Defense & National Security–US, South Korea issue stern warning to Kim Jong Un

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The United States and South Korea have decided to extend military exercises in response to a recent spate of missile launches from North Korea, offering stern warnings for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should he hold a nuclear test.

We’ll chat Washington and Seoul’s message to Pyongyang and defense steps the two counties are taking, plus fears of a Russian trap in Kherson and lawmakers make a trip to Ukraine to show broad Congressional support.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

US, South Korea extend response to North’s missiles

The United States and South Korea have decided to extend Vigilant Storm joint military air drills after North Korea late Wednesday launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with additional missile launches early Thursday.

The U.S.-South Korea war games, which began on Monday, had been scheduled to end on Friday and include some 240 fighter jets and other aircraft holding more than 1,600 flights. Officials did not say how long the drills would be extended.

In development: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking to reporters following a meeting with South Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup at the Pentagon, said the nations decided to extend Vigilant Storm “to further bolster our readiness and interoperability.” He added that the two will “continue to work closely together to develop options to protect the United States and our allies in the region.”

An extreme warning: And Lee threatened that should Kim use any use nuclear weapons against the South or other allies in the region such as Japan, it would “result in the end of Kim Jong Un regime by the overwhelming and decisive response of the Alliance.”

Earlier: The North Korean missile launches are the latest in a string of similar actions, including the firing of 23 missiles on Wednesday, including one that landed off the coast of South Korea for the first time, after testing several throughout the month of October.

Washington and Seoul have condemned the launches, with the Biden administration pressing countries to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang for violating United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban the isolated nation from holding missile and nuclear tests.

A strategy change?: Asked whether the U.S. needs to adjust its strategy in response to an increasingly bellicose North Korea, Austin would only say that Washington will implement a larger U.S. military rotational presence in South Korea.

“We don’t have a plan to change our permanent positioning or staging of assets on the [peninsula] currently,” he said. “But you’ll see assets move in and out on a routine basis.”

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WH condemns latest North Korea missile launch

The White House late Wednesday condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch, warning that it poses major security risks to the region.

“This launch, in addition to the launch of multiple other ballistic missiles this week, is a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

On blast: “This action demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” Watson added. “We urge all countries to condemn these violations and call on the DPRK to cease its destabilizing actions and engage in serious dialogue.”

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Russian flag removed in Kherson, Ukraine sees trap

Russia’s flag has come down over the main administrative building in Kherson, Ukraine, but Ukrainian officials and war experts aren’t convinced surrender is nigh.

They suspect Russia may be setting an elaborate trap, creating the illusion of surrender while simultaneously ramping up reinforcements for a major battle to come.

Contradictory statements: “The statements coming from Russia are contradictory. They seem very intent on convincing everybody that they’re going to leave, but what they’re doing doesn’t seem to be consistent with that,” said Branislav Slantchev, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego, who writes about the war.

Signs: The flag is just the latest sign of surrender coming from Russia in the city of Kherson, a key strategic position that is crucial to Russia’s aspirations of advancing farther west, toward the major port in Odesa.

Russian-installed officials in Kherson have evacuated tens of thousands of civilians from the city and surrounding areas in recent weeks. Pro-Kremlin media members have reported that withdrawing Russian troops carried away bronze statues of 18th-century Russian commanders. And occupying officials have moved their headquarters 50 miles to the southeast.

All a ruse?: But at the same time, some 40,000 Russian troops are deployed on the west bank of the Dnieper River in the city, more than ever before.

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kremlin-installed administration in Kherson, told state media on Thursday that those Russian troops will “most likely” leave for the east bank.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week told an Italian newspaper that the movement was a ruse.

“Their best-trained troops are in place. Nobody left. We see it and don’t believe them,” he said.

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Two Sens. visit Ukraine to ‘underscore broad support’

A pair of senators traveled to Kyiv this week and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, reinforcing bipartisan support ahead of midterm elections amid concern that both Republicans and Democrats are fracturing over American support to Ukraine.

Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a joint statement saying their arrival in Kyiv underscores “the broad support that continues to exist in Congress for the Ukrainian people.”

“We met with President Zelenskyy to discuss Ukraine’s needs as it continues to defend itself against this brutal Russian invasion and to show American solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” the statement continued.

The topics at hand: Zelensky tweeted that Coons and Portman are “true friends of Ukraine” and thanked them for “leadership support.”

“We discussed the situation at the front, the missile terror by the [Russian Federation] and the priority areas of aid for Ukraine, defense and economic. We believe in joint victory!”

Coons and Portman also met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dymetro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, and other Ukrainian officials, the senators said in the statement.

Some context: The majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress say they support continued U.S. military and economic support to Ukraine, but a minority of lawmakers in both parties have increased criticism of the nearly $18 billion in security assistance and $1.5 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance.

In response to those criticisms, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) has said that a GOP-controlled House would not write a “blank check” for Ukraine, responding to calls from lawmakers that more oversight is needed on U.S. assistance to the country.

And Progressive House Democrats caused a commotion last month when they released and then withdrew a letter calling for President Biden to prioritize negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which was criticized as out of step with the administration’s stance on support for Kyiv’s strategy of gaining a military advantage over Russia before

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  • George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs will host a conference on “The CCP 20th Party Congress and China’s Road Ahead,” at 12:30 p.m

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host an event on “The 2022 Missile Defense Review,” with John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, at 1 p.m.

  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a virtual discussion on “Resolving Tensions Between South Korea and Japan: Creative Approaches to Strengthening the Relationship,” at 1 p.m.

  • The Wilson Center will host a virtual talk on “U.S. Policy on Lebanon,” with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, at 3 p.m.


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