pyongyang’s vitriolic response, say Chinese scholars. “He was trying to kill two birds with one stone, but his primary target was North Korea,” explains Professor Cheng [Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University in Beijing.]

The unusually harsh tone of President Xi’s comment echoed a warning from Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who told United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday that China “does not allow any troublemaking on China’s doorstep.”

The message, believes Cheng, is that if Pyongyang continues to ignore Beijing’s admonitions to halt its nuclear and long-range missile tests, China “will take unilateral action, including meaningful reductions in aid” for the first time. North Korea depends on subsidized shipments of Chinese fuel and food.

“China’s soft line has not worked, but neither has the US hard line,” Cheng Xiaohe told the Monitor. “The two governments have to find a way to strike a balance.”

Still, TIME's Austin Ramzy notes, China has long, frequently, and fruitlessly been seen to be "angry" with Pyongyang. Mr. Ramzy writes that "In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union and China’s establishment of diplomatic ties with South Korea, discussions of Sino–North Korean ties frequently mentioned China’s growing anger," and yet little seems to have changed.

Two decades, two North Korean leaders and three nuclear tests later, China is still perturbed with North Korea. A nuclear armed North Korea is frightening to Beijing, but so too is a unified, U.S.-aligned Korean Peninsula and the prospect of an unchecked flow of starving refugees crossing the Yalu River. For all its criticism of Pyongyang, Beijing is unlikely to push its brittle ally to the brink.

A South Korean army soldier moves a part of barricade for the media to enter at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom, that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

North Korea: Foreigners on peninsula could get caught in conflict

By Staff writer / 04.09.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

North Korea today urged all foreign visitors and businessmen in South Korea to leave the peninsula, saying the two nations are on the verge of war. This is the latest in a series of threats from the North, each one raising questions over the secretive nation’s intent and capabilities.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers and their moves for a war against" the North, said the North Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean state agency.

There have been no signs that Pyongyang’s Army is preparing itself for war. And despite threats of an impending “merciless, sacred, retaliatory war,” the Monitor reports that most people in South Korea don't seem to take them seriously. South Korea's capital, Seoul, was bustling today with traffic and people, according to Reuters. Analysts see an attack on Seoul as “extremely unlikely” according to the Associated Press.

Today’s threat comes on the heels of a series of others: advising embassies in North Korea to evacuate before April 10, stating plans to restart a long-unused nuclear reactor, and announcing the removal of North Korean workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex, an important “symbol of hope” for cooperation on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang has also threatened to target US military bases in Hawaii and Guam.

The international reaction has been largely calm, despite what the AP calls “a torrent of North Korean prophecies of doom and efforts to raise war hysteria.”  Many suspect North Korea’s aggressive threats are an attempt to improve the standing and reputation of the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, who is still believed to be proving himself. 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters today that “The government is making utmost efforts to protect our people's lives and ensure their safety.” Japan deployed Patriot missiles in it capital early this morning. Agence France-Presse reports Japan’s response has been largely low key, with today’s stationing of surface-to-air missile launchers the most extreme step it has taken thus far.

"As North Korea keeps making provocative comments, Japan, co-operating with relevant countries, will do what we have to do,” Mr. Abe said.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping said over the weekend that no country should “be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.” (According to The Christian Science Monitor, “That was a slap at both North Korea and the United States, whose current military maneuvers in South Korea first prompted Pyongyang’s vitriolic response...”)

The US and South Korea have raised their own defense postures, drawing up plans to react with an immediate and proportionate response to any North Korean attack.

The Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale notes that “In a sense, North Korea is really just making the same threat in different ways and looking for an extra kick to its effort to keep tensions high. But every time it does so it makes it clearer exactly what it’s up to.”

That may explain the apparent lack of immediate concern in Seoul today, or even from tourists in North Korea. The AP spoke with Australian traveler Mark Fahey who said he wasn’t worried about possible war. "I knew that when I arrived here it would probably be very different to the way it was being reported in the media," Mr. Fahey said.

In an opinion published on CNN, David Rothkopf, the CEO and editor-in-chief of the FP Group that publishes Foreign Policy magazine, said North Korea is walking the line between being a rogue state and “a parody of a rogue state.”

Pyongyang's bluster is as comical as its nuclear threats are implausible.

This does not mean the United States should take the threats lightly. As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has explained, when a country with a big army and nuclear weapons starts getting reckless, it is irresponsible to dismiss the possibility that it would actually do something insanely self-destructive. But the bigger concern has to do with why North Korea is rattling its saber. The reason may reflect more on the United States than we care to acknowledge.

It is possible that North Korea is threatening America because it thinks that there is little cost in doing so, that the United States is less likely to strike back than ever before….

What the United States appears to be willing or unwilling to do is often more important to world affairs than what we actually do. More often than not, our posture is our policy.

South Koreans wait for a chance to enter the North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, April 8, 2013. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

North Korea suspends last major project with South Korea

By Staff writer / 04.08.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Pyongyang announced it is withdrawing its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex, the joint North-South Korean manufacturing venture that has become something of a bellwether of North Korea's intentions amid its increased belligerent threats.

Reuters reports that the decision by the North to suspend its last major symbol of cooperation with the South came down Monday, amid growing concerns that Pyongyang is preparing some sort of provocation, possibly a missile or nuclear test.

"[The North] will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its (continued) existence or close it," KCNA quoted Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, as saying.

KCNA said leaders in South Korea, a major U.S. ally, were "running the whole gamut of intrigues to find a pretext for igniting a war against (North Korea) after reducing the Kaesong Industrial zone to a theatre of confrontation".

Reuters notes that the suspension follows North Korea's move last week to bar new arrivals from South Korea from entering Kaesong, although it did not expel Southerners already there. However, many South Koreans left the site and returned home as food and supplies there ran out.

The Kaesong complex is seen as a critical lifeline for the North. Amid the waxing Kaesong shutdown last week, The Christian Science Monitor reported that the site employs some 53,000 North Koreans in factories manufacturing goods for South Korean companies, whose managers are allowed into the site. The complex produced $470 million in good last year and drew an estimates $80 million for North Korea – a significant influx of money for a regime beset by UN-backed sanctions and with almost no legitimate sources of income other than its limited trade with China.

The Associated Press notes that even with Pyongyang's statement, the status of Kaesong's South Korean managers remains uncertain. One South Korean manager told AP that he had heard nothing about the suspension, and although the North had asked South Koreans to report by Wednesday when they plan to leave the site, no orders to leave had been issued.

"North Korean workers left work at 6 o'clock today as they usually do. We'll know tomorrow whether they will come to work," said the manager, who declined to be identified because he was not allowed to speak to media.

Cho Han-Bum, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told Agence France-Presse that while Kaesong's closure was "politically... a very dangerous decision to make for the North," he sees the move as typical North Korean brinksmanship.

"I still don't believe that the North is genuinely serious about shutting Kaesong permanently. By saying its future depends on the behaviour of South Korea, it's leaving room open for negotiation," he said.

The Kaesong decision comes amid speculation in the West that North Korea is planning a missile launch or other provocative move. The weekend saw reports that the North was moving missiles toward its east coast, likely for a missile test of some kind. And South Korea notes that Pyongyang is ready to conduct a nuclear test at short notice, although Seoul on Monday was forced to clarify a minister's apparent misstatement that such a test was "imminent."

AP reports that the Unification Ministry said that Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae misspoke when he said during a parliamentary session on Monday that there was an "indication" of preparations for a nuclear test. Though North Korea has long been ready for a test, a ministry official said, Mr. Ryoo did not mean to imply that there had been any sign of increased activity that way at present.

US Army Patriot missile air defense artillery batteries are seen at US Osan air base in Osan, south of Seoul, South Korea, Friday. North Korea has placed two of its intermediate range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them on the east coast of the country in a move that could threaten Japan or US Pacific bases, South Korean media reported on Friday. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)

As prospect of North Korea missile launch rises, some question US response to threats (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.05.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

After weeks of panicked coverage – phrases such as "tensions ratcheting up," "escalations," "heated rhetoric," "miscalculations" have become ubiquitous in relation to North Korea – some US observers are questioning whether ongoing military drills with South Korea are fueling a crisis substantiated on guesswork.

Media reports and expert commentary have been rife with disclaimers that North Korea is likely some years away from having the technological capability to carry out the nuclear attack that it said earlier this week it had authorized. They also insist that leader Kim Jong-un understands that there is no way the North could win a war with South Korea and the US, and that his priority is maintaing power.

Still, US officials may have little choice but to respond as if Pyongyang is capable of acting on its threats. Today, CNN reports that North Korea appears to be moving missile and launch equipment to a spot on its east coast, and could be planning a "test launch" of a missile with a 2,500-mile range.

Intercepted communications "show that Pyongyang might be planning to launch a mobile ballistic missile in the coming days or weeks," according to Department of Defense officials.

This week, the US announced it would speed up the deployment of a missile-defense system to its base in Guam. It also moved a warship and "radar platform" in the region closer to the North Korean coast and sent stealth fighter jets to its base in South Korea to add them to the mix in annual US-South Korea training exercises, according to a recap from CNN

Although the military exercises are routine, they have always raised North Korea's ire – and this year's drills seemed to have more heft than years past, with the addition of B-2 stealth bombers that dropped inert bombs over South Korea, Time notes. 

Now, according to CNN, some in the US are beginning to ask if US reactions to North Korea's threats have exacerbated the situation.

"We are trying to turn the volume down," a Defense Department official told CNN. "We accused the North Koreans of amping things up, now we are worried we did the same thing," one Defense Department official said.

Defending the US position

But State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland defended US actions, saying "it was the ratcheting of tensions from North Korea that led to the U.S. shoring up its defense posture."

Even though this sort of bombast from Pyongyang has become the norm over the last few decades, this time is different. "The music is the same, but is much louder," Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations told the Monitor. 

So what has changed? North Korean leaders are threatening the US with nuclear weapons – "unheard of a few years ago" – and they have abandoned the North-South hotlines that were supposed to foster reconciliation, according to the Monitor. And the new South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye, is reacting more firmly to Pyongyang's threats than her predecessor. 

Time Magazine attempts to tamp down concerns, writing that Kim Jong-un isn't crazy and has no desire to bring an end to his regime – the almost certain outcome if he does start a war with South Korea or the US. 

It seems paradoxical to say it, given Pyongyang’s almost daily exercises in escalation, but the North Korean leadership almost certainly does not want to go to war. Not that it would flinch at a massive loss of life if it meant propping up the regime. … The problem is that a full-scale conflict would almost certainly mean the destruction of the North Korean state and the likelihood of a violent end for its young leader, Kim Jong-un

Like his father before him, Kim is focused on surviving. While the isolated North Korean leadership is sometimes seen as erratic and crazy – a case not helped by Kim’s partying with Dennis Rodman or publishing photos of a map showing strike plans for the continental US – it remains committed to staying in power. It has survived for half a century by avoiding any fights that it can’t win or at least, as with the Korean War, draw to a bloody stalemate. For all its goading, North Korea is unlikely to want to start a doomed conflict now. 

Bloomberg View columnist William Pesek makes a similar case, arguing that military capabilities are not what will determine how this ends – Kim Jong-un's desire for power is.

Rather than obsess over his nuclear capabilities, the firepower of his adjectives or the amount of foam at his mouth, let’s consider what Kim is up to. After barely a year running the family business, the Kim Dynasty, the Swiss-educated 30-ish dictator still has a bunch of trigger-happy generals looking over his shoulder. He’s showing them he’s every bit as macho as his dad, the now-deceased Kim Jong Il, if not more.

It is always possible that Kim has suicidal tendencies. But what has the Kim Dynasty, through three generations, spent every waking moment doing? Staying in power and keeping the world out. The idea that Kim and his cronies see any upside to squeezing off a missile, knowing it would spell the end of North Korea, is the stuff of Tom Clancy novels, not realpolitik. 

And one last reality check from David Kang, co-author of "Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies," in Bloomberg Businessweek:

North Korea can destroy Seoul tomorrow if it chooses, so that’s a real threat. Deterrence has held for 60 years because both sides realize the costs of a real war: Seoul would be destroyed, and North Korea would cease to exist. For all the hype about the last few months of chest-thumping and muscle-flexing, it’s important to remember two things: First, if you read the North Korean statements in full, they are all saying “IF the U.S./ROK attack us first, we will fight back,” (not “we will attack you first,” which is often how they are interpreted), and second, we believe them. That’s why there are no preemptive strikes on North Korea.

In this 2006 file photo, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland at Ri-Kwangba in southern Sudan. (Stuart Price/AP/File)

Hunt for Kony becomes a casualty of Central African Republic overthrow (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.04.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

African troops in the Central African Republic suspended their long hunt for warlord Joseph Kony following a rebel overthrow of the president there last month, a top Ugandan military official said.

Some fear the move could serve as a dangerous lifeline allowing Mr. Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army to regroup, and could wreck havoc on a country already facing a government taken by force.

Rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) deposed the president there more than a week ago, and the country’s membership in the African Union has been suspended. The Associated Press reports that the AU mission has been put on hold until the troops’ mandate there is clarified, with African forces retreating to military bases within CAR.

"These rebels have been openly hostile to us and following that, the president [of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni] has ordered us only to be in defensive positions," Dick Olum, head of Ugandan troops in the force hunting Kony and also the overall force commander, told Reuters. "So we've temporarily suspended offensive operations against the LRA for now until we receive further orders." 

Yesterday, the United States listed Kony as a wanted war criminal, and issued a bounty of more than $5 million for information leading to his capture. About 100 US advisers have been a part of the mission to find Kony in central Africa since 2011. [Read more about the US involvement here.]

According to The Wall Street Journal the decision to pull back 3,000 African Union troops, the majority of which are Ugandan, is a setback for the mission and puts CAR at heightened risk for violence.

More broadly, it feeds into gathering worries that the mineral-rich but poor country is at risk of becoming ungovernable and vulnerable to drug traffickers, criminal groups or terrorist organizations that could threaten security well beyond its borders—a fate similar to one that has befallen Somalia and Mali.

Kasper Agger agrees. He works for a US-based Enough Project, which has followed the violence wreaked by Kony and the LRA across central Africa. He told the AP that it would be a “catastrophe for civilians in the Central African Republic" if the African troops left the country.

"All the top commanders of the LRA are in the Central African Republic. That is where the center of gravity of the operations should be,” Mr. Agger said. “This will only give the LRA a new safe haven."

The LRA is believed to be about 250-men strong today, but they typically travel through the jungle in smaller groups – always moving – in order to remain inconspicuous.

Kony took up arms in Uganda the late 1980s, in what he said was an effort to protect the Acholi people in the north from President Yoweri Museveni’s troops in the south. Close to 2 million people were displaced and forced into camps at the height of the conflict, reports Agence France-Presse. In the mid-1990s Kony’s LRA splintered into neighboring countries, including Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, the accusations against Kony and the damage he has caused to communities across central Africa are severe and widespread:

Accused of kidnapping at least 30,000 children as porters, soldiers, and sex slaves since he launched his insurgency on behalf of northern Uganda’s Acholi people against the mainly southern Ugandan Army of President Yoweri Museveni in 1988; accused of forcing children to murder their own parents in order to break ties to their home communities; accused of mass murder of perhaps 100,000 people and feeding his army through pillage; [by 2006] Kony had already been labeled a mass murderer by human rights groups and as a terrorist by the US government.

In 2005, Kony became the first person indicted by the International Criminal Court, facing 33 charges that include murder, rape, and kidnapping children, reports a separate Monitor story.

Last year an online video produced by the non-profit Invisible Children went viral, calling for the capture of Kony. The video had “phenomenal success,” in raising awareness about Kony and the LRA, and the Twitter hashtag #stopykony was widespread. But the project was simultaneously hailed for driving youth toward activism and criticized for oversimplifying the multitude of issues surrounding the LRA’s history in Africa, reports The Monitor.

On a US State Department blog yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

Kony and his cronies have eluded capture for years. The LRA is broken down into small bands of rebels, scattered throughout dense jungle, hidden by dense canopy, controlling territory through tactics of fear and intimidation. We know they will not be easy to find.

But we know that rewards have a proven track record of generating tips that help authorities find fugitives and hold them accountable -- just look at the example of criminals and butchers from conflicts in Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, all brought to justice in part through the use of rewards.

Mr. Kerry issued a similar bounty for a war criminal associated with the Rwandan genocide, and reminded readers that there are outstanding bounty offers on other suspected war criminals as well. 

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