There’s a significant amount of tunneling activity at North Korea’s nuclear testing site, commercial satellite images show, suggesting the area is being prepped for a future nuclear test, according to a report from 38 North, a website dedicated to analyzing the rogue state.
Tunnel excavation has been ramped up at the West Portal at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, while the North Portal remains dormant, the images show.
“Throughout December 2017, mining carts and personnel were consistently present around the West Portal and there was significant expansion of the spoil pile,” 38 North’s report, released Thursday, stated. “On December 28, there were also a large number of personnel (~100 to 200) observed in seven different formations whose purpose is unknown in the Southern Support Area.”
The images can be viewed via the tweet below.
Recent commercial satellite imagery shows that the North Portal of Punggye-ri is dormant, but there is significant tunneling underway at the West Portal. https://t.co/u46LgcV0ew
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test—its most powerful to date—at the site in early September. Shortly thereafter, in October, it was reported that Chinese geologists had warned North Korea the mountainous test site was on the verge of catastrophe.
A senior Chinese nuclear scientist told the reclusive nation another test could blow off the top of the mountain and cause a massive collapse. Not long after this was reported, there was a collapse at the site, which reportedly resulted in the deaths of around 200 people.
A little less than two months after its latest nuclear test, North Korea threatened to conduct a seventh test over the Pacific Ocean, which could pose a huge risk to shipping and aircraft.
At the moment, there are tenuous hopes for relative peace on the Korean Peninsula, after the North and South re-established dialogue. As a result, it was decided earlier this week that North Korea would participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February.
This decision was aided, in part, by a decision from the U.S. and South Korea to put off any large-scale military exercises until after the games. But this has not stopped U.S. military activity in the region entirely, as three B-2 stealth bombers were deployed this week to the U.S. territory of Guam, which has been threatened repeatedly by North Korea. (Newsweek)
Russian war games held last September “simulated a large-scale military attack against Nato,” the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces has…Russian war games held last September “simulated a large-scale military attack against Nato,” the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces has claimed.
Riho Terras confirmed Nato’s fears the Zapad (or “West) exercises were used to simulate a conflict with the US-led alliance and show off Russia’s ability to mass large numbers of troops at extremely short notice in the event of a conflict.
The drills, which were held in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and its Kaliningrad outpost between 14 and 20 September last year, depicted a fictional scenario concerned with attacks by militants, according to Russia’s defence ministry.
But in an interview with Germany’s top-selling newspaper, Bild, Mr Terras said: “Let me be clear: With the exercise Zapad 2017 Russia simulated a large-scale military attack against Nato.
“It was not targeted towards the Baltic states only as it was a theatre-wide series of exercises spanning from high North to the Black Sea.”
He added: “The scale and extent of the entire exercise was far greater than officially stated.”
Instead of being a “purely defensive” exercise as Russia claimed, Zapad was used to simulate a “full-scale conventional war against Nato in Europe,” the newspaper previously reported, citing two analysts from a western intelligence service.
They claimed the drills involved far more troops than the 12,700 Russia’s defence ministry claimed took part. Another 12,000 Russian soldiers took part in exercises in regions “near the Estonian borders” and more than 10,000 in the area near the north of Finland and Norway, the sources said.
Under the Vienna document, a Cold War-era treaty which sets out rules for military exercises, war games numbering more than 13,000 troops should be open to observers who can fly over the drills and talk to soldiers. Nato sent one expert to a visitor day in Russia and two to a visitor day in Belarus.
The intelligence analysts also told the paper the drill rehearsed a “shock campaign” against Nato countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, but also Poland and the non-Nato states of Sweden and Finland.
It practised “neutralising or taking under control air fields and harbours” in the Baltic states as well as simulating bombings of “critical infrastructure” such as “air fields, harbours, energy supplies” in western Europe.
“The number of troops participating in the exercises significantly exceeded the number announced before the exercise, the scenario was a different one and the geographical scope was larger than previously announced,” Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time. (The Independent)
A North Korean nuclear scientist who defected to China committed suicide after being forced to return back, Radio Free Asia reported Thursday. The defector was a researcher at the physics center in the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, the report said.
The scientist was identified as Hyun Cheoi Huh, though RFA clarified it was unclear whether that was his real name. The man reportedly took a leave of absence from his job at the academy before defecting.
He was sent back to North Korea Nov. 17, RFA reported.
“He killed himself only a few hours after he was placed in solitary confinement at the State Security Department in Sinuiju city,” a source told RFA, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He died before he could be questioned about the reasons for his escape, and what his route had been.”
The man took poison inside the security cell where he was set to be questioned. It remained unclear how he smuggled the poison inside.
The man was detained in China and sent back to North Korea. It appeared he had kept his occupation a secret when he was detained, RFA reported, though it was unclear why.
“If the Chinese government had known who he was, they would have wanted to learn what he knew and would never have sent him back,” the source said. (International Business Insider)
Two potential reasons were given for the reported execution.
Mr Park could have been blamed for North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test being delayed, the defector said. The test was originally planned to take place in Spring, but was pushed back to 3 September due to delays in tunnel construction.
Experts have warned a series of tremors and landslides near the nuclear test facility probably mean the country’s latest nuclear blast has destabilised the region, and the Punggye-ri nuclear site may not be in use much longer.
Chinese scientists have warned that if the whole mountain collapsed, radiation could escape and drift across the region.
It is also possible Mr Park was held responsible for the reported collapse of a tunnel in October, which killed around 200 people, though North Korea has denied the reports. (The Independent)
It shows the new leader’s father, who died in 2011, looking at a large globe-like object with other officials from the regime.
North Korea observers believe the object could be an atomic bomb, pointing to similarities between that image and recent snaps showing Kim Jong-un inspecting what Pyongyang claimed was a hydrogen bomb, one of which was hanging nearby.
The photo of Kim Jong-il and the round object was first spotted by a China-based Twitter user, the BBC reported.
“Our defense industry, self-defense power has been enormously strengthened at an extraordinary speed, and our republic will become the world’s strongest nuclear power and a military power. We will fight for it.” (Mirror)
The destruction of humankind is one “impulsive tantrum away”, the Australian-founded winner of the Nobel peace prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, warned overnight on Sunday as the United States and North Korea exchange threats over Pyongyang’s nuclear testing regime.
“Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?” the Ican head, Beatrice Fihn, said in Oslo after receiving the peace prize on behalf of the anti-nuclear group.“The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away,” Fihn said. “[Nuclear weapons] are a madman’s gun held permanently to our temple.”
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated as Pyongyang has ramped up its missile and nuclear tests, and the accompanying political rhetoric has grown increasingly bombastic: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un taunted Donald Trump as a “dotard”, while the US president dubbed his rival “Little Rocket Man” and a “sick puppy”.
Ican led the campaign for a global treaty banning nuclear weapons that resulted in a UN treaty being adopted in July this year, under which states committed to never “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons”.
One hundred and twenty-three countries voted for the treaty at the UN general assembly in July. So far, 56 countries have signed up to it and three have ratified it. The ban treaty will come into force when 50 countries have signed and ratified it.
Ican was established in Melbourne in 2007. Its founding chair, Dr Tilman Ruff, associate professor at the Nossal institute for global health at the University of Melbourne, said in Oslo the Nobel was recognition for the millions of campaigners who had worked over decades for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“That particularly includes the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions, including in Australia and the Pacific, whose painful personal testimonies have played such a crucial role.”
Australia has not supported nor signed the treaty.
But Ruff – who was also a member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War when that organisation won the peace prize in 1985 for its work highlighting the catastrophic health consequences of atomic war – urged Australia to follow the lead of New Zealand, Indonesia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific and sign and ratify the accord.
“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat in any hands and the risks of nuclear war are as high now as they have ever been.
“Yet the current Australian government has done all it can to get in the way of efforts to end this existential threat to humanity.”
Australian government has maintained a longstanding opposition to a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
As a key plank of its foreign policy, Australia has consistently maintained that, as long as nuclear weapons exist, it must rely on the protection of the extended deterrent effect of the US’s nuclear arsenal, the second largest in the world.
Australia was a key agitator in preliminary meetings in trying to get the resolution establishing treaty negotiations defeated.
But the push for a treaty won massive global support, with 123 nations voting in favour, 38 opposing and 16 abstaining.
Australia joined the nuclear weapons states Russia, the US, Israel, France and the UK to vote against the resolution. China abstained.
The treaty will not offer a practical path to effective disarmament or enhanced security, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman told the Guardian during negotiations.
“Australia regards the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.”
But the nuclear ban treaty has widespread community – and growing political – support.
A September poll by ReachTel found 73% of Australians support the ban on nuclear weapons and believe nuclear weapons pose a threat to global security.
Seventy-three parliamentarians – including 60 members of the Labor party, eight Greens, one Liberal and one National – have signed Ican’s global parliamentary pledge, which commits parliamentarians “to work for the signature and ratification of this landmark treaty by our respective countries”.
“We consider the abolition of nuclear weapons to be a global public good of the highest order and an essential step to promote the security and well-being of all peoples,” the pledge says.
The nuclear ban treaty is supported by the majority of the nations on earth but it has no backing from the nine known nuclear states – the US, China, France, Britain, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – which include the veto-wielding permanent five members of the security council.
Critics argue that a treaty cannot succeed without the participation of the states that possess nuclear weapons.
But proponents say a nuclear weapons ban will create moral suasion – in the vein of the cluster weapons ban and landmine conventions – for nuclear weapons states to disarm and establish an international norm prohibiting the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons.
Non-nuclear states have expressed increasing frustration with the sclerotic movement towards disarmament.
With nuclear weapons states modernising and in some cases increasing their arsenals, instead of discarding them, more states are becoming disenchanted with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and lending their support for an outright ban. (The Guardian)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has seemingly put his country on a war footing by telling businesses that they should be ready to switch production to military needs at any time.
Putin’s words come just the day after he said his nation should aim to overtake the West in terms of military technology.
Putin was speaking at a conference of military leaders in Sochi on Wednesday (22 November) at a time when western leaders have become more suspicious of a militarily resurgent Russia.
“The ability of our economy to increase military production and services at a given time is one of the most important aspects of military security,” Putin said according to The Independent.
“To this end, all strategic, and simply large-scale enterprise should be ready, regardless of ownership.”
Although Russian military spending remains at record levels, 3 trillion roubles, or 3.3 per cent of GDP this year, just under its spending last year, Putin said that Russia needs to aim to be better than the rest of the world.
“Our army and navy need to have the very best equipment — better than foreign equivalents,” he said, according to AFP. “If we want to win, we have to be better.”
Russia’s military has been modernised since the 2008 Georgian war and it has dumped outdated Soviet equipment used by its troops.
Over the next two years, the Kremlin will spend 2.8 per cent of GDP on defence, although this is still comparatively dwarfed by the Nato budget, which is more than three times larger, The Independent reported.
Part of Russia’s new arsenal is the Iskander-M, a new short-range ballistic missile that is nuclear capable and can reach hypersonic speeds.
Capable of striking Baltic countries and Poland, a report in Popular Mechanics noted that the Iskander-M has been designed to attack land targets with a reported 635kg warhead.
Russia has been criticised in recent years for its annexation of Ukraine and repeated military exercises and army build-up on Nato’s western border near the former Soviet states.
The nation was accused of violating the airspace of European countries, including the UK, and engaged in cyber espionage, hacking the governments of Denmark and Germany by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday.
Although Russia has denied conducting any cyberattacks, May said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing and you will not succeed.
“Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.” (International Business Times)
Russian troops near the Black Sea coast have carried out drills for a scenario in which Russia was attacked by a chemical or nuclear weapon, the country’s military has revealed.
Spread across three Russian regions between the Black and Caspian Seas, the drills involved more than 5,000 troops, the Ministry of Defense announced in a statement Monday.
Preparing for a scenario in which Russia was attacked by “weapons of mass destruction by a hypothetical enemy,” soldiers were deployed in hazmat suits and gas masks.
Units specializing in chemical weapons were deployed in the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions while at least 100 personnel in neighboring Rostov region launched a parallel decomtamination drill on Monday. It followed similar exercises held by Russian overseas troops in nearby Armenia over the weekend.
Also deployed were mobile laboratories and radioactive and chemical-tracing reconnaissance vehicles capable of quarantining, assessing and potentially eliminating a chemical or nuclear theat.
In recent weeks, Russia’s nuclear-capable forces practices missile launches and flyovers in apparent offensive measures for a conflict scenario. The military has pledged to test its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile system before the end of the year.
The Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu has alleged that NATO is developing use of nuclear arms near Russia’s western borders last week, but has not provided evidence for its claims.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned of the dangers of a nuclear conflict, mostly in response to the growing rift between the West and his government.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, backing of separatist insurgents in Ukraine’s east and its military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been the major sticking points that have worsened ties with the U.S. and European states.
Recent allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year have halted Trump’s campaign initiative to reach out to Putin and improve relations.
While a handful of officials have made a habit of speaking about hypothetical massive and possibly nuclear conflict, opinion polls show the majority of Russians are wary to believe such a scenario is likely, despite the rift with the West.
According to state pollster WCIOM, 63 percent of Russians felt that war with the U.S. or NATO was impossible or unlikely in April. Although North Korea enjoys a better relationship with Russia than with most countries, the country’s nuclear weapons program were viewed as a threat by 67 percent of Russians. A total of 39 percent believed North Korea directly threatened Russia. (Newsweek)
The US Air Force is preparing to put nuclear bombers back on 24-hour ready alert for the first time since the Cold War.
B-52 planes loaded with nuclear weapons would be positioned to take off at any moment, with crews on standby at a base in Louisiana.
The move comes amid rising tensions between the US and North Korea, with President Donald Trump saying that Washington is “prepared for anything” when it comes to Kim Jong-un’s regime.
There are fears that a new war could break out as the hermit state tries to develop a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.
Gen David Goldfein, the US Air Force chief of staff, told Defense One that his branch was preparing to put the B-52 bombers back on 24-hour ready alert for the first time since the Cold War ended in 1991.
He downplayed any suggestion that it was due to any particular conflict, such as tensions with North Korea.
The general said: “This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared.
“I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”