There hasn’t been a more shining example of how great the military meme community can be than when its faced with a possible WWIII. The media is reporting every last detail, the civilians are clutching their pearls, and the vets? We’re completely unphased at the prospect of another multi-decade war.
All geopolitics and possible danger aside, at least gearing up for war is a hell of a lot better than just sitting around doing CQ, motor pool Mondays, and online correspondence courses…
Actual war may be benched – but the meme war will continue!
Russia also test fired a silo-based YARS ICBM with an “experimental warhead” on Sept. 12, according to TASS, while Wednesday’s launch was from a mobile unit.
“It is not clear what these new ‘experimental’ Russian reentry vehicles (RV) are,” The National Interest reported, adding that it’s possible that it was a maneuvarable reentry vehicle designed to allude missile defense systems.
Despite Russia signing the New START Treaty with the US in 2010, which limited the number of nuclear warheads both countries could build, Moscow continues to increase its stockpile, according to Defense One.
“The aggregate data shows that Russia has continued to increase its deployed strategic warheads since 2013 when it reached its lowest level of 1,400 warheads. Russian strategic launchers now carry 396 warheads more,” Hans M. Kristensen, of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, wrote last year, according to Defense One.
Here’s what the RS-24 YARS ICBM can do.
Russia began developing the three-stage solid-propellant RS-24 YARS ICBM in 2004. It was first tested in 2007, and entered service in 2010.
The YARS was first launched from mobile launcher vehicles, but as of 2014, it can be fired from silos.
It’s equipped with 3 MIRV nuclear warheads, each with a payload of 2,647 pounds. A MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) is a ballistic missile with multiple warheads, all capable of hitting different targets.
Each warhead carries about 150-200 kT of energy.
The YARS has a maximum range of just over 6,500 miles and a minimum range of over 1,240 miles.
The diameter of the first-stage is believed to be about 6.5 feet. The second-stage is about 5.9 feet and the third-stage is about 5.25 feet.
It’s believed to be over 68 feet long.
It’s launch weight is believed to be nearly 109,350 pounds.
And it’s also believed to have a newer reentry vehicle that can elude missile defense systems.
The Army’s top surgeon said Aug. 18 the service is working with its combat medics to deal with casualties that can’t be airlifted immediately out of the battle zone and back to surgical facilities for hours or days, arming the first responders with new gear and techniques designed to keep a soldier alive well past the so-called “Golden Hour” that’s contributed to a record-level survival rate for wounded troops.
Lieutenant Gen. Nadja West said the Army’s 68W Healthcare Specialist cadre will have to be armed with sophisticated sensors to measure a patient’s vital signs, be trained to use new lifesaving equipment like tourniquets that can wrap around a patient’s waist or chest and be given technology that will allow them to “reach back” from the battlefield to surgeons in the rear who can deliver expert advice far from the operating room.
“We’ve had the luxury of air superiority so we could evacuate our casualties at will,” West told WATM at a recent meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to make sure that in an environment where it’s not as permissive — where we’re going to have to retain casualties longer — we have the ability to do this prolonged care.”
West added that in Afghanistan, for example, there were cases where patients were flown out of the combat zone and back to Bethesda Naval Medical Center and on the operating table within 24 hours. But in future wars, that capability might not exist.
In the wars since 9/11, the Army has benefitted from American air dominance which allowed slow-moving, poorly-armed medical evacuation helicopters to speed to the battle and pick up wounded in a matter of minutes. That’s led to a 93 percent survival rate for wounded soldiers, a 75 percent increase since the Vietnam war.
But the Army is worried that wars in the near future won’t allow a speedy MEDEVAC, so its medics will have to deal with situations like potential limb loss from tourniquets staying on longer than usual to fluid pooling in the brain or organs, West said. That doesn’t mean that all of the sudden 68Ws have to be trained as vascular surgeons, but they do have to be able to get detailed information that’ll help keep their patients alive.
“Telehealth is going to be very important and we’re working on that,” West said of capabilities being developed for detailed medical communication on the battlefield.
“So you’re actually talking to a vascular surgeon when you’re down range and say ‘Hey I’m looking at this vessel, what do I need to do?’ ” West explained. “You’re not going to make them trauma surgeons, but at least you have someone that can give them the expertise that can do things right there.”
West also said the Army was experimenting with ways to attach sensors to soldiers so that intensive care specialists in the rear can get detailed information about a patient’s condition and be able to render advice to a medic on managing the casualty over a longer period.
“So I see not having to train them on every single thing, but having the reach-back capability to say okay, I’m looking at this, what do I need to do?” she said. “That’s what I see in the future. Rather than trying to overload them with everything, give them the reach back to help them answer those questions.”
The Marine Corps is doing away with its 0351 infantry assaultman military occupational specialty and phasing out the assault section of Marine rifle companies in an effort to build up communities such as cyber and electronic warfare, Military.com has learned.
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who confirmed planning in December while on an annual tour of deployed Marine elements around the world, said he expects the move to happen in the next three to five years as part of a slate of changes designed to help the Corps prepare for future fights.
The 0351 infantry assaultman, one of the Marine Corps’ five core infantry positions, is tasked with breaching, demolition, and rocket fire against fortified positions. Assaultmen carry the MK-153 shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon, or SMAW.
But Neller said he’s making changes that will ensure those roles are filled by other members of a rifle company.
Each future rifle company will have an element of combat engineers aligned with it to take on breaching and demolition duties. The engineers will carry the SMAW, but they may not be the only ones.
“Can you shoot a SMAW?” Neller asked a Marine infantryman during a brief visit to elements of the Corps’ crisis response task force for Africa in Moron, Spain.
The Marine responded that he could not.
“Yes, you can,” Neller shot back. “I could teach you in five seconds.”
Neller also confirmed that the Marine Corps plans to replace the SMAW in its breaching mission with the Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless rifle, a possibility first reported exclusively by Military.com in November. That move will likely take place in the next four years.
“It’s a little more sporty [than the SMAW], but it has 10 different kinds of ammunition,” Neller said. ” … Do I like the SMAW? Yes, I do. But we had to give up something to get something else.”
In an interview with Military.com, Neller explained that the plan to end the 0351 MOS and the assault section is a numbers game.
Marine Corps leaders made clear in early 2017 that they wanted a significant increase in end strength: 12,000 additional troops to resource fields such as cyber, information operations, and counter-drone efforts.
The service would add 3,000 Marines in 2017 and now expects an additional 1,000, thanks to the recently signed 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. But in the absence of a major plus-up, planners are looking for trade-offs.
“We had to create some trades to buy other Marines to do other things,” Neller said.
At seven Marines in a company assault section, three companies in a battalion, and 24 battalions in the Marine Corps, the move will leave more than 500 spots available in the service to fill other jobs.
In addition to cyber, Neller said he’s looking to build up intelligence analysis, air defense, and maintenance for ground vehicles and aviation.
It makes sense to cut the infantry assaultman MOS in part because it contains Marines of more junior ranks — private to sergeant — and its training overlaps with that of the other infantry MOSs, he said.
“The curriculum for 0311 [rifleman], 0331 [machine gunner], 0341 [mortarman], 0351 — the first 28 days is exactly the same,” Neller said. “So I don’t think those Marines would have a whole lot of difficulty transitioning to another MOS.”
Assaultmen who re-enlist have to transition to MOS 0369, platoon sergeant, anyway, he added.
If the Marine Corps eventually does get the larger plus-up it’s after, Neller said, it could always bring the assault section back. Unlike more technologically sophisticated jobs such as cyber and electronic warfare that measure professional training in years, new assaultmen take a few months to train.
“It’s part of the calculus on anything you do, is how hard is it to bring it back if you cadre it,” Neller said.
Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the Terminal Lance webcomic that is hugely popular within the Marine Corps, has written in the past about his time as an infantry assaultman.
“It is kind of the oddball of the infantry; no one really knows what we do or how to properly employ us,” he wrote in 2010. “As a result, we are often just turned into a rifle squad or divided to be machine gunners.”
Uriarte told Military.com on Monday that rumors of the coming demise of the 0351 MOS had floated around the infantry for the entirety of his career.
Because of the specific, niche nature of the job, he said, 0351s end up doing other jobs on deployment. When he deployed to Iraq, he said, he ended up filling the always in-demand role of machine gunner.
“The whole idea of the job is to breach and blow open doors, and how often do you need to do that? Do you need a whole MOS for that?” he said.
But despite all that, Uriarte expressed nostalgia for the job.
Unless their name is Remy and they’re adept at preparing French cuisine in an animated Disney movie, rats are often viewed negatively by humans. Despite this, rats have served humans as medical and scientific test subjects including cancer research and space travel. However, one rat has gone above and beyond in his service to the human race.
Magawa is a seven-year-old male African giant pouched rat working in Cambodia where he employs a very special skill. Trained by the Belgian-registered APOPO charity, Magawa has the ability to detect landmines and alert his human handlers to their presence. APOPO specializes in training rats to detect both landmines in the earth and tuberculosis in human sputum samples. The rats are referred to as HeroRATs and are certified for their specialized task after a year of training.
The HeroRATs are trained to detect specific chemical compounds found in explosives. This means that they are not distracted or confused by scrap metal and are more efficient at locating buried landmines. When they do find a landmine, the rats are trained to scratch the earth in order to alert their human handlers. The HeroRATs “significantly speed up land mine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory,” said APOPO’s chief executive Christophe Cox. “This not only saves lives, but returns much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.” According to the HALO Trust, the world’s largest landmine clearance charity, landmines and other unexploded ordnance in Cambodia have resulted in over 64,000 injuries and 25,000 recorded amputations since 1979.
Magawa was born and raised in Tanzania, weighs 2.6 pounds and measures 28 inches long. Though he and his African giant pouched rat brethren are significantly larger than other species of rat, they are small and light enough to step on the landmines that they are seeking without detonating them. Magawa is capable of clearing a tennis court-sized field in just 20 minutes. APOPO says that the same field would require up to four days for a human to clear with a traditional metal detector. Magawa has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions and cleared over 1.5 million square feet of land in his four-year career.
Magawa sniffs for explosives (PDSA)
For his incredible accomplishments and service, Magawa was recognized by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British animal charity founded in 1917 during WWI. The PDSA presented Magawa with their Gold Medal on September 25, 2020. The medal bears the inscription “For animal gallantry or devotion to duty” and has been awarded to 30 animals, of which Magawa is the first rat. “Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women, and children who are impacted by these landmines,” said PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”
Although he is the most successful mine-detecting HeroRAT, Magawa works just one half hour in the mornings. “He is very quick and decisive,” said Malen, Magawa’s main handler, “but he is also the first one to take a nap during a break.” Malen’s last name has been withheld for privacy. In his downtime, Magawa enjoys running on his wheel and is partial to snacks of bananas, peanuts, and watermelons. “He is very special to me,” Malen said of Magawa. The two have been working together for four years.
As HeroRATs generally have a field career of four to five years, Magawa is nearing retirement. APOPO says that once they enter retirement, they are given plenty of play and exercise. In the meantime, a PDSA spokesperson expects that Magawa will receive a more practical reward in addition to his medal. “I hear he’s partial to bananas and peanuts,” Emily Malcolm said, “so I’m sure he will be getting a few extra treats.”
For some guys, the structure and routine of hitting the gym is exactly what they need to keep their fitness on track. For others, it’s a slog. The space is dark, the treadmills relentless, and the music mind-numbing. You’d rather be outside, shooting hoops with your boys. Which, actually, you should be, since a pick-up game of basketball burns more calories and builds more muscles than any 30-minute session on the elliptical ever could.
If sports excite you more than spin class, and the idea of scoring points matters more than how much you can bench press, consider these activities that emphasize team spirit and gamesmanship while getting you, incidentally, super fit.
(Photo by Christopher Burns)
At 600 calories an hour, you’ll definitely be feeling the burn as you channel your inner Nadal. What’s more, the lateral movements — something your body is not used to — strengthens your glutes, quads, calves, and core, while mastering your stroke is excellent for developing ripped shoulder and arm muscles.
(Photo by Edoardo Busti)
A sneaky way to disguise a running workout, you’ll benefit from exercising with your buddies on soft turf. Few activities tax the lungs and heart the way running does, so you’ll reap the benefits of a monster aerobic workout while still honing your coordination and motor skills. The sport burns about 300 calories for every 30 minutes of field time.
The quintessential pickup basketball game is so popular because it is both exceptionally simple (you just need a ball and hoop), and also enticingly precise (the satisfaction of hitting a three-pointer is hard to beat). The calorie burn is on par with tennis (roughly 600 an hour), but the rhythmic agility and closer physical contact of b-ball means you work a little more on balance and flexibility.
There are indoor leagues where you can play in a gymnasium in the winter, but nothing beats beach volleyball for that emotional, summer-is-finally-here high. (You don’t have to live at the beach either, New York City has large courts in the middle of Central Park.) You’ll burn around 400 calories an hour in this spirited game, developing shoulder and arm muscles, eye-hand coordination, and explosive power from your jump shots, all the while protecting your bones by landing on soft sand.
Team camaraderie rules this sport, so if socializing is an important carrot for getting you to exercise, consider spending an hour or two, a few nights a week, in the dugout with your buds, swapping jokes and de-stressing while building a solid fitness base. The on-off nature of the sport means you burn fewer calories (around 350 per hour), but you’ll get moderate cardio from running the bases, and reasonable upper-body strength from working on your swing.
No longer the pastime of overgrown collegiates, ultimate frisbee is a legit sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee. More importantly, it is a game on nonstop running, leaping, reaching, and throwing. This full-body workout burns about 500 calories an hour, while developing reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and some serious tumbling skills.
Strength, explosiveness, mental toughness and a desire to be pummeled by large men are at the core of this sport. In rec leagues, the physical contact is often moderated (see: flag football), so if you’re looking for the adrenalin rush minus the bruising, know which rules you’re playing by before you sign up. While calorie burn varies significantly depending on the position your play, you’ll definitely benefit from an increase in strength, flexibility, and range of motion through warm-up drills and stretches.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
President Donald Trump said on April 17, 2018, that the US had already started speaking with North Korea ahead of a proposed meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018.
“We’ve also started talking to North Korea directly,” Trump said, according to Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg’s White House reporter. “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea.”
Trump was speaking to reporters alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
According to Jacobs, Trump said talks with Kim would take place “probably in early June ” or “a little before that,” or not at all. The president added that five locations were under consideration for a meeting, but he did not specify where.
The Washington Post reporter David Nakamura tweeted that he asked Trump whether any of the locations were in the US and that the president “shook his head and clearly mouthed the word, ‘No.'”
The president said he would bring up in a meeting with Kim the cases of abductees held by North Korea.
A White House official said early April 17, 2018, that three Americans being held in North Korea also factored “very much into future interactions” between the US and North Korea.
Trump also said North Korea and South Korea “have my blessing” to discuss officially ending the Korean War, which ended with an armistice in 1953 but is technically ongoing because there is no peace treaty.
Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are set to meet for the first time on April 27, 2018. The South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo cited an unnamed intelligence source as saying the summit could lead to a peace announcement.
CNN reported early April 2018, that “secret, direct talks” were underway between Washington and Pyongyang in preparation for a summit between Trump and Kim, with several administration officials saying a team at the CIA was working through intelligence back-channels.
US and North Korean intelligence officials had spoken several times and met in a third country to work on settling a location for a meeting, according to CNN.
President Donald Trump says he’s found a new candidate for the civilian post of Navy secretary.
His name is Richard Spencer, and he’s a former financial industry executive. Spencer is also a former Marine Corps captain.
The White House says Spencer most recently was managing partner of Fall Creek Management, a privately held management consulting company in Wyoming. Spencer also was vice chairman and chief financial officer for Intercontinental Exchange Inc., a financial market company, and president of Crossroads Group, a venture capital firm that was bought by Lehman Brothers in 2003.
Trump’s first choice for Navy secretary, businessman Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration in February. Bilden cited privacy concerns and the difficulty of separating from his business interests.
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Army’s two senior-most leaders tag-teamed responses to questions posed by a gathering of military journalists at a press conference held on the first day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition here, and in the process the pair presented a mixed bag of concerns and optimism.
“Across our force, we have soldiers and civilians living and working in 52,000 buildings that are in poor or failing condition because of the $7 billion of deferred maintenance that we’ve aggregated over the last few years,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said. “Since 2011 the Army’s modernization program has decreased by 33 percent. And today our modernization program is $36 billion less than the next closest service. These are the kind of tradeoffs we’ve made over the last few years to meet our responsibilities.”
“We, the U.S. Army, we don’t have to get it exactly right, but we have to get it less wrong than any potential adversary,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff, added. “Up until now, we have essentially mortgaged the future of readiness for modernization.”
When asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to grow the Army to 548,000, Milley replied, “We do all kinds of studies. We do a lot of analysis. We do a lot of rigor. I’m not going to share those numbers, but it’s not about so much numbers. It’s about capability. We need to make sure we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on the battlefield. . . What does it say in the defense planning guidance, etc.? Those will vary depending on the contingencies you’re looking at.”
“One of the dangers we see with this debate taking place the Army told to maintain a force structure greater than we’re planning on without any additional resources to do that,” Fanning added. “That would put us out of whack.”
Questioned on the service’s plan to retain the right talent in the face of large drawdowns and budget challenges, Fanning answered, “Right now it is bureaucratic and bureaucracies are additive by nature. Something bad happens and you create a process to prevent it from happening again and you layer that upon another one upon another one upon another one. You don’t really have a process to cull through all that and simplify it. We’re trying to squeeze all the risk out of the process. As we draw down we need to focus not only on whether we have the right people in the force, whatever size it is, but that we are opening up the institution, the bureaucracy, to doing business in a different way.”
Milley contextualized the Army’s talent requirement against the future threat, using words like “non-linear” and “non-contiguous” to describe the battlefield and “elusive” and “ambiguous” to describe the enemy.
“Leaders are going to have to be self-starters,” he said, the opening line of what turned out to be an extended monologue of sorts.
“Leaders are going to have to have massive amounts of initiative,” Milley continued. “They’re going to have to have critical thinking skills well beyond what we normally think of today in our formations. They’re going to have to have huge amounts of character so that they make the right ethical and moral choices in the absence of supervision and the intense pressure of combat.
“They’re going to have to have a level of mental and organizational agility that is not necessarily current in any army, really. I would argue that the level of endurance of these individuals is going to have to be something that we haven’t trained to on a regular basis, where individuals are going to have to be conducting small unit level operations without higher level supervision, and they’re going to have to do that day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out . . . a long time.
“Last thing is that senior leaders are going to have to implicitly trust supported leaders’ judgement because of the degraded environment we’re not going to have control of the supported environment in the true sense of the word as we think of it today; we’re not going to have push-to-talk communications back in forth cause it’s going to be degraded. So these leaders are going to have to be independent of higher day-to-day instructions. I just described to you talent management that is fundamentally different than any army undertakes today. And I’m talking about an army in the field about 15, 20 years from now. I’m not talking about next week. But that’s where we’re going to have to go. And that’ll be a high standard to meet.”
The Pentagon is disputing reports that its rules of engagement in Iraq have been loosened following a deadly strike in Mosul that killed more than 100 civilians.
But its own spokesman seemed to confirm last month it did exactly that.
Previously, American advisors on the ground were required to go through an approval process with a command center in Baghdad before strikes were carried out. But in February, the AP reported the military had dropped this requirement to speed up strikes, with some advisors operating on the ground being “empowered” and no longer required to coordinate with Baghdad.
The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, confirmed to The Associated Press the rules of engagement in the fight against IS in Iraq were adjusted by the December directive, explaining that some coalition troops were given the “ability to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell.”
More coalition forces have been “empowered” to have the ability to call in strikes in the Mosul operation, Col. Dorrian told a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday.
Now contrast that with reporting from The New York Times, in which spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said rules had not been loosened. Besides its easing of the process, advisors were embedded at lower echelons of Iraqi security forces at the brigade and battalion level, rather than division — meaning that US forces have increasingly gotten closer to direct combat.
Davis told The Times the strike that killed hundreds in Mosul was “at the request of Iraqi security forces,” and did not mention American advisors. This seems to suggest that US military planners may have received a direct request for air support from Iraqi troops, which may not have attempted to minimize collateral damage.
The idea of putting Iraqi troops in the driver seat with the ability to call in American air strikes seems a result of the “adjustment” of rules the AP had reported. In that story, published on Feb. 24, an Iraqi Army general is able to call an American lieutenant colonel to report a mortar attack and request support directly, something that had not been possible last year.
Col. Dorrian did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Pentagon may be technically accurate when it says rules of engagement have not changed. Rules of engagement guidelines help troops understand when they can and cannot fire at an opposing force. Typically, troops are required to get positive identification of a target, only fire when under threat, and are required to minimize collateral damage when calling in air strikes.
@PaulSzoldra I spoke to the PAO for Lt. Col. Browning about a week after the AP report. He said ROE were not changed, PROCEDURES were.
While the overarching guidelines may not have changed, the process for carrying out air strikes certainly has — and it may be the reason why Mosul could be the site of the largest loss of civilian life since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
The Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that it would investigate the March 17 strike, accordingto The New York Times. The process is expected to take at least a few weeks.
“Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians,” a release on the coalition website says.
We sent our “Vet On The Street,” Marine Corps veteran and comic James P. Connolly, to Santa Monica, California, to find out if your average civilian knows the term for someone who lies about their service (aka “stolen valor”). They have some good ideas … or not.
China’s first domestically made aircraft carrier began sea trials on May 13, 2018.
The Type 001A carrier left its port in the northeastern city of Dalian is undergoing tests of its power system, according to state-run media outlet Xinhua. Further tests are expected to check radar and communication systems as well a leakage.
The ship, which is conventionally powered, has reportedly had weapons and other systems fitted since it was launched in 2017. It is expected to enter service later in 2018, a year ahead of schedule.
China’s first carrier, Liaoning, was a second-hand ship purchased in 1998 from Ukraine. The new ship is an upgrade to the Soviet-era carrier and will be able to carry 35 aircraft.
The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation previously confirmed that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is being developed and expected by 2025.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the run-up to the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, North Korea bombed South Korea Air Flight 858, killing 115 people. Afterward, when South Korea remained steadfast in its desire to host the games, North Korea suddenly offered high-level talks. North Korea toned down its rhetoric and tried to negotiate a co-hosting of the Olympics, but this effort fell apart. This historical lesson is corroborated by one of the Flight 585 bombers who was caught and turned. She is still alive today and recently warned not to trust North Korea’s current dictator Kim Jong-un’s outreach.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is well underway and once again North Korea is attempting to use the games for their ends. North Korea is trying to steal international attention, break sanctions, and drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.
Kim has already made himself take center-stage, using a dramatic opening to South Korea to force the international spotlight onto himself. Right now, cooperation is his chosen tool of persuasion, as he spoke of reunification, restarted the North Korean-South Korean hotline, and worked to convince South Korea that both Olympic teams should march under one neutral flag. Kim also launched a charm offensive to show he is serious about negotiations. This has included toned-down rhetoric, a smaller military parade, and sending flashy bands to perform at the Olympics. He also sent North Korean pop star and propagandist Hyon Song-wol to find a venue for an orchestra, causing a sensation which bedazzled South Korean journalists and citizens.
In the background of all this distraction, North Korea is preparing to make a show of force. Satellite imagery showed 13,000 troops and 150 vehicles drilling for the small Feb. 8 military parade that featured a new missile system. Kim knows he can have a larger parade to send a message anytime he wants. It remains to be seen if he will engage in any missile or nuclear tests during or right after the Olympics.
North Korea’s appearance of reconciliation also purposefully includes sanctions violations. One of these sending senior North Korean officials to visit South Korea despite being banned from traveling. South Korea will have to decide if it wants to make an exception to the ban, but without certain waivers from the United Nations Security Council, such visits would violate the law. Meanwhile, it is unclear how the US would respond. Already Kim’s less notorious sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is not barred from visiting, has had a successful time charming the South Korean and American media.
Kim will likely get away with several sanctions violations because he will extract them as the cost of North Korean cooperation. Even if they are minor, these violations will test the limits of what others will tolerate. They will make the point that North Korea always has been – and always will be – able to do as it pleases.
Finally, Kim would love to see the South Korean-American alliance rendered a dead letter. Although it is a very unlikely goal, Kim attempts to accomplish this by contrasting South Korea’s willingness to talk with the bellicosity of US President Trump. North Korea’s aim is to create the perception that the Koreas are working together against interference by America. When North Korea returns to aggression, Kim will claim that it is America’s fault. By cozying up to South Korea and then walking out, Kim hopes to drive a small wedge into the alliance.
South Korea should talk to Kim, and so should America, mainly to lower the odds of accidental war. However, talks require realizing that nuclear weapons will not be up for serious discussion and that North Korea will continue its pattern of behavior. Sudden shifts to threats place pressure on South Korea and shifts to friendliness invite confused opponents to the bargaining table on Kim’s terms. Wise policymakers anticipate this pattern, rather than being angered or duped by it. To take Kim Jong-un’s overtures at face-value is foolish, and South Korea should assume that the Supreme Leader is after something more than the gold at these Olympics.