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NightWatch 20100819


For the Night of 19 August 2010

South Korea-US: Update. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington probably will not participate in joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea next month because they will feature anti-submarine warfare operations, according to an unnamed South Korean National Defense Ministry source. Instead, the US might send at least one Aegis-equipped destroyer. The exercise will be "significantly" scaled down, according to the source.

Comment. A decision apparently has been made to not provoke China and to not permit the presence of a US aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea jeopardize a possible resumption of six party nuclear talks, described below. Great powers gain more respect by acting like great powers than by subtlety and tailoring. When a great power does not conform to expectations of great power behavior, middle powers get confused and then aggressive. Small powers get afraid of middle powers. See Iraq below.

North Korea-China: Update. North Korea and China agreed on 19 August that mechanical failure and loss of direction caused a North Korean fighter aircraft to enter Chinese airspace and crash in Liaoning province, Xinhua reported, citing unnamed departmental investigations into the incident. North Korea expressed its regret to China over the accident.

This terse statement does not answer a fraction of the questions deriving from the location and manner of this crash in China, but it puts further public inquiry to rest. That is its purpose.

China-North Korea: Wu Dawei, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, visited North Korea 16-18 August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced. Wu met officials in Pyongyang to discuss maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and restarting the six-party nuclear talks, according to a ministry press release.

The Korean Central News Agency announced, "The two sides had in-depth discussions on the regional situation and the bilateral relations of friendship and matters of mutual concern including the resumption of the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula. They reached a full consensus of views on all the matters discussed."

Comment: This means that the North has agreed to return to the six-party nuclear talks, at least on a conditional basis. Past conditions included acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear armed state by the other parties.

Another hypothesis moves in a different direction. This is that internal conditions have deteriorated to the point that the North is desperate for aid and is prepared to invite bribes … er, incentives from the six parties, just as it dabbles in summitry discussions with South Korea.

A warming trend has begun. Expect talks, if for no other reason than to obscure the sinking of the corvette Cheonan.

India-Pakistan: Security. On 19 August, the Indian Army accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire along the Line of Control, charging it with trying to push militants into the India's Jammu and Kashmir State under the cover of an armed clash.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Indian military posts in southern Kashmir received small arms and mortar fire from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir in a pre-dawn skirmish with Pakistani troops that lasted around two hours. "Pakistani troops opened unprovoked fire at Indian posts and targeted several positions in Poonch District," said an Army Lieutenant Colonel. "Our soldiers retuned fire." There were no casualties.

Comment: Skirmishes of this sort tend to be seasonal in spring and fall. Infltration in summer usually is preparatory for a special occasion or to respond to a special need of the Kashmir insurgents. India reports nearly all border incidents so as to keep media attention on Pakistan as a supporter of insurgency and violent extremists. As a general rule, these kinds of exchanges are, in fact, cover for Kashmiri separatist teams, infiltrating from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir, as the Indians stated..

Politics. Pakistan will not accept any "preconditions" for resuming talks with India, including New Delhi's demand for action against terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman said 19 August. He also said India will have to show "flexibility" to ensure talks are resumed, and Pakistan is ready to achieve constructive results on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. The Indo-Pakistani dialogue ceased after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

Comment: The prospects of warmer, more normal relations earlier this year appear to have faded. Pakistani leaders are fond of bashing India to divert attention from their crisis management shortcomings or lack of resources, in this instance, in handling the flood relief and recovery.

Reading Pakistani media is a study in curious contrasts. National level and northern Punjabi politics have continued with little apparent disruption caused by the national flooding catastrophe that has displaced 4.5million Pakistanis. CIA's fact book reported that the GDP grew by only 2.7% in 2009. The floods threaten to wipe out any growth this year. Infiltration programs into Indian Kashmir and talks with India seem disjointed from the national effort at crisis damage control and stabilization.

Iraq: For the record. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview with the Italian news outlet Corriere della Sera that President Obama's "abandonment of Iraq" is causing a tragic power vacuum and neighboring countries are intruding in Baghdad politics, Today's Zaman reported.

He claimed he repeatedly warned Washington about the issue, but the Americans are leaving and Iranians, Turks, Syrians and others are filling the vacuum. As instability increases, neighboring states are vying to gain influence in Iraq, he said. Turkey is unusually active and should be balanced with a contrary power.

Comment: Zebari's statements exhibit little confidence in the Iraqi government's ability to balance neighboring, external influences or to prevent a deterioration of security. His interests are served by some exaggeration, but, curiously, his remarks do not exaggerate much, if at all. As noted above, middle powers misbehave when great powers do not fill the strategic space. (That is a behavioral observation rooted in decades of experience, not a statement of political advocacy.)

Colombia-Venezuela: Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera and Commerce Minister Sergio Diaz-Granados traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, for a visit intended to help normalize diplomatic relations between the countries, El Espectador reported 19 August. Rivera met his Venezuelan counterpart, General Carlos Mata, on 19 August; Holguin is to talk with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on 20 August, Semana reported. Diaz-Granados will convene with Venezuelan economic officials to establish a working group for economic and infrastructure cooperation.

Comment: Relations are being "reset," now that President Uribe is out of office. The easing of tension is a positive development even though the warming trend will be short-lived. Readers will recall that on 3 August the two countries nearly engaged in border skirmishes, which helps put in perspective the time lines for warming and frigid periods in bilateral relations.

Mexico: Security forces in Mexico have found the body of the kidnapped mayor of the northern city of Santiago. The body of Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos was found handcuffed and blindfolded outside the nearby city of Monterrey, local media said.

He was kidnapped from his home on Sunday night by 15 armed men. State governor Rodrigo Medina said he believed Cavazos might have been targeted because of his efforts to tackle corruption in the local police force.

Comment: Criminal and cartel actions to target officials of Cavazos' stature are infrequent. The local descriptions of the kidnapping suggest it was not directly drug-related, but might have been an old-fashioned criminal payback.

End of NightWatch for 19 August.

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