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‘Little to No’ Progress in North Korea’s Military Capabilities, Says US General

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month.

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FILE - Gen. Robert Abrams looks to the dais as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 25, 2018. VOA

North Korea’s nuclear and other military capabilities remain unchanged and still pose a threat to the United States and its allies, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea told a Senate hearing Tuesday.

“Little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities,” despite Pyongyang’s public statements about denuclearization, General Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comments underscore the stalled diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea since President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed last June in Singapore to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month. U.S. officials have said they expect “significant and verifiable” progress there.

“My personal opinion is the announcement of a second summit…is a positive sign of continued dialogue,” Abrams said. “It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017.”

US, Donald Trump
FILE – A TV shows a photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

It has been 440 days since North Korea last conducted a nuclear or missile flight test, Abrams noted. “The reduction in tension on the peninsula, it’s palpable,” he said.

“Having said all that though, we have not observed activity that’s consistent with a full-court press on denuclearization,” he added.

Military drills

Meanwhile, North Korea is continuing its annual winter military exercises, Abrams said.

“We have observed no significant changes to the size, scope, or timing of their ongoing exercises,” Abrams said, putting particular emphasis on the word “their.”

At last year’s Singapore summit, Trump announced the cancellation of several major military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, saying they were expensive and needlessly provocative.

North Korea has for decades said the exercises amount to preparation to invade the North — a notion the U.S. strongly denies.

Some U.S. lawmakers and others have expressed concern about U.S. military readiness, should the exercises be postponed much longer.

US, South Korea
FILE – U.S. Army and South Korean soldiers take their positions during a demonstration of the combined arms live-fire exercises at the Rodriquez Multi-Purpose Range Complex in Pocheon, north of Seoul, South Korea, March 25, 2015. VOA

Troop levels

Many have also expressed worry that Trump may use the upcoming summit to announce a withdrawal or reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea.

Asked by Senator Jack Reed whether the U.S. can afford to reduce its troop presence, Abrams responded that the current posture “is appropriate in terms of providing an adequate deterrent” against North Korea.

The U.S. currently has over 28,000 troops in South Korea.

Trump has for years complained U.S. troops in Korea are too expensive and do not adequately advance U.S. interests. However the U.S. president, along with the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, have said they are not discussing a troop withdrawal or reduction in the peninsula.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and South Korea signed an agreement that will increase by 8 percent the amount Seoul pays for the U.S. troop presence. Trump had reportedly demanded an increase of 50 percent.

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The deal, which is subject to South Korean parliamentary approval, is only valid for one year, unlike the previous agreement, which lasted five years. (VOA)

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U.S. Pentagon Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than Portugal, Study Finds

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide

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U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE - The Pentagon building is seen in Washington. VOA

The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions through its defense operations alone than industrialized countries such as Sweden and Portugal, researchers said Wednesday.

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2017, according to the first study to compile such comprehensive data, published by Brown University.

The Pentagon’s emissions were “in any one year … greater than many smaller countries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” the study said.

If it were a country, its emissions would make it the world’s 55th-largest contributor, said Neta Crawford, the study’s author and a political scientist at Boston University.

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FILE – Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district, Jan. 14, 2013. VOA

“There is a lot of room here to reduce emissions,” Crawford said.

Request for comments to the Pentagon went unanswered.

Troop movements

Using and moving troops and weapons accounted for about 70% of its energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel, Crawford said.

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It dwarfed yearly emissions by Sweden, which the international research project Global Carbon Atlas ranks 65th worldwide for its of CO2 emissions.

Pentagon emissions were higher than those of Portugal, ranked 57th by the Global Carbon Atlas, said Crawford.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, followed by the United States.

The Pentagon called climate change “a national security issue” in a January report to Congress and has launched multiple initiatives to prepare for its impact.

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The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Pixabay

Global temperatures are on course for an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4-9.0 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2 C or less, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in November.

Four degrees Celsius of warming would increase more than five times the influence of climate on conflict, according to a study published in Nature magazine on Wednesday.

Improvements

Crawford said the Pentagon had reduced its fuel consumption significantly since 2009, including by making its vehicles more efficient and moving to cleaner sources of energy at bases.

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It could reduce them further by cutting fuel-heavy missions to the Persian Gulf to protect access to oil, which were no longer a top priority as renewable energy gained ground, she said.

“Many missions could actually be rethought, and it would make the world safer,” she said. (VOA)