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NightWatch 20100506


For the Night of 6 May 2010

Japan-China: Update. Foreign Minister Okada protested what he called "obstructive behavior" by a Chinese survey ship in the disputed East China Sea, Kyodo reported 6 May. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Okada complained to Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua that the Chinese survey ship chased a Japanese Coast Guard vessel and that Cheng responded that the Chinese ship had acted legitimately.

The Chinese also made an official statement that China does not recognize Japan's interpretation of the dividing line trace separating Chinese and Japanese territories. Chinese assertiveness about maritime claims is proportional directly to its increasing naval capabilities.

Japan-South Korea-China: South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan will host a two-day meeting on 15 May with his Japanese and Chinese counterparts, Katsuya Okada and Yang Jiechi, to discuss regional security, mainly regarding North Korea, Yonhap reported, citing a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The foreign ministers also will discuss ways to promote three-way cooperation between their countries and preparations for an upcoming three-way summit, also to be hosted by South Korea.

Comment: One of the recurrent NightWatch strategic predictions is that Asian countries are taking responsibility for Asian security with decreasing reference to the United States. This is normal and helps restore and update the larger pageant of millennia of Asian history, before there was a United States.

Trilateral summits of this kind are small steps, but fit precisely into the larger historic trend of creating a new Asian strategic normality, which the US has been instrumental in forging. Ironically, it is hard living with success.

As for the bilateral contretemps at sea, the leadership of the northeast Asian states has matured so that it appreciates the need to not let local disputes derail multilateral discussions of regional security issues.

They do not need the US as a referee any longer.

South Korea-US: For the record. Sung Kim, the chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, stated that the stalled negotiations will not resume before the completion of the probe into the sinking of a South Korean patrol ship, the JoongAng Daily reported 6 May.

Kim also said if North Korea is found responsible for the sinking of the Chon An on 26 March, the other five nations will discuss a joint response. Kim said negotiations would not take place until the investigation is complete, even if North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il said Pyongyang would return to the talks.

Comment: The South Korean administration must have made clear the limits of its flexibility in the naval investigation. Resumption of Six Party talks has been nearly the only prospect for any success of non-proliferation policy for the US administration. Today's statement by a medium level official suggests the South Koreans are now driving the policy. That is a significant and ominous change, but good news nonetheless. The NightWatch bias and experience is that Koreans know how to handle Koreans far better than outsiders.

Thailand: Three reports.

Prime Minister Abhisit announced that the lower house of parliament would be dissolved between 15 and 30 September, provided the Red Shirt movement agrees with the roadmap to peace, The Nation reported 6 May.

The government's Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES) has not given up a plan to retake the anti-government's rally site in central Bangkok, according to CRES spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, Xinhua reported. The anti-government group has no right to negotiate, especially its demand for the prime minister to set a specific date for the House dissolution, Thai News Agency quoted Colonel Sansern as saying.

The pro-monarchy and pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy, known as the Yellow Shirts, called the government reconciliation plan with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the Red Shirts, "a shameful deal," The Nation reported on its website 6 May. In a statement, the Yellow Shirts urged Prime Minister Abhisit to put the road map on hold or, alternatively, step down and let a more qualified leader handle the Red Shirts.

Comment: Read together, the three items indicate the government is ceding authority in the interest of quiet in the streets of Bangkok, which the Red Shirts have not promised. This is a bribe, not a reward. The Red Shirts will escalate their demands. Abhisit personally will incur the blame for weak, indecisive government.

At this point, he has conceded every point the Red Shirts demanded, even though his government is as legitimate as Thaksin's was. This cannot end well or peaceably.

Burma: The pro-democracy party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to disband when a registration deadline for elections expires at midnight on 6 May. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is boycotting the polls because it says the laws under which they will be held are unfair. It has not registered and thus will have no legal status under the rules set by the military junta. Burma's military leaders say any existing party that fails to re-register must disband.

The NLD overwhelmingly won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to govern.

The forthcoming polls - for which no date has yet been set - will be Burma's first in 20 years.

Comment: This is essentially no change from the past decade, but Suu Kyi's Party has endured nonetheless. Its refusal to agree to the terms of the junta guarantees its continuing vitality.

Pakistan-US: The government has formed an unusual investigative team that includes agents from the Inter-Services Intelligence General Directorate; Military Intelligence; the Intelligence Bureau; the Federal Investigation Agency; the Crime Investigation Department and the Special Investigation Group, the Daily Times reported 6 May. The team is charged with investigating the suspect of the 1 May bombing attempt at the United States' Times Square.

Pakistan is pursuing information from the United States on Faisal Shahzad and his friends, and telephone, bank and computer records. Pakistan will ask Interpol to return Pakistani citizens possibly involved in the failed attack. Shahzad used 17 mobile SIMs (subscriber identity module) in both countries, investigators said. Money transfers will also be investigated.

The formation of a joint team from all investigatory and intelligence agencies is unusual and impressive, even in principle.

Afghanistan: Today U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Casey said more than 60 percent of the approximately 400 attacks in Afghanistan last week were caused by roadside bombs (IEDs), Reuters reported.

A Pentagon report showed that, compared with April 2009 figures, there were more than twice as many IED attacks (1,059) and three times as many U.S. casualties (18) in April 2010. So far in 2010, IEDs have been responsible for 99 coalition fatalities and 785 injuries in Afghanistan. The report said Afghan insurgents have increased IED and suicide bombing attacks "to counter (NATO) expansion and cause casualties to international partner forces.

Comment: It is difficult to discern what lessons Readers should draw from such reports. For one thing, the data, as reported, does not indicate how many of the 400 IEDs actually detonated and how many of those caused any damage or casualties.

If the message is invest more in anti-IED technology, that message miscarries. The task force for countering IEDs has reached the point of diminishing returns from technology. If the message is improve the armor for military vehicles, that too is in progress and is reaching a point of diminishing returns. The Taliban bombers learn and innovate.

The more worrisome portion of the data is the "other 40%" because it comprises direct and indirect attacks against Coalition forces and personnel, including ambushes, assassinations, rocket and mortar attacks and defensive fire during raids. The NightWatch unclassified data set shows that the direct and indirect attacks are becoming more frequent and more lethal. The Taliban are becoming bolder in head-to-head engagements.

The report about the 400 IED attacks last week does not mention the number that actually detonated and caused casualties. The good news is that the number of casualties to road side bombs is reasonably steady and slowly declining, but the number of casualties to emboldened direct fire and indirect fire attacks is increasing, directly with the decrease in air support for ground forces, under current rules of engagement. The message is the Taliban are willing to stand and fight more often and with greater effect now that they know there is no threat from the air.

US forces trained to fight in three dimensional battle space. The NATO command has taken away one of those dimensions, placing US forces in battle situations for which they are not fully trained and equalizing the fight between modern and pre-modern forces: modern military training and technology vs knowledge of the terrain and people plus a cause of fighting outsiders who are not Muslims. Technology does not provide a distinctive advantage, but it keeps NATO soldiers in the fight which otherwise would go against them.

The other trend in the first quarter of 2010 is the ratio of NATO force casualties to all others. Apparently NATO has taken over a significant chunk of the fighting, allowing the Afghans to sit on the sidelines, including the Afghan police, which notoriously sustains more losses than any force fighting for the Afghan government.

The tragedy is that introduction of more NATO forces has made no measurable, and durable difference in the fighting. NATO wins most head-to-head battles, but the Taliban survive and backfill after NATO forces depart. For their part, the Taliban cannot break out of their Pashtun base.

Iraq: Update: Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was not consulted before the announcement by Iraqi Shiite political blocs that he would serve as final arbiter in their disagreements, an unnamed associate of al-Sistani said, The Associated Press reported 6 May.

Niger: Update. Niger's military junta has said it will hold presidential elections by 26 December, The Associated Press reported, citing a junta spokesman. A second round will be held in January 2011 if there is no clear winner. In October, there will be a referendum on a new constitution

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: For the record. A Russian warship freed a Russian-owned oil tanker that was hijacked off the coast of Yemen, according to tanker owner Novorossiysk Shipping Company, Reuters reported 6 May. All crew on board the tanker are alive and well, a spokeswoman for the shipping company said by telephone. State-run RIA news agency, citing an unnamed regional navy official, reported that Somali pirates were captured and no Russians were hurt during the rescue mission.

End of NightWatch for 6 May.

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