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NightWatch 20100622


For the Night of 22 June 2010

Japan: Parliament will consider a law later this year that would use Maritime Self-Defense Force tankers to refuel foreign warships engaged in antipiracy operations off the coast of Somalia. According to Kyodo on 22 June, government sources said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku proposed the refueling assistance in discussions with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. Prime Minister Naoto Kan plans to reveal the possible contribution on 27 June in Canada during his talks with U.S. President Obama. Sengoku also proposed that Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force send a helicopter squadron for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sudan.

Comment: In March 2009, Japan sent two Self Defense Force destroyers to the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. In February 2010 Japan ended the Self Defense Force's naval refueling mission in support of US forces in the Indian Ocean. In April 2010, Japan announced a $40 million plan to build its first naval base overseas and in Africa, in Djibouti.

Japan ended the mission in the Indian Ocean because the Democratic Party-led government perceived it as supporting combat operations more than anti-terror. Nevertheless, the base construction plan and the new refueling operation in the Indian Ocean are strong indicators that Japanese political leaders have reached an unpublicized consensus that Japanese national security interests require quasi-military operations along its oil supply line from the Middle East. Countering piracy, protecting Japanese commercial shipping and monitoring Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean are important tasks in what appears to be a growing mission to assert national interest and naval power abroad.

North Korea: Over the weekend, the South Korean news service Chosen Ilbo broke the news that in mid-May the South Korean government detected an abnormally high level of radioactive xenon shortly after North Korea claimed it had performed a successful nuclear fusion test on 12 May.

On 14 May, two days after the North's announcement, air analysis by a South Korean radiation detection station in Geojin, Gangwon Province showed about eight times as much xenon as in ordinary times, a government official said.

Like krypton, xenon is a gaseous radioactive matter that is produced as a result of nuclear fission. It is regarded as the surest proof of a nuclear
test because it does not interact chemically with other matters. Seoul detected increased concentrations of xenon a few days after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in North Hamgyong Province in 2006.

Comment: In an interview on FOX on 21 June Ambassador Bolton laid out the most plausible hypotheses. It was a false reading, it was a material that drifted from Russia or China; the North released the xenon from stock to show it performed a test. While it is difficult to square the idea of a North Korean fusion experiment of some kind with spreading starvation, what is irreducible is that the North wants the world to know that it has not frozen or halted its nuclear programs. They say so and the South Korean monitoring station indicates they have made a prima facie case. The timing and the data are enough to raise serious suspicions, as incredible as they seem.

South Korean Reaction. South Korea dismissed the report that detection of radioactive xenon higher than average was related to a North Korean nuclear test, The Associated Press reported 21 June. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young Sun stated that xenon material was detected, but denied it was related to any North Korean nuclear test, saying there were no seismic waves and citing expert assessment. Following a North Korea claim of a successful nuclear fusion test on 12 May, the South Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety detected an eightfold increase in the radioactive substance xenon.

An unanswered question is why South Korea withheld the data. One consideration is that the leaders in Seoul wanted to withhold data that could distract world opinion from the case of the sinking of the Cheonan. This looks misguided in hindsight. Now the North appears to have gotten away with yet another act of flagrant disregard of UN sanctions, Allied security concerns and world opinion, again with impunity. The South might have used the nuclear data to build a stronger case for international sanctions against the North in May, had it joined this information to the case of the sinking of the Cheonan. Now that case will be confused by questions of South Korean actions.

Afghanistan: Special comment: An important part of what is colloquially called "analysis" is a cognitive function called diagnosis. Work in the old Directorate of Intelligence, Joint Staff in the Pentagon, found that few good analysts are good at diagnosis, partly because they are not aware, have not been taught, the diagnostic options in national security affairs.

Diagnosis requires matching evidence to phenomena. A faulty diagnosis in medicine, or flawed definition of the case in law, leads to application of remedies that miscarry or make conditions worse. This is no less true in national security affairs.

For example, two distinct but related phenomena in internal instability problems are insurgency and uprising. As with many diseases, their symptoms mimic each other - violence, use of terror tactics, use of part time fighters that hide among the populace, to name a few.

But there are distinguishing characteristics whose significance is such that they require different remedies. Operations for fighting an insurgency will not avail in fighting an uprising. The Afghanistan has characteristics of both.

For example, nation-building operations incite and intensify an uprising because they are viewed as impositions by an outside power. They are not self-generated, thus they are resented.  Nation-building might alleviate an insurgency, but only if security is high, sustained and predictable indefinitely.

A field known as counter-factual analysis also is helpful in bringing the differences into focus. Thus, inAfghanistan would Pashtun hostility to foreigners be less without the Taliban leadership in Quetta and Karachi?  A strong case can be made that it would be less lethal, but no less strongly felt. That is a characteristic of an uprising more than of an insurgency.

This excursion would be theoretical except it helps explain the failure of the Marjah operations. One assessment pointed out that during the Marjah operations the US forces numbered one soldier for every four Afghans in the district. That is an astonishing figure because it means US forces vastly outnumbered the Taliban fighters. That force concentration should have been enough to exterminate the insurgents in most of Helmand, on the numbers.

Another counter-factual excursion is to explore whether Pashtun hostility to foreigners would dissipate if the Afghan government were not corrupt. If the unrest is an uprising, government corruption would be a multiplier of hostility, but is fundamentally not a driver in anti-foreign sentiment.

Cultural studies by Huntington and Harrison suggest that the solution to an uprising is a cultural shift that emerges from within the group in revolt -- something like the Awakening in Iraq. Those scholars argue that a solution cannot be imposed from the outside, but emerges from within the community.

In contrast, an insurgency can be defeated militarily, as the Sri Lankans showed last year, and the Indians last decade. Nation-building and good government is not solutions to insurgency without sustainable, predictable security. US forces provided security in Marjah, but did not sustain it and were disdained by the residents in doing it. The same attitudes have helped frustrate and delay an operation in Kandahar. The Kandaharis don't want the US operation. Both look more like an uprising than an insurgency.

The diagnosis makes a big difference in the selection of a workable remedy in national security affairs, no less than in medicine and law.

Kyrgyzstan: Update. The interim Kyrgyz government announced on 22 June plans to form a state-owned company that will provide the U.S. air base at Manas with fuel, The Associated Press reported. Interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva signed a decree ordering that the company be formed within 10 days, replacing the private intermediary firms created under the former regime.

Comment: The cleverness of this approach is that it legally puts various corrupt business associates and relatives of the ousted president Bakiyev out of business.

The Israel-Gaza Strip Confrontation

Iran: A ship bound for Gaza carrying aid will leave June 27, traveling through the Suez Canal, the Iranian Red Crescent Society said, Bloomberg reported 22 June. The ship will leave from Bandar Abbas with 1,100 tons of goods, a spokesperson said, and will include five Red Crescent representatives and five journalists. International law will be respected, the spokesperson said, and organizers do not seek a fight.

Note: Genuine relief supplies should be admissible under the new relaxed blockade. Iran continues trying to pick a fight with Israel.

Lebanon: The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said in a letter to the United Nations that Israel will be held responsible for any attack on Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ships, Agence France-Presse reported 22 June. The Lebanese government cannot prohibit a ship from leaving its ports if the cargo, passengers and destination all comply with Lebanese law, the letter said.

Lebanese Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi confirmed that the ministry allowed organizers of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla to sail from the northern port city of Tripoli to Cyprus before heading to Gaza, according to the Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar, Ynet reported 21 June. The vessels will pass through Cyprus so as not to violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. The minister added that one of the vessels would undergo a technical checkup before it sails from Tripoli and that "the Lebanese government was responsible for the decision."

Comment: The Lebanese government's ownership of this provocation widens the potential scope for Israeli retaliation and risks a much more destructive form of confrontation, which Turkey wisely avoided. The statements yesterday by the Transportation Minister flatly contradict the insipid comments by the Foreign Ministry today. The Lebanese government owns this provocation.

US Border: Fox News reported today that "Mexican drug cartels have set up shop on American soil, maintaining lookout bases in strategic locations in the hills of southern Arizona from which their scouts can monitor every move made by law enforcement officials, federal agents told Fox News.

The scouts are supplied by drivers who bring them food, water, batteries for radios -- all the items they need to stay in the wilderness for a long time.

"To say that this area is out of control is an understatement," said an agent who patrols the area and asked not to be named. "We (federal border agents), as well as the Pima County Sheriff Office and the Bureau of Land Management, can attest to that."

"Every night we're getting beaten like a pinata at a birthday party by drug, alien smugglers," a second federal agent told Fox News. "The danger is out there, with all the weapons being found coming northbound…. someone needs to know about this!" In these areas, which are south and west of Tucson, sources said there are "cartel scouts galore" watching the movements of federal, state and local law enforcement, from the border all the way up to Interstate 8.

While agents in the area agree that southwest Arizona has been a trouble spot for more than a decade, many believe Washington and politicians "who come here for one-day visit" aren't seeing the big picture. They say the area has never been controlled and has suddenly gotten worse, with the cartels maintaining a strong presence on U.S. soil. More than ever, agents on the front lines are wearing tactical gear, including helmets, to protect themselves.

Comment: Assuming the general accuracy of the Fox News report, the implications are that these areas of Arizona resemble a war zone. The concluding statement in the news report implies that, but it is important to make it explicit. Armed reconnaissance is a significant escalation of criminal operations. For one thing, it is inconsistent with the business model that some well-informed Readers have argued in Feedback limits cartel operations on the US side of the border. These operations are closer to precursors to invasion, as well as normal route scouting.

Another significant implication of the presence of the scout is that they have sunk roots. That means they have a support system that reaches into the nearby communities. That indicates that arrests of the scouts will not solve the problem. The cartels have exported their support system so that individual scouts or supporters are expendable, as long as the living system survives. If these reports are accurate, they suggest that Arizona is under attack and swaths are being prepared for seizure as secure areas.

End of NightWatch for 22 June.

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