OMAHA: Gen. John Hyten, the man who might wage nuclear war should North Korea strike, says the prospects for “the potential denuclearization” of North Korea are moving “in a positive direction” since the Singapore summit.
“From my perspective, the belief in a potential denuclearization of North Korea has changed,” Hyten told me at a press roundtable during Strategic Command’s annual deterrence conference. “The direction that things are moving is a positive direction. I don’t think anyone can deny that.”
That is a stark contrast to what we heard last year ago from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who said Kim Jong-un “does not intend to negotiate those (nuclear) capabilities away at any price.”
One of the indicators is that Kim has not launched a ballistic missile test since November 17 last year. As Hyten noted, “2017 was a whole lot busier year than 2018.” The Air Force general had to abandon his July 4 holiday, for instance, when North Korea tested its first ICBM last year and declared it “a gift for the American bastards.”
However, Hyten was careful to balance his positive message with a clear strategic message for North Korea and its sponsors, Russia and China: “The force is fully ready fully postured to deal with any threat that comes from North Korea. The missile defense capabilities in Alaska are fully prepared, California is fully prepared. And our deterrent force is on alert and fully prepared right now.”
In another clear bit of messaging, Hyten noted later in his roundtable that North Korea had made its rapid progress in building ICBMs by following the old standard of build, test, upgrade, test, build etc. “When you don’t launch, you don’t learn,” he noted, pointing to yesterday’s unsuccessful test of a US ICBM.
he general would not discuss what we know about what we know about what North Korea is doing on the ground to improve its missiles because that would reveal intelligence sources. However, the absence of flight testing is “a significant change in the missile defense program.” While the US launch itself went well, the missile exhibited “an anomaly” and was destroyed. But the US will learn from that test.
Hyten wasn’t just sending signals on North Korea, either. He was also asked about Russia’s new Poseidon nuclear weapon, now entering sea trials. Formally known as Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6, it’s an underwater drone designed to cross the oceans undetected, with no humans aboard, carrying a two-megaton warhead, and detonate with the force of 133 Hiroshimas in a naval base or coastal city.
“I’ll just say that I would hate to be the Russian operator who have to operate those capabilities,” Hyten replied wryly. “Those are pretty frightening capabilities to keep safe, secure and reliable.”
When it comes to the fundamental calculus of nuclear deterrence, Hyten said, Poseidon “does not change those equations at all.”