Report: US Considered Direct Talks With North Korea Before Nuclear Test

Plus, Raheel Sharif checks up on CPEC, Saab Gripens to India, and more. Defense and security reads.

Report: US Considered Direct Talks With North Korea Before Nuclear Test
Credit: Flickr/ DonkeyHotey

Essential Asian defense and security reads to start off your week:

A rebuked overture with North Korea. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the Obama administration had secretly approached North Korea about direct talks without preconditions concerning its nuclear program first. The initiative fell apart when North Korea protested U.S. insistence that the country’s nuclear program remain on the agenda of the talks and was followed by North Korea’s January 6, 2016 nuclear test, when it claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb. The overture sheds insight into how the Obama administration’s thinking on U.S. policy toward North Korea has changed. The long-standing position of requiring a bona fide gesture from North Korea to curtail its nuclear program wasn’t working so it appears the administration tried something different. Of course, with the nuclear test and satellite launch early this year, these efforts have failed entirely, resulting in the same old approach of sanctioning and condemning Pyongyang.

Securing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan’s powerful chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, inspected Pakistan’s newly created Special Security Division (SSD) last week. The SSD was set up by the Pakistani government to protect China’s $46 billion investment in a series of infrastructure and economic initiatives known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Sharif said that Pakistan was ready to “pay any price to turn this long cherished dream into reality.” Pakistan and China are concerned that militant groups, including the Taliban and Baloch separatists, will endeavor to attack Chinese contractors in Pakistan and threaten the implementation of CPEC.

HQ-9s on Woody Island are old news. The commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, said last week that China’s deployment of advanced HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries was old news. According to Swift, Beijing has positioned the missile launchers on Woody Island before and even used them in exercises to shoot down a drone. Swift did note that this latest deployment is the first that has no relation to a military exercise. China’s deployment of the missile systems has led to widespread concerns that it is continuing to militarize the South China Sea. (Prashanth Parameswarn and I discuss the implications and timing of the HQ-9 move to Woody Island on the latest podcast.)

Gripens for New Delhi? Last week, reports emerged that Sweden’s Saab is vying for a multi-billion dollar government-to-government contract with India to supply New Delhi with its Gripen-NG fighters. The Gripen is familiar to India and was under consideration during the day of the ill-fated Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender process, which was eventually awarded to France’s Dassault. Since the collapse of the MMRCA process, New Delhi has chosen to go with Dassault for 36 Rafales, leaving a shortfall that the Gripen could potentially fill. India will likely bargain hard with Sweden, however. Maintaining and servicing Gripens could be challenging and expensive when India is already planning on adding Rafales to its fighter fleet–Saab may have to do all it can to sweeten the deal.

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The answer to dealing with North Korea’s satellite launches. Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk has a great column over at Foreign Policy on the inadequacies in the current international approach to dealing with North Korea’s satellite launches. He points out that the charade of position terminal missile defense systems ahead of the launch and responding with sanctions isn’t working. Instead, Lewis proposes a realistic diplomatic approach to reining in North Korea’s ambitions, which include eventually fielding a nuclear-armed inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability against the United States.