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North Korea


US Nuclear Presence in the Korean Peninsula

The United States and South Korea agreed (April 26) to a US nuclear presence in South Korea, generally through the periodic presence of US nuclear submarines in South Korean ports and in the region.

In a Washington Declaration, US and South Korea leaders committed to ensuring that deterrence in the region “is backed by the full range of US capabilities, including nuclear…[and that]...the United States will further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula, as evidenced by the upcoming visit of a US nuclear ballistic missile submarine to [South Korea].”

The two leaders also promised to coordinate on nuclear deterrence in the region through the establishment of a nuclear consultative group and improved information sharing of nuclear and strategic weapons plans.

(posted: 4-26-23)


Escalating Nuclear Threat

North Korea conducted another longer-range missile test (April 13), this one into waters near Japan. North Korea has conducted numerous short- and long-range test this year, after conducting more than 90 such tests during 2022 with missiles landing into seas near South Korea and Japan. This year's missile launches come after North Korea promised counteractions in response to US-South Korea military exercises in the region.

Longer-range missile tests are believed to be Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), most likely the Hwasong-17 missile type.

The Biden Administration has issued generally similar statments after each launch, for example saying in March 2023 that such launches represent “a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” which “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region” and demonstrates that North Korea “continues to prioritize its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people.”

News reporting on New Year’s day (January 1) indicated that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un internally called for exponential growth of the country’s military nuclear arsenal, including short-range and intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles.

There is continuing concern that North Korea may soon conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 in support of its ICBM program. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman previously has said that if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, this would be met with a swift and forceful response,” though it is not clear what response options are viable. 

Last April (2022), North Korea launched a test of a missile for what it claimed could carry nuclear capable warheads, which was apparently the first time North Korea has explicitly made such a claim. Whether or not North Korea actually has a working nuclear missile warhead, and that its missile can deliver a nuclear warhead, is not (at least publicly) known.

(updated: 4-13-23)


North Korean Maui Ransomware Threat

North Korean sponsors are behind so-called “Maui” ransomware, according to a July advisory issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA says that Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Sector organizations have been targeted at least since May 2021.

According to analysts, Maui ransomware lacks features commonly present in other ransomware tools, such as an embedded ransomware note with information for victims on how to recover their data, or functionality for transmitting encryption keys to the hackers in automated fashion. It instead relies on certain manual actions by the hacker to interface with the infected machine to encrypt files and recover files.

(updated: 7-7-22)


Increased Maritime Surveillance in Asia

The President’s Asia trip in May yielded a new maritime surveillance effort called the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) led by Asia Quad countries – the United States, Australia, India and Japan. The Quad says they “will offer a near-real-time, integrated, and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture” to country partners for three regions —the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region.

IPMDA will use commercial Automatic Identification System (AIS) and radio-frequency technologies to provide domain awareness information to information fusion centers including the Information Fusion Center-Indian Ocean Region, based in India; the Information Fusion Center, based in Singapore; the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, based in the Solomon Islands, and the Pacific Fusion Center, based in Vanuatu.

While the central purpose of the Quad is to counter the rising security threat of China in the Pacific, the U.S. fact sheet on this matter does not mention China or North Korea, and highlights that the IPMDA will help address dark shipping (where ships turn off AIS), illegal fishing, and responding to climate and humanitarian events. It is likely, however, that this effort has a direct connection towards helping countries in the Pacific monitor the movement of Chinese and North Korean vessels of any nature.

(updated: 5-24-22)


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Indo-Pacific Strategy
Indo-Pacific Strategy

This strategy reflects the Indo-Pacific policy of the United States, articulated via overarching policy goals in areas such as openness and democracy, security, and economic cooperation.

Status: this strategy was announced on February 11, 2022.


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