Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide

Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide
A ransomware virus is reported to be spreading aggressively around the globe, with over 50,000 computers having been targeted. The virus infects computer files and then demands money to unblock them.

An increase in activity of the malware was noticed starting from 8am CET (07:00 GMT) Friday, security software company Avast reported, adding that it “quickly escalated into a massive spreading.”

In a matter of hours, over 57,000 attacks have been detected worldwide, the company said.

57,000 detections of (aka aka ) by Avast today. More details in blog post: https://blog.avast.com/ransomware-that-infected-telefonica-and-hns-hospitals-is-spreading-aggressively-with-over-50000-attacks-so-far-today 

Photo published for Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000...

Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000…

Avast reports on WanaCrypt0r 2.0 ransomware that infected NHS and Telefonica.

blog.avast.com

Seventy-four countries around the globe have been affected, with the number of victims still growing, according to the Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, the Kaspersky Lab.

So far, we have recorded more than 45,000 attacks of the ransomware in 74 countries around the world. Number still growing fast.

The ransomware, known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, or WannaCry, is believed to have infected National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK and Spain’s biggest national telecommunications firm, Telefonica.

Britain and Spain are among the first nations who have officially recognized the attack. In Spain, apart from the telecommunications giant, Telefonica, a large number of other companies has been infected with the malicious software, Reuters reported.

The virus is said to attack computers on an internal network, as is the case with Telefonica, without affecting clients.

Attackers are allegedly demanding for 300Ƀ which equals £415k & give a deadline of May 19: https://on.rt.com/8bgz 

Computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry have been infected with the malware, the ministry said Friday evening.

Some 1,000 Windows-operated PCs were affected, which is less than one percent of the total number of such computers in the ministry, spokeswoman Irina Volk said in a statement.

The virus has been localized and steps are being taken to eliminate it.

The servers of the ministry have not been affected, Volk added, saying it’s operated by different systems for Russia-developed data processing machines.

Several” computers of Russia’s Emergency Ministry had also been targeted, its representative told TASS, adding, that “all of the attempted attacks had been blocked, and none of the computers were infected with the virus.”

Russian telecom giant, Megafon has also been affected.

The very virus that is spreading worldwide and demanding $300 to be dealt with has been found on a large number of our computers in the second half of the day today,” Megafon’s spokesperson Pyotr Lidov told RT.

Вот что появилось на экранах всех рабочих компьютеров Мегафон Ритейл @eldarmurtazin

The internal network had been affected, he said, adding that in terms of the company’s customer services, the work of the support team had been temporarily hindered, “as operators use computers” to provide their services.

The company immediately took appropriate measures, the spokesperson said, adding that the incident didn’t affect subscribers’ devices or Megafon signal capabilities in any way.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the cyberattack on UK hospitals is part of a wider international attack.

In Sweden, the mayor of Timra said “around 70 computers have had a dangerous code installed,” Reuters reported.

According to Avast, the ransomware has also targeted Ukraine and Taiwan.

The virus is apparently the upgraded version of the ransomware that first appeared in February. Believed to be affecting only Windows operated computers, it changes the affected file extension names to “.WNCRY.”

It then drops ransom notes to a user in a text file, demanding $300 worth of bitcoins to be paid to unlock the infected files within a certain period of time.

While the victim’s wallpaper is being changed, affected users also see a countdown timer to remind them of the limited time they have to pay the ransom. If they fail to pay, their data will be deleted, cybercriminals warn.

According to the New York Times, citing security experts, the ransomware exploits a “vulnerability that was discovered and developed by the National Security Agency (NSA).” The hacking tool was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, the report said, adding, that it has been distributing the stolen NSA hacking tools online since last year.

In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.

Sally Yates: Lawsuit seeks former acting attorney general’s emails

A new lawsuit is seeking access to emails sent and received by Sally Yates during her 10-day tenure as acting attorney general in President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, filed Monday by the conservative group Judicial Watch, is seeking emails from Yates’ government account between Jan. 21 and Jan. 31 of this year.

“Between her involvements in the Russian surveillance scandal and her lawless effort to thwart President Trump’s immigration executive order, Sally Yates [sic] short tenure as the acting Attorney General was remarkably troubling,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “Her email traffic might provide a window into how the anti-Trump ‘deep state’ abused the Justice Department.”

Yates was fired on Jan. 30 after she refused to defend Trump’s initial executive order instituting a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.

On Monday, Yates told a Senate subcommittee that she had warned Trump’s White House Counsel Don McGahn on Jan. 26 that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by Russia over his contacts with that country’s ambassador. Trump asked Flynn to resign his position Feb. 13.

Yates was Deputy Attorney General from January 2015 and accepted a request from the Trump administration to become Acting Attorney General after the president’s inauguration.

ICE arrests 1,378 suspected gang members in largest sweep to date

Brooke Singman

The Trump administration has concluded a six-week nationwide sweep of suspected gang members with 1,378 arrests — the largest such gang sweep conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to date.

The operation, which ran from March 26 through May 6, targeted gang members and associates involved in transnational criminal activity, including drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder and racketeering.

“Gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas, but in our suburbs and rural areas, too,” ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan said Thursday. “Gang-related violence and criminal activity present an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere.”

According to ICE, of the 1,378 total arrested, 933 were U.S. citizens, and 1,095 were confirmed as gang members or affiliates. Also, 104 of those arrested were affiliated with the dreaded MS-13 gang, eight of whom illegally crossed the border as unaccompanied minors.

“Our efforts to dismantle gangs are much more effective in areas where partnership with local law enforcement is strongest,” Homan said.

During the operation, HSI partnered with other law enforcement agencies to seize more than 200 firearms, narcotics like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana and $491,763 in U.S. currency.

Enforcement actions occurred across the nation, but the greatest activity took place in the Houston, New York City, Atlanta and Newark, N.J., areas.

Brooke Singman is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Macron wants a New Deal for Europe

Emmanuel Macron has big plans for Europe. In order overcome the current crisis, he wants more community, more solidarity and more investment. And Germany is worried that it will have to foot the bill.

Frankreich Wahl Emmanuel Macron Rede in Paris (Reuters/P. Wojazer)

The original New Deal can be traced back to Democratic US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the 1930s, during a severe economic crisis, Roosevelt fought unemployment and stabilized America’s spiraling financial and political situation in part by undertaking an enormous investment program and extensive social and economic reforms. The attempt to find a cure to society’s ills in political extremism existed even back then.

The current situation is hardly comparable to things at that time. And yet, France has been stuck in a long-term crisis: unemployment levels are, for example, twice as high as in Germany. France is falling behind in terms of international competition. Its levels of growth have been low for years, although they have recently picked up a bit. And finally, France has, for the last decade, failed to meet the European deficit criteria, while Germany has been generating surpluses. What this means politically, is that in the first round of the presidential election, almost half of the French constituency voted for candidates who had goals that supported globalization but were critical of the EU. Many of the second round votes were not for the eventual winner, centrist Emmanuel Macron, but rather, against the right-winger Marine Le Pen.

Suppenküche in Chicago nach Weltwirtschaftskrise 1931 (picture-alliance / akg)The New Deal was passed while the US was in the midst of economic depression in the 1930s

Macron now wants to reduce corporate taxes and the ratio of government expenditures to gross national product. He also wants to liberalize the labor market. This has nothing to do with a New Deal. He will be tackling this as his second major project, which is an investment program for the whole of the Eurozone. This should be financed out of the EU’s collective budget.

Schäuble insist on regulations

The term “New Deal for Europe” was mentioned during Macron’s visit to Germany in March, only weeks before the election. But what Macron has in mind, he already set out in a paper two years ago as economics ministers, together with his then-counterpart, Social Democrat and current German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel. This includes strengthening the Eurozone through a common budget, as well as introducing “new executive powers” in the euro region, a “Euro chamber” and a “Euro commissioner.” The goal is to create economic and social unity. Macron has repeatedly brought into play the idea of introducing common bond issues for the European states, with joint liability.

Südafrika Weltwirtschaftsforum in Durban Wofgang Schäuble (Reuters/R. Ward)Schäuble: France must abide by the rules

But for the conservative faction in Berlin’s Grand Coalition, this is going too far. Combined budget and joint debts sounds to these Christian Democrat (CDU) politicians too much like shifting the responsibility from France to the German taxpayer. Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately reacted coolly: “German support cannot, of course, replace French politics.” She rejected the idea of Eurobonds. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, is indeed behind strengthening the Eurozone. But for him it is more about enforcing the lacking budgetary discipline. In an interview in the Italian newspaper, “La Repubblica” he said, with a view to France, “It is a simple concept: If we create rules, then we also have to apply them.” He also recently said, at the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt Oder, “France is so big and strong that it doesn’t consider foreign help to be necessary.” In other words, yes to providing support, as long as it does not cost anything.

Fear of Le Pen used as leverage

There is divided opinion between politicians and political commentators. Some accuse the federal government of being stingy, which they will later come to regret, while others see Macron’s plan as a brazen redistribution of costs, at Germany’s expense. According to Gregory Claes, from the Brussels think tank Bruegel, for tactical reasons Macron will at least comply with doing things in the right order. “He should firstly concentrate on internal reforms in France and try to show that he wants to conform with stability regulations,” Claes said. “This will win him back credibility with Germany and other northern European countries.” He will hardly dare to come forward with European reform ideas before the German federal election.

Frankreich Whirlpool Streik Marine Le Pen (picture alliance/AP Photo)Le Pen, the self-declared candidate of the workers seen here at a factory, was soundly defeated by Macron

On the other hand, Berlin-based political scientist Ulrike Guerot believes that Macron has political leverage over Germany. “He can hold Great Britain up as an example,” he told news agency DPA. “Germany has a lot to lose when one country goes haywire. Macron could say: ‘If you don’t help me you will have to deal with Marine Le Pen next time.'” But blackmailing could also backfire. Especially now, during the German national election campaign, EU skeptics could get a fresh boost if the German federal government gives the impression of being under pressure from France.

Many believe that, politically, there is much more at stake than economics. The New Deal in the US helped democracy prevail, despite the severe economic crisis. In Germany and other countries, things were different. Elmar Brok, a European Parliamentarian for the CDU who has been following the development of the EU over several decades, says: “Europe is falling apart. Emmanuel Macron is the last chance. We have to do something.” Opinions on what needs to be done, however, differ greatly.

Watch video02:22

The state of the French economy

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Presidential elections will ‘seriously shape’ Iran’s foreign policy

Iran’s supreme leader makes the final foreign policy decisions, but he can’t always determine their outcome. The upcoming presidential elections will definitely impact Iran’s future foreign policy, says Maysam Behravesh.

Iran | TV Duell (ILNA)

DW: Foreign policy is a key part of the presidential candidates’ election campaign. But what kind of latitude do they have?

Maysam Behravesh: The grand scheme and general contours of Iranian foreign and security policy are set out by the Supreme Leader and his internal circle of trusted advisors including top members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) or Revolutionary Guards based on their vision and conception of Iran’s national interests and identity. That’s basically the dominant governing structure that holds unrivalled power in the country. But this does not mean that the elected president or his foreign minister is powerless, redundant, or just an unconditional follower of the Leadership. The president can seriously influence the decision-making process at two key points: first, when they are formulated collectively at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), the secretary of which is appointed by the president, and second during the implementation phase.

Read: Who are the presidential candidates in Iran?

We know for a fact that during the nuclear talks some of the Leader’s “red lines” were manifestly violated by Iran’s negotiating team, prompting his hardline supporters and critics of the consequent nuclear deal to inveigh against President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and even call the latter a “traitor”. Moreover, if we assume the president is simply a facade, as some maintain, how would you then explain such a huge difference in Iran’s foreign policy practices under Rouhani and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? After all, the Leader and the domineering state apparatus he marshals were the same during both periods.

Read: Ahmadinejad barred from re-running for presidency

Mohammad Javad Zarif (picture-alliance/dpa)Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (pictured left) and top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif

The conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi’s meeting with a visiting Russian official has raised a debate on Moscow’s interest in Iran’s presidential elections. Do you think Russia wants to interfere in the election?

It is not easy to claim that Russia is going to interfere in Iran’s presidential election or not, but of course Russians are deeply interested in the outcome. And this interest mainly stems from the fact that they have used Iran over the past couple of decades as strategic leverage to balance their own relations with the United States and other western powers on the one hand and with China on the other. As I have argued elsewhere, basically what Moscow favors is an isolated and lonely Islamic Republic that has no sound or reliable ties with the West, including Europe, and is thus forced to rely more heavily on Russia for military and political support. Such a state of affairs reached its peak under Ahmadinejad after Iran’s relations with the US and EU systematically deteriorated due to his and his backers’ provocative speeches and hardline policies as well as over the spiraling nuclear crisis.

Maysam Behravesh (M. Behravesh)Maysam Behravesh is a Ph.D candidate in political science at Lund University, Sweden

What effect will the result of the election have on the Syrian conflict?

That’s quite a tricky question. There are two things to take into account.

First, the Syria dossier does not fall within the Rouhani administration’s remit of authority. To put it a bit more bluntly, Syria is not Rouhani’s cup of tea! While the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) does have a say over Iran’s Syria policy, the substance of it is primarily determined by the Supreme Leader and his IRGC circle of advisors.

Second, and more significantly to my mind, there seems to be a divergence of attitude and approach towards Syria between Rouhani’s moderate government and the revolutionary leadership including Ayatollah Khamenei, though they are trying not to publicize their differences. Just take the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in April as an example. Rouhani stridently called for the formation of a truth-finding committee to look into the deadly assault – as German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also did – and stressed the necessity of “reforms” in the Syrian government while Khamenei mainly focused on the American response and dubbed the missile strikes against the al-Shayrat airbase a “strategic mistake”.

Generally, since he assumed office in 2013, Rouhani seems to have foregone Syria in favor of getting the nuclear dossier somewhere, which he ultimately did. And needless to say, he does not want – and lacks the boldness by the way – to pick fights with the more powerful Supreme Leader over this or that policy issue-area.

So if Rouhani is re-elected, Iran will likely have a continuation of the same policy towards Syria as we have witnessed so far, but here is the key point: If Raisi is elected, the Islamic Republic’s policy toward Syria as well as Yemen will probably be intensified and pursued with greater vigor.

As I argued above, Raisi will be the consolidator of the Supreme Leader’s “resistance economy” and promoter of his revolutionary foreign policy, at the expense and to the disfavor of more moderate forces home and abroad.

Rouhani always says his government is interested in good relations with neighbors. But with US President Donald Trump now in office and his anti-Iran policies, Iran is quite alone in the region. How can Rouhani change that, if he wins re-election?  

I have no doubt in the sincerity of the Rouhani administration’s intentions and efforts to mend fences with neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

But to be frank, Rouhani cannot change that dynamic overnight. So let’s not set our expectations too high. He cannot take Iran out of regional isolation easily, for two reasons: the intervention of domestic spoilers and heightened external hostility.

Iran’s regional policy may experience a considerable degree of continuity if Rouhani is re-elected, its relations with the West will be adversely affected if Raisi wins the elections, and this may even have negative consequences for the nuclear deal as well.

Maysam Behravesh is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, Lund University, Sweden, and a contributor to Middle East Eye. 

The interview was conducted by Shabnam von Hein

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North Korea crisis: Which country has the strongest military in the region?

Tensions continue to run high on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea’s bellicose posture makes its neighbors increasingly nervous. DW takes a look at the military strengths of the main players in the region.

Südkorea TV Übertragung Raketentest in Nordkora (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)

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Aggressive rhetoric and actions on the Korean Peninsula over the past several months have raised concerns about a potential conflagration. The US government under President Donald Trump has put an end to the “strategic patience” policy pursued by the previous Barack Obama administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed that the military option remains on the table. And this month, Washington has once again tightened its already stringent sanctions against the reclusive regime in Pyongyang.

Read more: Is a second Korean War imminent? 

China, regarded as the North’s only ally, continues to push for all sides to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. But Beijing, like Washington, has increased the pressure on Pyongyang by enforcing the sanctions regime more tightly, for instance, by halting coal imports from the North.

The growing international calls seem to have made little impact on the North. Kim Jong Un’s regime has increased the pace of nuclear and missile tests over the past year. Experts observe increased activity at the Punggye-ri atomic site hinting at a potential nuclear test soon. Official statements in North Korea’s state media stress the country’s readiness to wage a “total war” at any moment.

Many doubt the ability of the international community to persuade the regime to leave its present course, meaning militarization in the region is unlikely to subside.

High militarization in North Korea

Both North and South Korea have been divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict back then ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and the DMZ remains one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth, where two of the world’s largest militaries stay prepared for a confrontation.

According to an index developed by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a German NGO, South Korea is one of the most militarized nations in the world. It ranks sixth worldwide on the index, which was last updated in 2016.

North Korea is not ranked in the index due to the difficulty in acquiring and assessing information related to its military. But it’s assumed by observers like BICC’s Marius Bales that “there is a high degree of militarization” in North Korean society as well. “This is obvious from the fact that they have a 1.2-million strong military for some 24 million inhabitants.”

Allies for North and South

The two highly armed Koreas are each backed by countries that have a historic geopolitical rivalry with each other. Standing behind the the North, it’s the People’s Republic of China, while on the side of the South, it’s the US. The US-South Korean relationship was sealed in 1953 by a military alliance. In 1961, the North signed a friendship treaty with China and the former Soviet Union including the provision of military and economic aid.

Watch video01:47

Japan joins military build-up off Koreas

Although Russia later abrogated the military assistance pact, China has maintained it. But Beijing has been increasingly vocal in its call for North Korea to back down from its aggressive posture. China’s “Global Times” newspaper, known for its nationalist commentary, has been blistering in its criticism of North Korea, accusing it of destabilizing the region and calling for a halt to its nuclear program.

Another player in the region, Japan, feels threatened by North Korea. While Tokyo’s position in the region is underpinned by its special relationship with the US, its relations with countries like South Korea and China are burdened by its colonial past and World War II legacy.

Quantity vs. quality

One way of showing the military balance of power in the region is by comparing the number of people in the armed forces in each country, as well as the size and scope of the armaments they possess. However, such an approach is mired in imperfections, and the numbers presented have to be treated with some caution.

An annual report on the subject entitled “The Military Balance,” published by the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is considered to be authoritative. It extensively documents the procurement of weapons by various militaries.

Infografik Militärisches Kräfteverhältnis in Ostasien ENG

The figures are partly based on the official data supplied by the countries to international organizations like the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. But the IISS neither reveals all the sources of its information nor follows a uniform method. It’s unclear, for instance, how accurate statistics on North Korea are as the country doesn’t release any official data.

There is no other alternative, though, says BICC expert Bales. “The Military Balance is the best as well as the only source in this field.”

Still, the expert underlined that the figures represent only the quantity of weapons and not their quality. For example, Bales points out that one heavy tank cannot be considered to be exactly equal in its capabilities to another heavy tank. “A Soviet T-62 tank of the North Korean Army from the late 1960s cannot be on an equal footing with a South Korean K2 Black Panther tank from 2013.”

The manner in which the comparative strengths of militaries were assessed in the 19th and early 20th centuries has become obsolete, experts say.

“Modern warfare and modern weapon systems can’t be compared like that,” Bales stressed, because today we don’t need tanks in equal number to destroy enemy tanks, but can also use drones, helicopters and other aircraft to do that task.

Also, the figures do not show details of other critical resources that are required to operate the weapons. North Korea, for instance, suffers from an acute fuel shortage, hindering its ability to operate training aircraft. In the case of North Korea, Bales said, “the size of the military stands in contrast to its quality. Its air force, in particular, is obsolete, with its most modern aircraft dating back to the 1980s.”

South Korea, on the other hand, is equipped with state-of-the-art military gear, thanks largely to weapons deliveries from the US and Germany.

Watch video01:56

Trump, Kim step up saber-rattling competition

What the figures additionally show is what areas each country’s military focused on. Being an island nation, Japan has paid attention to strengthening the capabilities of its navy and air force. In the Koreas, however, the army occupies the central role.

The relatively high number of heavy tanks and artillery guns in both those countries show that their armies are designed for large field battles and the defense of their borders. The large number of North Korean submarines is due to their high deterrent potential. And the figures also prove all the countries’ determination to defend themselves militarily.

Technological gap

Still, all this would be meaningless when compared to the mighty US military machine.

A look at the country’s strategic weapons, including long-range missiles and nuclear warheads, makes it clear immediately. China and the US have such capabilities, unlike South Korea and Japan.

North Korea is striving hard to acquire them, but has faced daunting challenges in developing reliable long-range missiles. The US’ weapons technology is so far advanced that North Korea hardly has any chance of competing with it on a technological level, observers reckon.

“With all the technical considerations, however, one should not forget the mutual vulnerability of North and South Korea,” says BICC analyst Bale.

About 70 percent of North Korea’s ground troops are stationed along the border. And South Korea’s bustling capital, Seoul, is just 50 kilometers away from the frontier. “Even with obsolete technology, a devastating attack on South Korea can be carried out with the large number of tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.”

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

North Korea crisis: Which country has the strongest military in the region?

Tensions continue to run high on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea’s bellicose posture makes its neighbors increasingly nervous. DW takes a look at the military strengths of the main players in the region.

Südkorea TV Übertragung Raketentest in Nordkora (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)

DW RECOMMENDS

China, South Korea seek to steer North from nuclear path

The presidents of China and South Korea have agreed they want North Korea to move away from its agenda of atomic antagonism. A US missile-defense system deployed on the peninsula was also a topic of conversation. (11.05.2017)

Is a second Korean War imminent?

US to tighten sanctions on North Korea

US House of Representatives votes to impose new North Korea sanctions

Pence visits DMZ border zone day after North Korea missile test

IAEA chief ‘concerned’ about North Korean nuclear progress

North Korean soldier defects over land to South Korea

Trump and Abe hail US-Japan alliance as “cornerstone” of peace

Aggressive rhetoric and actions on the Korean Peninsula over the past several months have raised concerns about a potential conflagration. The US government under President Donald Trump has put an end to the “strategic patience” policy pursued by the previous Barack Obama administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed that the military option remains on the table. And this month, Washington has once again tightened its already stringent sanctions against the reclusive regime in Pyongyang.

Read more: Is a second Korean War imminent? 

China, regarded as the North’s only ally, continues to push for all sides to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. But Beijing, like Washington, has increased the pressure on Pyongyang by enforcing the sanctions regime more tightly, for instance, by halting coal imports from the North.

The growing international calls seem to have made little impact on the North. Kim Jong Un’s regime has increased the pace of nuclear and missile tests over the past year. Experts observe increased activity at the Punggye-ri atomic site hinting at a potential nuclear test soon. Official statements in North Korea’s state media stress the country’s readiness to wage a “total war” at any moment.

Many doubt the ability of the international community to persuade the regime to leave its present course, meaning militarization in the region is unlikely to subside.

High militarization in North Korea

Both North and South Korea have been divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict back then ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and the DMZ remains one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth, where two of the world’s largest militaries stay prepared for a confrontation.

According to an index developed by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a German NGO, South Korea is one of the most militarized nations in the world. It ranks sixth worldwide on the index, which was last updated in 2016.

North Korea is not ranked in the index due to the difficulty in acquiring and assessing information related to its military. But it’s assumed by observers like BICC’s Marius Bales that “there is a high degree of militarization” in North Korean society as well. “This is obvious from the fact that they have a 1.2-million strong military for some 24 million inhabitants.”

Allies for North and South

The two highly armed Koreas are each backed by countries that have a historic geopolitical rivalry with each other. Standing behind the the North, it’s the People’s Republic of China, while on the side of the South, it’s the US. The US-South Korean relationship was sealed in 1953 by a military alliance. In 1961, the North signed a friendship treaty with China and the former Soviet Union including the provision of military and economic aid.

Watch video01:47

Japan joins military build-up off Koreas

Although Russia later abrogated the military assistance pact, China has maintained it. But Beijing has been increasingly vocal in its call for North Korea to back down from its aggressive posture. China’s “Global Times” newspaper, known for its nationalist commentary, has been blistering in its criticism of North Korea, accusing it of destabilizing the region and calling for a halt to its nuclear program.

Another player in the region, Japan, feels threatened by North Korea. While Tokyo’s position in the region is underpinned by its special relationship with the US, its relations with countries like South Korea and China are burdened by its colonial past and World War II legacy.

Quantity vs. quality

One way of showing the military balance of power in the region is by comparing the number of people in the armed forces in each country, as well as the size and scope of the armaments they possess. However, such an approach is mired in imperfections, and the numbers presented have to be treated with some caution.

An annual report on the subject entitled “The Military Balance,” published by the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is considered to be authoritative. It extensively documents the procurement of weapons by various militaries.

Infografik Militärisches Kräfteverhältnis in Ostasien ENG

The figures are partly based on the official data supplied by the countries to international organizations like the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. But the IISS neither reveals all the sources of its information nor follows a uniform method. It’s unclear, for instance, how accurate statistics on North Korea are as the country doesn’t release any official data.

There is no other alternative, though, says BICC expert Bales. “The Military Balance is the best as well as the only source in this field.”

Still, the expert underlined that the figures represent only the quantity of weapons and not their quality. For example, Bales points out that one heavy tank cannot be considered to be exactly equal in its capabilities to another heavy tank. “A Soviet T-62 tank of the North Korean Army from the late 1960s cannot be on an equal footing with a South Korean K2 Black Panther tank from 2013.”

The manner in which the comparative strengths of militaries were assessed in the 19th and early 20th centuries has become obsolete, experts say.

“Modern warfare and modern weapon systems can’t be compared like that,” Bales stressed, because today we don’t need tanks in equal number to destroy enemy tanks, but can also use drones, helicopters and other aircraft to do that task.

Also, the figures do not show details of other critical resources that are required to operate the weapons. North Korea, for instance, suffers from an acute fuel shortage, hindering its ability to operate training aircraft. In the case of North Korea, Bales said, “the size of the military stands in contrast to its quality. Its air force, in particular, is obsolete, with its most modern aircraft dating back to the 1980s.”

South Korea, on the other hand, is equipped with state-of-the-art military gear, thanks largely to weapons deliveries from the US and Germany.

Watch video01:56

Trump, Kim step up saber-rattling competition

What the figures additionally show is what areas each country’s military focused on. Being an island nation, Japan has paid attention to strengthening the capabilities of its navy and air force. In the Koreas, however, the army occupies the central role.

The relatively high number of heavy tanks and artillery guns in both those countries show that their armies are designed for large field battles and the defense of their borders. The large number of North Korean submarines is due to their high deterrent potential. And the figures also prove all the countries’ determination to defend themselves militarily.

Technological gap

Still, all this would be meaningless when compared to the mighty US military machine.

A look at the country’s strategic weapons, including long-range missiles and nuclear warheads, makes it clear immediately. China and the US have such capabilities, unlike South Korea and Japan.

North Korea is striving hard to acquire them, but has faced daunting challenges in developing reliable long-range missiles. The US’ weapons technology is so far advanced that North Korea hardly has any chance of competing with it on a technological level, observers reckon.

“With all the technical considerations, however, one should not forget the mutual vulnerability of North and South Korea,” says BICC analyst Bale.

About 70 percent of North Korea’s ground troops are stationed along the border. And South Korea’s bustling capital, Seoul, is just 50 kilometers away from the frontier. “Even with obsolete technology, a devastating attack on South Korea can be carried out with the large number of tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.”

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