These are dangerous times, and the threat of war is greater now than at any time since the end of the Cold War, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. Director Coats and Army Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gave the committee their assessments of the threats facing America.
Indeed, it is true. The threat of Islamist terror, attempts by Russia, Iran, and Turkey to diminish the role of the United States in Syria and the Middle East, and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea are but a few of the flashpoints in our world that threaten our national security. Russia continues to occupy the Crimea and foment violence in Ukraine. China and Russia are enhancing their nuclear arsenals.
Here is a quick look at the dangers and uncertainties we face.
North Korea—while indicating a willingness to enter direct talks with the United States—continues to possess nuclear weapons and threaten the West. Their offer to freeze their nuclear and ballistic missile tests comes as they still seek to miniaturize the nuclear bombs they already have and to place them on ballistic missiles. They have already built missiles capable of reaching the United States; now they are simply working to perfect their re-entry and guidance systems in order to reach specific targets.
The offer to freeze their weapons programs is a hollow gesture unless they are also willing to allow inspectors to verify that they are doing so, something that seems highly unlikely given Kim Jong Un’s secrecy, dishonesty, and distrust of the rest of the world. If history is any indication, they will ask for sanctions relief and international aid during the talks, all while secretly continuing to perfect their weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them.
President Trump is to be commended for being open to direct talks. Still he remains cautious and legitimately skeptical that North Korea will be an honest broker. As the President said, “We will see what happens.” In fact, General Ashley told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “North Korea is a critical threat to the United States and our allies in Northeast Asia.” He continued, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pressed his nation down a path to develop nuclear weapons and deliver them with ballistic missiles that can reach South Korea, Japan, Guam and the United States.”
A recent United Nations report revealed that North Korea, which is strapped for cash, is selling supplies and equipment to Syria so the Assad regime can produce even more chemical weapons. Iran and North Korea continue to exchange ballistic missile technology. Some fear it is only matter of time before North Korea begins to provide nuclear weapons technology to Iran, if not an actual nuclear weapon. Iran may not have to wait the seven-plus years for the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) to expire before actually possessing a nuclear weapon.
China, North Korea’s chief ally, continues to increase military spending at a pace that exceeds the limitations placed on rebuilding the U.S. military. “China's military modernization plan includes the development of capabilities for long-range attacks against adversary forces that might deploy or operate in the Western Pacific Ocean,” General Ashley continued. “China is leveraging its growing power to assert sovereignty claims over features in the East, the South China Sea, and the China-India border region.”
Russia remains a multi-faceted threat. It sees the United States as a major threat. “The Kremlin seeks to establish a sphere of influence over former Soviet Union states, prevent further eastward expansion of NATO and ensure that no major international issues are addressed without Russia's input or at its expense,” General Ashley said. Russia and Iran, as they prop up the Assad regime in Syria and continue their attacks on innocent civilians, seek to diminish the role and the influence of the United States in the Middle East.
It is likely that Russia will pursue even more aggressive strategies, with the intent of degrading Western democratic values and weakening American alliances. “Persistent and disruptive cyber and influence operations will continue against States and European countries and other allies, . . . using elections . . . as opportunities to undermine democracy and sow discord and undermine our values,” Director Coats said.
Commenting on the recent U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “There is compelling evidence that at least one of our potential competitors in this space believes they can get away with striking us with a low-yield weapon.” “We cannot allow that perception to persist."
Iran continues to foment violence and terror throughout the globe. Currently it is using the civil war in Syria, and the defeat of ISIS there, to place permanent military bases not far from the Israeli border. Meanwhile, as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran is building up the conventional and missile capabilities of Hezbollah which threaten Israel, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen which are a major threat to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Iran is the major destabilizing influence in the region. With help from North Korea, they continue to enhance their ballistic missile capabilities in defiance of U.N. resolutions. According to General Ashley, Iran has the region's largest ballistic military arsenal. “They can strike targets throughout the region up to 2,000 kilometers from their borders. Iran remains committed to modernizing its military, building the capacity of its partners . . . all while balancing a desire to gain from its integration into the global economic system,” he said.
According to Director Coats, “The terror threat remains from ISIS to al-Qaida to Lebanese Hezbollah.” Iran remains the major facilitator of these groups. While ISIS has lost most of its territory in Syria, the jihadist army, and those inspired by it, remain a clear and present danger to Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Europe, and the U.S. Homeland. Al-Qaeda is reemerging as a threat as well, especially in Afghanistan and Africa.
Turkey continues to be a belligerent threat. It continues to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria, explicitly calling for the United States to leave the region. Turkey is moving closer to becoming a radical Islamist state, and is proving to be an unreliable NATO partner.
What shall we do? We must support efforts by the Trump Administration to rebuild America’s military, place realistic limits on immigration, and take common sense actions to enhance homeland security. We must unequivocally support our allies. Foreign aid must be conditional upon other nations supporting human rights and the rule of law. The United States must lead all civilized nations in standing up to Iran’s attempts to sow violence and instability world-wide and Russia’s attempts to interfere with the internal affairs of other nations. The sanctions on North Korea must not be lifted unless Kim Jong Un agrees to get rid of his nuclear weapons.
While the world is dangerous and uncertain, we are blessed to live in a country that has the will and the ability to counter the evils that plague the world.
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