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NightWatch 20100723


For the Night of 23 July 2010

North Korea-US-ROK: "There will be a physical response against the military steps imposed by the United States," according to Ri Tong Il, spokesman for the North Korean delegation to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, Yonhap reported 23 July. The military exercises are another expression of hostile policy against North Korea, he stated, adding that it is no longer the 19th century, which maintained the gunboat policy. This is a new century and Asian countries are in need of peace and development, and Pyongyang is moving to that end, he said.

Comment: An analysis by linguistics experts earlier this year found the term "physical response" is a particular usage by the North Koreans that refers to the science of physics in Korean. It is a poor translation, but there is no other comparably nuanced English idiom.

The significance is the North is promising -- not threatening -- a nuclear test or nuclear-related demonstration. The North might be bluffing and might substitute a military provocation, but the language of the statement refers to physics. The North needs more testing and one must be expected during every crisis.

North Korea- UN Command: Officers from the United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea met 23 July and agreed to hold a third round of colonel-level talks n 29 July, a UNC statement said, Kyodo reported. The UNC Military Armistice Commission proposed to assemble a Joint Assessment Group, which would evaluate the armistice violations that resulted in the sinking of the corvette Cheonan on 26 March. Both sides agreed "to develop specific proposals based on the procedures of the armistice," the statement said.

According to other reports, the North has offered to send 30 investigators for at least three days, at South Korean or UN Command expense, to conduct its own investigation of the Cheonan. The logic of the North's argument is impeccable: if the joint investigation and findings are objective, there should be no reason to deny the North access to the ship it is accused of sinking.

Special Note. An Asia Times Online analysis of Allied behavior during this confrontation contains several points worth restating. First is that any effort to obtain Chinese and Russian support for the findings of the joint investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan was doomed to fail because South Korea did not invite either nation to send experts to join the investigation. This is a colossal political blunder no matter what the findings were and how the experts agreed or disagreed.

Second is the issue of playing old tapes. Someone still thinks that China can be pressured by economic ties and US military power into supporting the US against North Korea. That never happened even when China was much weaker than it now is. In the past year, moreover, China's assertion of hegemony in the west Pacific has been not been seen in centuries.

Third is South Korean overreaching. The government in Seoul expected the UN would side with it against the North. Despite the cleverness of the drafters of the UN Security Council statement, the North Koreans consider their work to have delivered a world-class diplomatic victory to North Korea over the US and South Korea. Instead of projecting South Korea onto the world stage, the Statement enabled North Korea to get away with murder.

Finally, in this analysis, the South expected the US would stand up to China by holding exercises in the Yellow Sea over Chinese objections. That also will not happen.

The analysis is long and somewhat tedious, but has value because it provides predictive hypotheses for the miscalculations, misperceptions and blunders that allowed North Korea to sink an Allied warship with impunity.

North Korea-US: For the record. The US Treasury Department and intelligence authorities have identified 200 overseas bank accounts with links to North Korea and are expected to freeze some 100 of those suspected of being used for weapons exports and other illicit purposes banned under UN resolutions, according to a diplomatic source, Yonhap reported 23 July.

As part of its sanctions, the United States is expected to notify banks of the illicit North Korean accounts, the source said.

Russia-Afghanistan: Russia and NATO have mutual long-term interests in Afghanistan, Russian Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces General Nikolai Makarov said following talks with Chairman of NATO's Military Committee Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, Interfax-AVN reported.

Both commanders are interested in NATO's success in Afghanistan, Makarov said, adding that Russia will provide assistance by ensuring the transit of military property and personnel through Russian territory.

Comment: Makarov's is the latest in at least a half dozen recent comments professing Russian support to the US effort in Afghanistan. The cumulative significance is that they prove that the Russians smell the US end game in Afghanistan and are determined to be a part of it and the new game that begins when the Americans depart.

Diverging from US policy, the Russians do not intend to transfer to Pakistan responsibility for stability in Afghanistan. They do not expect and will not rely on Pakistani good will. They also do not intend to allow US decisions to go unchallenged. The US Secretary of State's public tilt to Pakistan could not have done more to galvanize Russian and Indian interest and opposition to US schemes. An ascendant or even a healthy Pakistan suits no Russian or Indian interests and does not promote stability in South Asia.

Thus the Russians appear to be sincere in offering assistance by providing a secure, northern, railroad route alternative to the porous over-the-road supply route through Pakistani which appears to be a major source of supply for the Taliban. The Russians are sincere in the sense that helping the US serves Russian long term interest in influencing events in northern Afghanistan, if not in Kabul, and keeps the costs low for now. The new railroad bridges across the Oxus River are major assets in the Russian scheme for supporting the northern tribes.

As for Pakistan, the Pakistanis have made it abundantly plain that Afghanistan remains a secondary and minor concern for Pakistani leaders, provided India has no foothold. For Pakistanis, like General Kayani, they have been raised to perceive India is an existential threat to Pakistan. Thus, no matter what they have promised, US aid will be diverted, substituted and repackaged to support the confrontation with India.

When Afghanistan degenerates into its second civil war, Russia and India will again side with the northern Alliance tribes against Pakistan and the Pashtuns. In that scenario, ten years of US investment, deaths and involvement will have counted for little, but history will have resumed a more normal path. The Carter administration discovered that Afghanistan is just two oceans too far to sustain a US commitment. Astonishing how short some memories can be.

Somalia: Guinea is ready to deploy immediately a battalion to Mogadishu to boost the African Union peacekeeping force, according to AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping as reported by Agence France-Press on 23 July. Guinea is going to quickly top the 8,000 mark, Ping stated, adding that the current trend could take the country to more than 10,000 troops.

Reinforcements will help, provided they do not encumber the already limited sustainment capabilities of the AU force. That remains the critical weakness. African states have troops, but cannot support them outside their own countries.

Mali-Mauritania: Update. The French Defense Ministry announced on 23 July that the French military provided technical and logistical support to a Mauritanian operation that targeted al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Agence France-Presse reported.

End of NightWatch for 23 July.

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