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NightWatch 20100720


For the Night of 20 July 2010

South Korea-US: US Defense Secretary Gates said that the coming large scale joint exercises should send a signal to North Korea. He said the United States wanted to make "a gesture of solidarity with our Korean allies and [show] recognition that the issues of missile and nuclear proliferation in the North continue to be serious challenges for us and for our allies and we intend to take them seriously."

He and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plan to visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on Wednesday."

Comment: The USS George Washington will participate in the portion of the exercise that is in the Sea of Japan. Some of the naval portions of the exercise apparently will take place in the Yellow Sea.

Nevertheless, the nature of the message North Korea is supposed to understand seems confusing and mixed. The message of overwhelming American military power will be understood. But effective reprisals are supposed to be swift, sure and tailored to match the infraction, according to the American Bar Association studies of criminal justice.

The four-month delay in its application is far from swift. For example there was a time when the North was considered capable of overrunning South Korea in far less than four months.

The response was not certain because it was debated, delayed until after the bland UN statement was issued and debated about whether, where and when to stage a show of force.

As for matching the infraction, a more appropriate response would have been retaliation against a North Korea patrol boat in the first week of April. That would have ended the episode, recycled a new episode and averted any need to send an aircraft carrier or to strain to link the Cheonan to nuclear proliferation and missiles. It is not quite clear how that logic progresses still.

This is a case study that shows how mismanagement distorts a tactical problem and produces high cost marginally effective, dilatory responses. The late historian Barbara Tuchman described such leadership decision making behavior as "blockheaded."

There is no new era of hostility, only a repeat of the same old tired practices. The South damaged a North Korean patrol boat last November and the North retaliated by sinking a South Korean boat in March 2010. The score is about even, based on the South's sinking of North Korean boats in earlier encounters.

The good news is that the North Koreans have no defense against aircraft carriers, cruise missiles, anti-ballistic missile systems and modern combat aircraft, most of which are aboard the USS GW.

The USS GW's exercise activity has been announced as sending a message to North Korea. In Asia, that means it must be impressive and sensational, plus convey the message in a cold-blooded, professional display of power that a single aircraft carrier can destroy every monument and physical symbol of authority that the North Koreans hold dear - NightWatch has been in Pyongyang and can attest to that assertion first hand - and that it is just the tip of the spear.

The North Koreans will understand the message that America -- an ocean away -has the power to destroy everything Kim Il-sung built in his lifetime, i.e., total national annihilation. The message that remains confused is whether the American leadership has the will to use that power. And that confusion invites more North Korean provocations as tests.

The other good news is that the Korea problem, along with the Chinese missile threat to Taiwan, serves as reminders that American national security problems are far more serious than counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. Big armies with nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems can do incalculable damage and must be deterred.

North Korea: The Foreign Minister departed from Pyongyang for Hanoi on Tuesday, 20 July, to attend the 17th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) meeting on Friday, according to a statement from North Korean state media.

"A DPRK delegation headed by Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun left here (Pyongyang) Tuesday to attend the ARF to be held in Hanoi," said the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The delegation will also visit Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia after the regional forum, according to the KCNA.

Note: The significance of this announcement is that it indicates that leadership succession problems are under control enough to enable the North to engage in normal diplomacy. Thus, had the Foreign Minister declined to attend the Hanoi meeting that would have been diagnostic of continuing problems over leadership succession.

The annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will be held in Hanoi on 23 July. Diplomats from 27 member countries are expected to attend.

Pakistan-US: The US Secretary of State repeated her comments, first made during an earlier visit, that "some elements of the Pakistani government, particularly its intelligence establishment, know where Osama bin Laden is hiding," The Times of India reported.

Note: The evidence supporting Secretary Clinton's comment is overwhelming. Both bin Laden and Mullah Omar should have been in Pakistani custody more than five years ago. Until both men are arrested, no American leader should trust anything said by a Pakistani leader about national security issues. After a decade of fine words, only results count. This is irreducible. Only Secretary Clinton has kept the end-game in focus.

End of NightWatch for 20 July.

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