07 Mar 14. Two countries that have long concerned the United States in terms of national security — North Korea and Iran — are mentioned first in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, a document that a senior Defense Department official told reporters this week has a renewed emphasis on protecting the homeland. The congressionally mandated review of national defense strategy establishes priorities for defense spending, assets and a rebalancing of the military in anticipation of the security challenges the nation is likely to face in the coming years, all in light of an increasingly tight fiscal situation. In explaining the objectives to foreign journalists this week, Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development, said the United States remains concerned about North Korea in particular, which she called a “major challenge” for the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. “The regime remains very insular and closed, and has engaged in a series of provocations,” Wormuth said, adding that the United States is working closely with South Korea to ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula. “I think we’ve developed, together with [South Korea], a counter-provocation plan that’s designed to help us coordinate and respond to potential future provocations more effectively than ever before,” she said. North Korea tested a long-range missile this week in what was described as a reaction to annual U.S. and South Korean military exercises. “I think we feel confident that with the force that we have going forward and the strategy that we have, that we will be able to meet our responsibilities with [South Korea] to address threats that we might see from North Korea,” Wormuth told reporters a day after the missile test. Wormuth called the U.S. military’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region announced two years ago an important part of the U.S. strategy and said U.S. officials are paying close attention to China’s military modernization. “We would like to see more transparency in terms of Chinese intentions behind the various elements of its modernization,” she said. China this week announced plans to increase defense spending by more than 12 percent. The Quadrennial Defense Review also says the United States must stay ahead of the ballistic missile threat posed by Iran. To that end, Wormuth said, the strategy highlights the importance of investing in national missile defense in light of Iran’s growing capabilities, and added that the strategy anticipates a lot of continued instability in the Middle East in general, especially involving ongoing Sunni-Shia tensions and the consequences of revolutions rooted in the Arab Spring.
06 Mar 14. US authorises sanctions over Ukraine crisis. The US has authorised sanctions on people and entities deemed responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine as EU leaders held an emergency summit to overcome divisions over how to counter Russia’s takeover of Crimea. The announcement came as pro-Moscow politicians in the Ukrainian autonomous region stoked tension by voting to become part of Russia and bringing forward a referendum on its future to March 16. US President Barack Obama’s executive order casts a wide net, authorising sanctions on “individual and entities” who undermined Ukraine’s “democratic process”, misappropriated funds and threatened the “peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The US state department is also imposing visa restrictions on people deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty. Washington has already suspended trade and military-to-military ties with Russia and says it “is prepared to consider additional steps and sanctions as necessary.” The EU has sanctioned the former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovich and other senior officials in Kiev but the US order appears directed at Russia. Mr Obama’s move will put pressure on EU leaders