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NightWatch 20091223


For the Night of 23 December 2009

South Korea-North Korea: South Korean lawmakers intend to propose to revive railway cooperation with North Korea.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Land Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee of the South Korean National Assembly plans to send a letter to the North through a communications channel at the truce village of Panmunjom. In the letter lawmakers suggest a joint onsite inspection of inter-Korean railways by delegations from South Korea's parliament and North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly as part of an effort to expand railway cooperation.

President Kim Dae-jong and General Secretary Kim Chong-il agreed to reconnect the inter-Korean rail lines at their summit in 2000 in Pyongyang. The west coast Kyongi Line was completed in June 2003 linking Seoul with Kaesong, site of the joint industrial zone, and ultimately with the Chinese National System. Thus far this line has only been used to carry freight to Kaesong from South Korea and no farther.

The South Koreans laid the track for the east coast line through the DMZ, but no trains have run. This line would run through the industrial cities of the east coast, namely Hamhung and Wonsan, and link to the Trans-Siberian Railroad at Vladivostok.

An international rail website described the project as cutting shipping costs from South Korea to Europe by a third and cutting shipping time in half. Despite the obvious economic benefits of the project, the North Koreans have slow-rolled the project, invariably for more kickbacks and for political posturing.

South Korea has paid for the limited work to date, even on the North Korean side and jointly owns any non-military production that actually works in North Korea. The Communists remain uncomfortable in a capitalist joint venture with the South. Nevertheless, the letter indicates South Korean legislators sense that the latest thaw is a good time to revive a mutually beneficial project.

…….. also reported that the two Koreas are cooperating in upgrading the wire land line at Panmunjom to fiber to improve the crisis management communications backbone.

Pakistan: For the record. In the past two days, government leaders denied that the Afghan Taliban leadership is in Pakistan. Interior Minister Malik said they had taken refuge in Quetta but security operations forced them to flee back to Afghanistan.

This mimics their denial that bin Laden and Zawahiri are in the tribal agencies of the northwest. Denial is a convenient excuse for inaction in arresting and deporting the Afghan illegal aliens. Still, it is astonishing that serious Pakistani leaders would deny the existence of the Quetta Shura, Mullah Omar's advisory council, as some did this week.

Moreover, if the Afghan Taliban leaders have fled Quetta, they would not go back to Afghanistan with a Coalition surge pending. They would follow the Pashtun underground railroad to where the Pashtuns pretty much run half the city … Karachi.

Iran: The Intelligence Ministry banned governors and security officials across the country from authorizing memorial services for the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the leading opposition cleric who died on over the weekend. Cities that were issued permits to hold memorial services to mark his demise were asked by the ministry to cancel the events. The Supreme National Security Council also issued a statement ordering a ban on any memorial services for the late Ayatollah.

A memorial service scheduled to take place in a mosque in Kashan was cancelled. Mourners who arrived at the mosque for the service encountered a green banner saying: "According to an order by the Supreme Security Council no service will be held at this venue."

In Esfahan, in central Iran, a memorial service called by Ayatollah Taheri also was canceled by security forces. Opposition web sites reported clashes with police who prevented mourners from entering the mosque where Taheri preaches. Taheri's home in Esfahan was surrounded.

An opposition website reported that mourners who gathered in Najafabad also were attacked by plain-clothes individuals and the ceremony turned violent, as in Esfahan. As background n Monday, tens of thousands of mourners attended Montazeri's funeral in the holy city of Qom.

The slogans of the protestors are curious. In Esfahan they shouted, "Death to the oppressor, may it be Shah or the Leader"; "Seyyed Ali (Khamene'i) their slogan, aggression their pride"; "Basij commits murder and the Leader supports them"; "We are the grandchildren of Cyrus the Great; We will kill the dictator".

Notes to new analysts: Internal political instability cycles in three phases. The first is under-reaction. This occurs when the government underestimates the volatility of a situation, such as the outcome of the Iranian elections this summer and fails to take prudent precautions appropriate to the potential threat.

Governments then apply the principle of solving the problem as quickly as possible at the lowest cost. Thus the next step is an asymmetrical response called over-reaction. As protests continued after the elections, the government cracked down.

Now over-reaction can work if the opposition numbers are small and they members are concentrated. When the opposition is dispersed and numerous, crackdowns intensify and escalate the opposition.

The third phase occurs in the event crackdowns fail to suppress the opposition. This is known as concession. The government needs to gauge whether the crackdown worked so it lightens up. This occurred in early autumn in Iran, thereby completing the first full cycle.

Montazeri's death appears to have generated a second cycle on a compressed timeline. Peaceful mourning services were allowed but later revoked when it appeared that services would be held in many more cities and promised to be better attended than expected. The government rapidly moved to the crackdown tactics, over-reacting and hardening the opposition.

The situation is again entering a concession phase, in which the government will need to assess whether its bombast and brutality have succeeded. The phenomenology guarantees that the government response in the second cycle has made the opposition worse and more widespread. Moreover, the government looks foolish, if not inept, to its people and the outside world.

The opposition in Iran is not capable of effecting the political changes it advocates. However, the government is unable to contain it, much less suppress it. A third cycle will begin in a few weeks. When security forces begin to join the protestors, then the Khamenei regime has begun the steep slide. As yet security forces respond to orders and have not crossed the line to join the protestors.

Iraq-Iran: Update. Iraq government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said 23 December that the Iraqi government can handle the current dispute with Iran without intervention from the United States. Dabbagh said the problems between the two countries can be solved without military force.

A local leader reported that Iranian soldiers had occupied two, possibly three, other oil wells in Maysan Province, but that report has not been confirmed.

Leaders in both countries said that a joint border commission will settle the boundary dispute. When Saddam ruled Iraq, Iran never dared make incursions of this kind without expecting an asymmetric military response. Some leader(s) in Iran apparently has decided to bring longstanding unsettled border issues to the forefront of relations with Iraq under the Shiite-led government.

The apparent suddenness of the incursion, the small size of the force involved and the supine Iraqi response support a suspicion that border demarcation issues have been discussed with little progress because of Iraq. If so, a small escalation would be a plausible next step to move the discussions. And that appears to be what is taking place, in the formation of a joint commission.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: The Saudi government announced 22 December that it will suspend major actions against al-Huthi rebels, the United Arab Emirates' The National reported. Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan said the military will continue to seek out small groups of rebels, but major operations will end within the week.

For their part, al-Huthi rebels said 23 December they are willing to withdraw from Saudi territory if cross-border attacks into Yemen stop, Ya Libnan reported. A statement released by the rebels said Saudi fighter jets were involved in 13 air raids in Yemen.

Juxtaposed, the two statements suggest a deal is in the works.

Russia-Burma: For the record. Russia signed a contract to deliver 20 MiG-29 fighter planes to Myanmar (Burma), Agence France-Presse reported 23 December. The Russian daily Kommersant reported that the contract was signed a few weeks ago and came to nearly $570 million according to a source close to Russian arms sales company Rosoboronexport. The source said the Russian offer beat one by China that offered Burma the modern J-10 and FC-1 fighters "on very advantageous conditions." Kommersant said Russia delivered 12 MiG-29s to Myanmar in 2001.

Burma already possesses Indian and Chinese aircraft along with Russian. The mélange looks inefficient in a modern Western perspective, especially for sound maintenance. However, it guarantees something will be flyable in the event of a political crisis that results in a cutoff of spares and support by one or other supplier.

For Burma and many small countries, an arms acquisition strategy that results in diversity of suppliers supports national security more than efficiency that relies on a single supplier on which the country must rely and to which it is always vulnerable.

Russia-Iran: Update. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin said on 23 December that there is no reason for Russia to cancel its contract with Iran for the S-300 missile system, Iranian state-run IRNA reported. Borodavkin said the contract for an S-300 system is not subject to any restrictions or international legal frameworks adopted by the United Nations, or any other treaties.

The NightWatch hypothesis is that whatever were the outstanding disagreements over cost, they now have been resolved.

Eritrea-UN: The U.N. Security Council sanctioned Eritrea with an assets freeze, travel restrictions and an arms embargo on 23 December over aid the country has given to Somali Islamist insurgents, Reuters reported. The resolution was approved by 13 of the 15 council members; Libya voted against the resolution, and China, which has a veto in the council, abstained.

Eritrea is a middleman in an arms supply chain that seems to originate in Iran and ends up in Somalia, with al Shabaab. Iran's goal is to support Eritrea in neutralizing Ethiopia, a Christian country. This also means countering Ethiopian and US support for the transitional government in Mogadishu by aiding al Shabaab.

What is so interesting about this region is that North Korea is an arms supplier to just about all the state actors, or has been at one time.

End of NightWatch for 23 December.

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