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NightWatch 20100721


For the Night of 21 July 2010

The Korea Confrontation

South Korea-US: The US Secretaries of Defense and State visited the Demilitarized Zone, reaffirming in words and actions the US commitment to the defense of South Korea. The Allies also announced that joint exercises will be held next week.

Secretary Clinton announced more US unilateral sanctions against North Korea. Within two weeks, the US will blacklist more North Korean entities and individuals so as to cut off money flowing to its leaders through the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and counterfeit and luxury goods in violation of U.N. resolutions.

She recalled the US action in 2005 to freeze more than US$25 million in North Korean accounts in Banco Delta Asia in Macau, which the US designated as an entity suspected of helping North Korea launder money by circulating counterfeit $100 bills called super notes.

"We did get some action from the North Koreans as a result of these steps that were taken at that time," she said. The U.S. lifted the freeze in early 2007 to lure the North to return to the Six-Party talks.

Comment: North Korea is more vulnerable to economic warfare than to military warfare. The new sanctions potentially could be devastating. Treasury Department's intelligence agency proved in 2005 that it knows its business relative to North Korea banking transactions.

Nevertheless, today's strong show of support for South Korea is late and the message was not clarified. The US focus is clearly North Korea's nuclear weapons program, not its acts of war. The message the North is likely to read is that the US will tolerate tactical provocations and will not retaliate. This might look like statesmanship in the US, but in the Far East it could be interpreted as a green light.

A second point of confusion is the purpose of the exercises. A White House spokesman made the point that these are "defensive" in nature. Yesterday, the exercises were described as a "show of force" to the North Koreans. Those are not compatible concepts.

Note to new analysts: In the 63 years since the National Security Act of 1947 was enacted, US intelligence has established that there are only five actions that military forces in peacetime can accomplish. One is exercise in preparation for war. Another is stage a show of force, which adds political goals to routine military readiness objectives. These two are definitely not identical in cost, purpose or target.

The other three of the five are rehearse war preparations without raising combat readiness; engage in brinksmanship and actually prepare for war with incremental increases in combat readiness. What distinguishes the five is cost to the polity - whether measured in dollars, resources, manpower, inconvenience, disruption of civilian normality or political intangibles.

Comment continued: The White House statement presented the exercises in the context of routine behavior among Allies, timid and defensive. The Defense Department and UN Command statements indicated the exercises are pointed, aggressive and intended to be intimidating. The two statements neutralize each other because reassurance always trumps vigilance.

Undermining both statements is the fact that the US did not respond in a timely fashion to the defense of South Korea, which was attacked on 26 March. The response lag time erodes the cogency of all the lofty American words. The bottom line is that South Korea was attacked, but the US response took four months. That is not "strategic reassurance."

As noted yesterday, in four months, a healthy North Korean army could overrun the Peninsula. Fortunately, it is not all that healthy. Somewhere in Washington the strategic thinking is muddled, timid and misguided in dealing with the Far East.

North Korea's nuclear weapons support its strategic objectives of survival, above all else, plus forcible unification with the South, which is increasingly unattainable. They are tools, not ends in themselves. Thus, even without nuclear weapons, the North would pursue those two strategic objectives.

Thus the vigorous pursuit of denuclearization by all parties is a North Korean diplomatic objective as well as a US goal. The North Korean version would disarm the US because that would leave intact the North's conventional threat to the South.

This is the threat from which the UN Command lately has failed to show it can defend South Korea or even respond in a timely fashion. It is embodied in the North's sinking of the corvette Cheonan by a conventional torpedo with impunity.

Arguably, one set of lessons for South Korea would be that in the event of a North Korean provocation, the Republic of Korea forces must handle it on its own. In the event of a larger attack, its forces and US forces in South Korea must be prepared to fight as they are for up to four months, while US leaders deliberate.

The logic is ancient wisdom: If you do not do well in little things, why should you be trusted to do well in great things?

North Korea: The North's media had a field day in commenting on US statements.

According to one commentary, "The US Department of Defense recently made an official announcement that it would conduct US-ROK joint military exercises soon. A large number of troops, including not only maritime forces such as "George Washington" -- a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier belonging to the US Seventh Fleet --, nuclear-powered submarines, and "Aegis"-equipped destroyers, but also air forces, are to participate in these joint military exercises to be conducted in both the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and West Sea (Yellow Sea) of Korea and their scope would grow larger than the regularly-conducted exercises such as "U'lchi Freedom Guardian."

"At a time when large numbers of US forces to participate in the joint military exercises are on their way to the Korean peninsula, "Michigan," an "Ohio"-class nuclear-powered submarine belonging to the US Seventh Fleet that carries 154 "Tomahawk" missiles, arrived in the port of Pusan in South Korea a while ago."

"Such a serious situation proves that the US bellicose forces' maneuver for a war of aggression against the DPRK (North Korea) has entered a stage of implementation. The joint military exercises that the US bellicose forces are to conduct with the South Korean puppets -- a dangerous commotion of playing with fire aimed at mounting a surprise preemptive strike on our Republic by rounding off the US-ROK joint military actions in preparation for a war of aggression against the DPRK -- are now driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to a phase just a step away from explosion.

The Korean peninsula has now become an acute hotspot where an accidental clash can escalate into a full-scale war."

Note: Blowing past the bombast, the danger that worries the North is accidental clashes, such as problems of fire discipline and mistakes in command and control. That, Readers, is a deliberate insult to the most powerful nation in history.

To recap, the UN Command is huffing and puffing, thumping its chest and marching around loudly, showing its muscle and wearing itself out, but the North is worried mainly about accidental clashes that might escalate!

If the Alliance aim is to scare the North, it failed to convey anything it did not already know, with the singular and important exception of the arrival of the USS Michigan. The North has no defense against cruise missiles of any kind. Those are not new messages.

China: China on Wednesday restated its opposition to joint exercises between the United States and Republic of Korea (ROK), which Seoul-based media reported will be held in the Yellow Sea by early September.

Today's Foreign Ministry protest was the sixth this month. "We resolutely oppose any foreign military vessel and aircraft conducting activities in the Yellow Sea and China's coastal waters that undermine China's security interests. We will continue to follow closely the developments of the situation," a spokesman said.

The subtext of the protest statement is that US actions have increased steeply the political price for Chinese support in bringing North Korea back to Six Party talks.

North Korea: Internal. North Korean and foreign media have described a new statue erected at the "secret camp" on Mount Paektu, the mythological birthplace of the Korean communist revolution. (In fact it was born in a military camp in the Soviet Far East and in the impatient and intolerant mind of Joe Stalin.) A larger than life size statue of Kim Chong il has been erected alongside statues of his father and mother. Images of the statue are on the Net.

The significance is that Kim refused to allow statues in his likeness to be erected as this would symbolize the end of his regime. The Far East is not like the Middle East in this respect.

"This statue means that Kim Jong-Il is passing into history and legend in North Korea and I'm more convinced than ever that his successor will be announced soon," said Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, an expert on North Korean politics at Tokyo's Waseda University.

"A strong Confucian trait pervades North Korean society and it would run counter to that to erect a statue in one's own likeness while you were still leader," he said. "But I also think this is Kim underlining the dynasty that he wishes to continue with his own son."

According to reports from unidentified sources in the North, Kim Chong-Il's health is fading fast and has advanced to the stage where he is unable to concentrate on work for more than one hour at a time and is unable to read documents.

The source of the above report is the London Telegraph, not a good source. However, images of the new statue have been posted on the Web by multiple news agencies. The statue is a funerary symbol and it is genuine. The Telegraph article's description of the cultural significance is accurate, but the gravity of Kim's condition remains a state secret in North Korea.

Courting Vietnam

Vietnam-China: Vietnam's Atomic Energy Institute and China's Guangdong Nuclear Power Group signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on nuclear cooperation on 21 July in Hanoi, state-run Vietnam News Agency reported.

The MoU states that Guangdong Nuclear Power Group will support Vietnam's institute by providing the latest advanced technology and training nuclear technicians. Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Le Dinh Tien and Chinese Deputy Minister of Energy Qian Zhiming attended the signing ceremony.

Vietnam-India: Indian Army Chief of Staff General V.K. Singh will visit Vietnam from 26-29 July, The Times of India reported 21 July, citing an Army news release. During the visit, the first by an Indian army chief in 15 years, General Singh will meet with Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh and Army Chief of General Staff Gen. Nguyen Khac Nghien for talks on strengthening bilateral military ties.

Comment: The two items showcase the importance Vietnam has in Chinese and Indian strategy. As general rule, China emphasizes economic policies that tend to tie Vietnam to China. India offers Hanoi alternative options for security so that Vietnam can resist becoming an economic vassal of China.

India: After his return from talks in Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Krishna lamented and berated the comments by his colleague, the Minister of Home Affairs Pillai about official Pakistani intelligence management of the Mumbai attacks.

Pillai's remarks froze the talks before they began and ensured they would not produce substantive results. Krishna's indulgence in blaming a cabinet colleague is more a matter of domestic Indian politics than foreign policy. Krishna is deflecting blame for the unproductive talks.

Nevertheless, Pillai's comments are closer to the mark. Since 2008, the governments of Prime Minister Singh always have stated that they would not engage in a general dialogue with Pakistan, except on the condition that Pakistanis involved in the Mumbai attacks were first brought to justice.

Pakistan: Prime Minister Gilani said it is important that NATO and Pakistani forces increase cooperation and the sharing of information for the joint monitoring of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, The Associated Press reported 21 July. Gilani, while talking with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, sought NATO's assistance in improving a road network throughout Pakistan to provide supplies to NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops and welcomed a proposal for the signing of a framework agreement between Pakistan and NATO.

Comment: The significance of the NATO discussion and US Secretary Clinton's recent visit are that they represent another "tilt" towards Pakistan on security matters for the third time since 1971. In this respect, the Obama administration is following the path of the Nixon administration, although circumstances have changed. Pakistan is receiving US tax dollars as if it were a state of the United States, but the results are pathetic.

There might not be a practical alternative, but prudence commends a clear understanding of how little the US tax dollars have purchased in Pakistan.

The US is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Neither military nor elected Pakistani governments have delivered bin Laden, Zawahiri or Mullah Omar. Quite the contrary. Coincident with increased US engagement, Pakistan has become less stable, manifest in the formation of the Pakistani Taliban, in addition to the failure to kill or capture the al Qaida leaders or the Afghan Taliban leaders. All the drone killings of lesser luminaries do not signify, by comparison.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani repeat the same refrains that Musharraf uttered when he held both of their jobs: "there is no proof"; "share your proof"; "the men are not in Pakistan."

Pakistanis have been repeating these refrains for nearly ten years, regardless of a severe deterioration in Pakistan's internal security and a worsening of the Allied position in Afghanistan. Still, the repetition has produced a steady increase in US assistance to Pakistan, indicating the tactic works for Pakistan, not for the US, NATO or Afghanistan.

Since the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990's, with Pakistani intelligence assistance, it has been clear that Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and South Asia are not congruent with American interests. This ought to be obvious after the past ten years. That is the only explanation, for example, for Mullah Omar's ability to operate with impunity from Quetta or Karachi, as he sees fit, against US forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has become an agent of instability and proliferation and a state sponsor of terror since about the mid-1990s. The US continues to reward bad, if not incompetent, Pakistani behavior. There might be no practical alternatives, but any notion that this policy is working by any measure of merit - such as improving security conditions in Afghanistan -- needs to be dispelled. This is a study in democracy.

Question for feedback: Does the US aid package exceed Pakistan's income tax receipts?

Kyrgyzstan: For the record. President Roza Otunbayeva has confirmed her government's readiness to discuss with Russia the deployment of another military base in the country's south. "We are ready to consider these things, but nobody (from the Russian side - Interfax-Kazakhstan) has yet talked to us about this," Otunbayeva told journalists today.

She also said that the Kyrgyz leadership and the Russian side would in the near future start discussing Russia writing off Kyrgyzstan's debt.

Kyrgyzstan is begging for Russian military and economic assistance.

Chad-Sudan: On Wednesday, Chad reassured Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir that he has nothing to fear as he begins a visit to N'djamena, despite a warrant for his arrest for genocide and war crimes.

"My presence in N'djamena bears witness to our wish to turn the page after the differences between our two countries," Bashir told journalists at the airport. "We are in a new phase of the history of our two countries, in the interests of our two peoples."

Chad's Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat said, "Omar al-Beshir was invited to (Chad) in his capacity as president of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD).As a CEN-SAD member he has nothing to worry about," Chadian Foreign Minister Mahamat said.

Comment: This is Bashir's first visit to a country that recognizes the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued two warrants for Bashir's arrest for genocide and war crimes atrocities against the Darfur people. Chad is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and agreed to be bound by its provision to arrest and hand over to the ICC anyone for whom it has issued an arrest warrant.

Chad's Foreign Minister, oblivious to solemn international obligations, said, "Chad is a sovereign and independent state....We are not dependent on the injunctions of international organizations." Evidently he failed to appreciate that Chad volunteered to be bound by those injunctions.

As a result, Chad has been condemned by rights groups, specifically Human Rights Watch, for putting its quest for improved relations with Sudan ahead of its obligation and agreement under the Rome Statute to arrest a leader accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

"Chad risks the shameful distinction of being the first ICC member state to harbor a suspected war criminal from the court," Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday ahead of the visit. Chadian leaders do not care because for the first time in five years, there is relative peace between Chad and Sudan. This is a study in international democracy.

Mexico: The Mexican army has launched "Operation Barrido" in Juarez, Chihuahua State, following an explosive device placed in a car that was used to attack security forces in the city, Milenio reported 21 July.

The operation requires military personnel to search cars, businesses and homes for weapons, drugs and explosives. The 250 soldiers assigned to the operation will receive auxiliary assistance from federal agents and trained dogs, as well as helicopter support. Also in response to the car bomb attack, Federal Police in Juarez pledged to maintain 24-hour patrols in the city as part of its strategy to fight organized crime. The nine most violent sectors in Juarez will be subject to the constant patrols, which consist of GPS-enabled cars and two helicopters.

Note: The introduction of car bombs and other IEDs risk transforming the fight against drug cartels into something that is worse than Afghanistan because the Mexican Army lacks even the inadequate US capability to defend against improvised explosives.

End of NightWatch for 21 July.

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