On the eve of Memorial Day, the world stands at the precipice of war.
(1) North Korea
As the psychopathic and likely psychotic regime of Kim Jong-un continues its saber-rattling, President Trump is standing firm by sending a third aircraft carrier group to the western Pacific.
Kenji Minemura reports for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun that on May 26, 2017, “sources close the U.S. military” said the U.S. Navy has decided to deploy a third carrier-led strike force — the USS Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships — to the western Pacific to increase pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile tests amid mounting concern that it will soon acquire the capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Vincent Stewart, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, has said that Pyongyang will ultimately succeed in acquiring the technology to equip its ICBMs with nuclear warheads and threaten the U.S. mainland.
It is rare for the U.S. Navy to deploy three aircraft carriers to the same region at the same time. The deployment of Nimitz to join the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan means that three of the U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers will be deployed in the western Pacific.
The Carl Vinson strike group, which is also part of the Third Fleet, has been deployed to the Sea of Japan since late April. The Ronald Reagan strike group, which belongs to the Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, and is in charge of the western Pacific, left its homeport on April 16. It is scheduled to carry out a joint drill with the Carl Vinson strike group, which may be joined by the Nimitz.
The Nimitz strike group, which is part of the U.S. Third Fleet, was originally scheduled to be deployed to the Middle East region, departing from its homeport, Naval Base Kitsap in Washington State, on June 1. Instead, the U.S. Navy decided to deploy the nuclear-powered Nimitz to the western Pacific for six months to deal with this latest crisis involving North Korea.
The deployment of the Nimitz also sends a signal to China to continue cooperating with the United States on this issue. President Donald Trump has said that the U.S. will independently take action against North Korea if China does not cooperate.
Meanwhile, a member of Russia’s parliament told an international gathering of government security officials today that Russia would be forced to use nuclear weapons if U.S. or NATO forces entered eastern Ukraine, i.e., Crimea.
Patrick Tucker reports for Defense One, May 28, 2017, that Russian parliamentarian Vyacheslav Alekseyevich Nikonov told attendees at the GLOBSEC 2017 forum in Bratislava, Slovakia: “On the issue of NATO expansion on our borders, at some point I heard from the Russian military — and I think they are right — if U.S. forces, NATO forces, are, were, in the Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, Russia is undefendable militarily in case of conflict without using nuclear weapons in the early stage of the conflict.”
While the Soviet Union maintained a policy against the first use of nukes, Putin’s government turned away from that strict prohibition in 2000 with the signing of a new military doctrine that allows for the limited use of nuclear weapons “in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”
But Amy Wolf, a nuclear weapons specialist with the Congressional Research Service, points out that “This is not new, and has been a part of Russian military doctrine for years,” and that although Russia could resort to the use of nuclear weapons first, “There is little indication that Russia plans to use nuclear weapons at the outset of a conflict, before it has engaged with conventional weapons”.
So why is the Russian government telegraphing its willingness to go nuclear in Ukraine/Crimea? In a word, NATO.
Russia has watched with concern as NATO has added a dozen eastern members that used to be under Moscow’s sway. Nikonov said, “For us, [NATO] is a military alliance spanning three-quarters of the global defense money, now planning to expand that figure.”
In the two years since Russia annexed Crimea, NATO’s Baltic members have doubled their defense budgets. In 2018, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are projected to spend nearly $670 million, up from $210 million in 2014. Craig Caffrey, principal analyst at IHS Jane’s, remarked last October: “This growth is faster than any other region globally. In 2005, the region’s total defense budget was $930 million. By 2020, the region’s defense budget will be $2.1 billion.”
NATO has been expanding its troop presence in Eastern Europe as well. In April 2016, during the Warsaw summit, NATO agreed to increase the size of the NATO force deployed to Baltics to enhance its forward presence. In January 2017, the U.S. deployed some 4,000 troops to Poland. The following month, Germany, announced that it will send some 1,000 troops to Lithuania.
Update (June 7, 2017):
The U.S. has removed two aircraft carrier groups from the coast off North Korea. (Source)
H/t FOTM‘s josephbc69