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NightWatch 20100630


For the Night of 30 June 2010

South Korea: The National Defense Ministry is seeking a sharp increase in next year's budget to improve its fighting capability, according to a report in The Associated Press on 30 June. Ministry officials agreed to request 31.6 trillion won ($25.8 billion) next year to introduce new weapons and improve military hardware and welfare facilities for troops, a ministry official said. The amount would represent a 6.9 percent increase from the 29.5 trillion won budgeted this year, which was a 3.6 percent increase from the year before, he added.

The sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan is part of the justification for the increase.

North Korea: The communist party's newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial predicting the Korean Workers' Party will expand its power when it convenes the party plenum in September, Yonhap reported on 30 June. The upcoming party delegate meeting is a show of comrade Kim Jong Il's will to bolster the leadership role and functions of the party, the paper stated, carried by the North's Korean Central Television.

Comment: Today's editorial is related to the succession process and is significant for several reasons. The media treatment of the coming party plenum indicates a key decision has been made to promote the primacy of the party in the media and deemphasize military leadership. Readers will recall that earlier in the year, Kim Chong-il's third and youngest son, Kim Jung-un, was described as the "young general." Some reports attributed the sinking of the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan to the brilliance of the "young general." He also is known for his fireworks displays in honor of his father's birthday.

One explanation for the soon-to-be restored prominence of the Party is that the campaign to promote the 27-year old's military achievements flopped. The crusty old Army Corps commanders would not buy the fantasy of the lad's military leadership genius. The only uniform the young man ever wore was in a Swiss boarding school. He will never be accepted as a military leader, but the military leadership will be loyal to the head of the party, state and government, at least for a time.

And that is the significance of restoring the leadership role of the Party. The young successor can be designated the Party leader without having to prove much beforehand. The title commands military and government loyalty.

The ironic backdrop is that Kim Chong-il is responsible for the downgrading of the party in North Korean national life. In 1994, after his father's death, Kim blamed the party functionaries for North Korea's agricultural and development disasters and promulgated the military first policy of the last 16 years. This was a calculated move to suborn the loyalty of the Corps Commanders and make it personal to himself rather than to national institutions. Kim also never wore a military uniform or did a moment of physical training and was afraid of a military coup or assassination.

Kim and his family have gotten away with a lot and are about to do more. Now Kim, his brother-in-law Chang or whoever is making the key decisions is reversing course to restore the primacy of the Party. In an oriental despotism, even one that parades as a communist state, the despot can do anything he thinks he can get away with.

The restoration of the leadership role of the Party might ease angst in China over dynastic succession in a communist state. It also will make it easier for North Koreans to follow the new leadership lineup, as an institutional collective - the Politburo - instead of personal rule. That too implies the campaign to sell the youngster as the next great leader fell short even among the civilian population.

Nevertheless, falling back on communist orthodoxy after so many years of flaunting it does not bode well for the stability of government after Kim Chong-il dies or becomes unable to govern. It is ironic that the leaders in Pyongyang see no other path but to restore the Party.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: The Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is the source of attacks on Indian security forces in the Kashmir Valley, according to Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, The Times of India reported 30 June. Chidambaram chaired a meeting attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister A. K. Antony on militant activity, and said in a press briefing following the meeting that militants in the Sopore area are linked to LeT. He said two LeT militants were killed in an operation in Sopore a few days ago.

Comment: The significance of the statements identifying the LeT as implicated in recent attacks is that they are crafted to exert pressure on Pakistan because the terrorist group is based in Pakistan. Indian leaders interpret LeT and other attacks as indicating the Pakistan government is doing little to nothing to ease security burdens on India, despite high-level, official Pakistani professions of good will.

India's approach is to match actions against words. This means India expects to see a decline in LeT and other attacks originating from Pakistan if the Pakistani government is sincere. Thus the purpose in reporting nearly every terrorist action in Kashmir is to register every attack as an indicator whether Pakistani leaders are taking action to suppress terrorism, or are just making high-sounding speeches.

At this point, Indian leaders would seem justified in concluding that Pakistan's actions do not match its words.

Pakistan: The Interior Ministry's National Crisis Management Cell has issued a warning about terrorist attacks in Lahore, The News reported 30 June. A letter sent to officials regarding the threat alert advised that "miscreants" carried out detailed reconnaissance of several places in Lahore "for conducting terrorist activities" in the near future.

The targets included the U.S. and Canadian Consulates, Khana-e-Farhang Iran, Royal Palm Golf Club, Hotel Pearl Continental, CIA security stations in Model Town and Kotwali, the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) office at Raiwind Road, and other several other facilities.

Comment: There have been many false alarms, but the price of security requires responding to reports of reconnaissance. It is the first overt act indicating serious intent beyond talking. Reports of reconnaissance must be treated as actionable intelligence because of the risks the terrorist scouts must take in public exposure, even when the reports are dubious. That is part of the price of being safe. An alert to police post is an appropriately reflexive response, meaning an action congruent with the nature and quality of the evidence.

Afghanistan: CNN and other news services reported today that a suicide attack at a NATO-operated airport in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan killed three militants and injured a NATO soldier, Xinhua reported. A press official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stated that a group of militants armed with weapons and suicide vests stormed the eastern part of the Jalalabad airport. Afghan and NATO-led troops repelled the attack, the official said, adding that the situation is under control and all the attackers were killed.

Comment: This kind of attack, against airports, essentially is a non-event, albeit a favorite of the Taliban. Even if the suicide bombers get through base security, they accomplish nothing of significance. Airports are difficult to disable absent a massive bombing raid which the Taliban are incapable of mounting. Damage, even from advanced air forces, is easily and quickly repaired.

The propaganda value from such attacks is short-lived, if any. The airfield at Jalalabad is not a major airfield. No special talent or skill is required in committing suicide outside the gate. For the Taliban it is a waste of assets in a pointless attack. Attacks against air fields expose the shallowness of Taliban thinking and targeting. They go for easy targets, rather than important ones.

End of NightWatch for 30 June.

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