The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military for the first time reveals contingency plans by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to intervene in North Korea.
Relations between the two communist nations remain strained and last year were at the lowest level in decades.
According to the report, China fears North Korea’s provocative nuclear and missile tests will set off a regional conflict. Beijing wants stability, a denuclearized peninsula and no U.S. forces near its borders.
“China’s priority is maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula, which includes preventing a [North Korean] collapse and preventing a military conflict on the peninsula,” the report said.
China’s government has issued strident statements regarding North Korea, including suggestions the PLA will be used to respond to a Korean crisis.
The response could include options ranging from “securing the China-North Korea border to prevent the flow of refugees, to a military intervention into North Korea.”
Beijing also could use a 1961 defense agreement with Pyongyang as a justification for an invasion, but the report said China’s willingness to intervene to defend the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unclear.
If China does attack North Korea, forces from the Northern Theater, formerly the Shenyang military region, would be deployed.
Three group armies in the China’s Northern Theater contain about 170,000 troops, a naval fleet, two air force bases, one air support division, two naval aviation divisions, and People’s Armed Police (PAP) units that are used to conduct border defense operations. Other forces would be called on from other Chinese theaters to support an invasion.
“In response to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident on the Korean peninsula, the PLA could deploy emergency-response units with specialized equipment and personnel who routinely train for rapid responses,” the report said.
The PLA since 2004 has been increasing its ability to conduct joint operations near North Korea with an emphasis on border defense.
“More recent training has sought to improve the Northern Theater’s civil-military fusion, night training and transport of PLA units across the Bohai [Sea] from the Shandong Peninsula to the Liaoning Peninsula.”
China also has been coordinating with Russia on North Korea since 2015. Eight consultations on regional security were held.
Chinese plans to invade North Korea highlight two imperatives for Washington, said China expert Rick Fisher.
“First, there is now a crisis-level requirement for the United States to deploy a force of hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons with its Asian forces, to deter China from exploiting any Korean Peninsula conflict to also invade Taiwan,” said Mr. Fisher, senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“Second, it is imperative that Washington make public the full extent of China’s assistance to North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, to at a minimum embarrass Beijing into taking back that assistance, especially the sophisticated 16- and 18-wheel missile trucks that make it possible for Pyongyang to achieve surprise nuclear strikes against U.S. cities,” he said.
Security clearance furor
President Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan set off a furor among nearly 200 former intelligence and policy officials who revealed their anti-Trump political leanings in signing on to protest letters.
First came the letter from a small group of senior ex-intelligence officials decrying the president’s action against Mr. Brennan. That was followed by another letter signed by 177 former officials, from the intelligence, law enforcement and policymaking communities.
The second letter was billed as “bipartisan,” but a careful reading of the list of signers shows most of those are liberals, including several key officials from the Obama administration, like former Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Many of the Republicans on the list are George W. Bush administration veterans including several that while not liberal are known to be anti-conservative.
Also signing was Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant defense secretary under President Obama, who acknowledged during an MSNBC interview last year that she was part of the frantic effort to gather intelligence on Trump-Russia ties after the November 2016 election.
The protest letters were distributed by former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who during his time in government often referred to himself as a “junior administration official.”
When asked by Inside the Ring whether the president has ultimate power to revoke government security clearances, Mr. Harlow said: “Yep, he can. Doesn’t mean it is right.”
The former officials’ letter decried what they regarded as the unjustified removal or threat of removal of clearances for former officials.
“All of us believe it is critical to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure,” the letter states. “But we believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so.”
The president clearly touched a nerve with the security clearance move that the White House said was carried out in response to Mr. Brennan’s frequent and public accusations, mainly on liberal cable news shows, that Mr. Trump is a traitor and tool of the Russian government.
The millions of people granted security clearances during government service have become a kind of secret society. Cleared officials often use their retention of access to secrets after leaving government and continue work as contractors, or to sit on government advisory boards.
Many of these formers are more aptly part of what national security strategist Angelo Codevilla has called “the ruling class” of both Democratic and Republican bureaucrats united mainly in their opposition to the populist Mr. Trump.
“The issue of whether and on what basis security clearances should be granted or removed is one on which one may disagree, but it is wholly distinct from the issue of who has that authority,” Mr. Codevilla said. “About that, no disagreement is possible. The president of the United States has the sole, unquestionable, unrestricted authority.”
Attempts by the former officials to confuse or conflate the two issues — above all by invoking free speech rights — are “dishonest and a sign of ruling-class partisanship against a president elected specifically to cut back on the class’s prerogatives,” Mr. Codevilla said.
“By claiming the authority to grant and withhold clearances, the agencies have presumed to decide with whom the president may or may not take counsel,” he added. “Constitutionally speaking, this is revolutionary.”
“Donald Trump should be faulted for having indulged the intelligence agencies’ abuse of their inherently advisory role in the granting of clearances,” Mr. Codevilla noted.
‘Gray zone’ war
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan earlier this month outlined new authorities for special operations forces engaged in “gray zone” warfare — commando, information and intelligence operations below the threshold of regular military combat.
In a Pentagon-wide memorandum sent Aug. 3, Mr. Shanahan published the policies for commandos’ use of irregular warfare.
The policy guidance was required under Section 1202 of last year’s defense authorization act and stipulates what special forces can and can’t do. It also requires regular reports to both the administration and Congress on the activities covered. The memo will be used for backing foreign forces, irregular troops, groups, or people that support U.S. irregular warfare operations by special operations forces. The Pentagon term for the irregulars is “enabled forces.”
The new authority does not allow commandos to engage in covert action that is governed by other laws, or military action empowered by the war powers resolution used in fighting terrorists.
To prevent the military from using foreign proxies improperly, the directive also does not permit support for irregular forces which engage in operations or activities banned for American special forces. Irregulars also are prohibited from carrying out or supporting activities that violate the law of armed conflict.
The operations envisioned under the authority were not discussed in the memo, other than the use of counterintelligence operations to prevent foreign states from planting spies in the operations.
The Pentagon is currently backing Syrian rebels known as the Syrian Democratic Forces in its anti-Islamic State campaign in Syria.
Other potential activities under the new power could include information operations, a major weakness of current special operations troops.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.
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