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NightWatch 20100903


For the Night of 3 September 2010

South Korea-US: Update. US Forces Korea today confirmed that South Korea and the United States will hold anti-submarine warfare exercises from 5 to 9 September in the Yellow Sea. The statement said the exercises will send a message of deterrence to North Korea, while improving Allied anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Ten ships will participate including the two U.S. guided-missile destroyers, USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Fitzgerald, and a fast-attack U.S. submarine.

South Korea's Joint Staff announced the South will contribute four destroyers, a submarine, high-speed frigates and P-3C aircraft to practice techniques to cope with infiltration by enemy submarines.

As of this Watch, neither China nor North Korea has commented in response.

India- South Korea: In Seoul, today, Indian Defence Minister Antony and South Korean National Defense Minister Kim approved two memoranda of understanding that will strengthen force cooperation and defense industrial collaboration under the India-South Korea Defence Agreement.

The first memorandum of understanding (MoU) covers sharing of military expertise; exchanges of visits by military personnel and experts in defense services; education and training, and conduct of military exercises, as well as joint visits by ships and aircraft. It also includes cooperation in humanitarian assistance and international peacekeeping.

The second MoU is far reaching, aimed at identifying futuristic defense technology research and development for co-development and co-production of defense products.

Defence Minister Antony remarked that "We live in a troubled neighborhood. Some call it a fragile region. We have to maintain balance and restraint even in the face of grave challenges to our security."

Comment: This was a high powered delegation that included senior officers from the armed services and from the defense research establishment. The Indians came to create an architecture for doing business and their timing could not have been better.

Serendipitously, the Indian delegation is in Seoul coincident with a powerful Chinese military region commander's visit to Pyongyang as a follow-up to Kim Chong-il's secretive China visit. The Indian visit also almost coincides with the start of the US-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea.

For Readers keeping score, North Korea showed the world it has one powerful ally. South Korea showed China it has two at opposite ends of Asia. Japan's statement of solidarity with South Korea over the Cheonan sinking brings the South's total to three of the most advanced and militarily powerful states with the best trained forces in the world. This is tonight's good news.

India-China: India conveyed its concerns to China on 3 September about an increase in the Chinese troop presence and activities in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Embassy officials said Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar met China's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Zhang Zhijun in Beijing to discuss India's concerns.

India news papers quoted government sources that 11,000 Chinese have been detected in the Pakistan-controlled section of western Kashmir

In response to the Indian demarche, the Chinese said the soldiers were assisting with flood relief without further explanation.

Comment: The Indian press indicates China stonewalled India on this and several other issues, especially those related to Kashmir. While not confirmed, the size of the Chinese contingent equals that of an infantry division. The location could be east of Islamabad … if confirmed. Earlier press reports indicated the Chinese troops were providing security for railroad construction, but the Chinese did not confirm those reports.

China appears to be dropping the nuances in its policy actions of the past ten years as to disputed regions of Asia. In doing so, it is siding openly and unequivocally with longstanding allies. This explains China's open embrace of Kim Chong-il, which matches its equally open tilt to Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.

China is asserting itself as the Asian hegemon from Northeast Asia, through Southeast Asia to Southwest Asia. This is a strategic challenge to the interests of the US, its allies and friends.

Pakistan: Pakistani Taliban again claimed responsibility for killing at least 43 people and injuring 78 others in a suicide blast at a Shiite procession in Quetta, Pakistan, according to police chief Ghulam Shabir Sheikh. The occasion of the march is al Quds Day, which is an annual protest in solidarity with the Palestinians and to condemn Israel. Al Quds is the Muslim name for the city Jerusalem.

Comment: Pakistani Sunni terrorists evidently will not tolerate Pakistani Shiites protesting in support of Sunni causes, namely, the Palestinians. The plight of the Palestinians has no relevance to the goals of the Pakistani Taliban which include creation of a Pakistani Islamic emirate based in Islamabad.

Mozambique: Update. News services reported no new food riots in Maputo and one small disturbance in Chimoio in central Mozambique, where 50 protestors were arrested.

One local commentator reported the riots began on Tuesday with an e-mail and SMS campaign urging people to protest against a recent 17 percent increase in the bread price as well as a rise in the costs of water and electricity. The source of the messages is not known. The increase in the price of bread in the past year has been 25%.

The government response to the riots is that the price increases are irreversible.

Comment: New analysts need to pay special attention to increases in the price of bread, cooking oil and heating oil in any country in the less developed world because these are the triggers for most of the coups since World War II. Regardless of the country or culture, price increases in any one of these three commodities plus one or other utilities lead to uprisings and government overthrows.

In 2008 in Mozambique the trigger for rioting was increases in the fares for public transport, on top of food shortages. The increased price of bread and the cost of utilities indicate the riots were mostly a spasm of urban unrest that does not jeopardize the government, at least not yet.

Lying in background is the fact that Mozambique only grows 30% of the wheat it needs. The rest and a host of daily necessities are imported. Riots have ended for now, but they will recur unless prices come down.

People go hungry and get angry when a loaf of bread costs a nickel more, when 70% of the people live on $2.00 a day. No amount of extra labor can supply the extra nickel. That is the point when riots occur.

Special comment (length alert!): The Mozambique riots provide a text book example of the phenomenology of internal instability caused by economic privation … or greed. Unless government leaders are preter-naturally wise, increases in the prices of the three commodities or various utilities always create a political discontinuity.

The grievance is micro-economic - insufficiency of any amount of labor to pay for the increased price of necessities. The government response is authoritarian and forceful -- protests are an affront to the political order and a challenge to government authority and civil order.

Almost all governments are prone to interpret protests as challenges to authority, aka civil order, although the grievance might be fundamentally NOT political, but economic. Economic grievances usually start as pleas for help, not challenges to the political order

There develops a mismatch in which people desperate for economic relief are given riot police truncheons, rubber bullets and water cannons.

Use of force against economic protestors inexorably converts economics into politics. This is the point at which inchoate economic protests mutate into organized political movements that might evolve into insurgencies or revolutions.

Governments in the dire straits of that in Maputo can more easily afford to spend rubber bullets and use truncheons than to roll back food prices, which are in the control of outside business enterprises. This is a common, nearly universal pattern, during food and commodity crises in poor, mismanaged economies.

An authoritarian response to a legitimate economic complaint from the people, especially city folk, will work the first time to restore order, but always increases and intensifies stress. The hungry protestors invariably and rightly conclude the government is not listening, does not understand and does not care about their complaints.

They organize and prepare for another round or protests because force is not an appropriate, reflexive (in the sense of a mirror reflecting an image) response to severe economic need. There will be another, escalatory round of disturbances, after the protest organizers regroup, evaluate, learn and expand.

The government will have kicked the can down the road, but only for a time. Unless the government learns and obtains the resources for alleviating the economic complaint - lowers prices without reducing supply, even at lower quality -- the government will find itself at risk of overthrow.

The lesson from the study of more than five dozen instability crises is that governments survive and thrive when their solutions match the people's grievances. The mismatch of using force as a response to economic need always leads to government overthrow, eventually, barring outside assistance. The clock is ticking in Mozambique.

Final point. One strategy the Egyptians, notably, pioneered and mastered is to lower the quality of the bread to enable lowering the price. In past bread riots under Mubarak, the government used two tactics to lower the price of a loaf of bread without losing money.

The first was to reduce the size of the loaf along with the price. Smaller loaves cost less. This was seldom satisfactory but bought time, literally, for the government to concoct another scam.

The second was to reduce quality by permitting government bread inspectors to approve use of increased amounts of sawdust and bakery floor sweepings as low cost substitutes for flour. In Mozambique in the past, the government has permitted Casava flour to substitute for wheat flour as a price reducing measure in the production of bread.

Both tactics work to lower prices, while meeting demand and averting rioting until the bread market could stabilize. If it fails to stabilize, the government will be at risk of more rioting.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The FAO said on 3 September that is has called a special meeting to address the recent increase in food prices around the world. The meeting is scheduled for 24 September, most likely in Rome, the FAO headquarters.

The organization said world food prices rose in August to the highest level since September 2008. That was the year of food riots around the world over steep price increases that were engineered by speculators plus shortages.

Comment: Food analysts judge and Chicago Board of Trade data show there is no shortage of wheat. The spike in prices is far below the spike in 2008. World wheat production is 648 million metric tons, down 5% from last year, but still the third largest harvest on record. World demand is slightly higher than production, however, but can be more than satisfied by the 175 million tons of wheat stored in stockpiles.

There is no shortage of wheat, although Russia has extended its ban on wheat exports because of a prolonged drought. Russia contributes about 10% of the world wheat supply annually. Countries that rely on Russian supplies will face a local shortfall until they negotiate alternate supplies.

The problem leading to riots is not supply, usually, but distribution/availability at reasonable cost. For countries as poor as Mozambique, even slight price increases make living impossible. Mozambique's computed per capita income is $900, but 70% of the population lives on $2.00 per day and unemployment is more than 21%, according to the CIA Factbook.

Other countries known to be at risk of disorders because of increases in the price of bread are China, Egypt, Pakistan, Senegal and Serbia. More food riots are unavoidable this fall.

US- Transportation Safety: Note: this comment is based exclusively on open sources, not on special information available only to the government.

A canister that resembled a pipe bomb was detected in luggage at 9 p.m. EDT at the Miami International Airport on 2 September. This led to the detention of a passenger, closure and evacuation of four terminals and summoning of a bomb squad, among other responses. In the end, all was well.

This action, as inconvenient and costly as it was, is the price of flight safety when passengers are oblivious to how others might items they packed in their luggage. The majority always suffers from the stupidity or denseness of the few when there is zero tolerance for failure.

Still Miami's action stands in stark contrast to the action yesterday of Chicago or Birmingham authorities in notifying the Dutch to investigate the Yemeni owners of luggage containing suspicious items. Both were apparently false alarms. The difference is Miami kept the press accurately informed with regular updates that kept the situation from blowing out of proportion, at least based on the press accounts.

Almost all of the media reporting about the Yemenis, according to Feedback, was inaccurate. The fact that US authorities would know about the press inaccuracies and not hold a press conference to update or correct them all day seems odd. It also risks significant and expensive legal action.

The larger point is the difference between Miami and Chicago as to the triggers for action to keep airline transportation safe.

Law enforcement officials in some locations continue to rely on the sliding scale of criminal evidence to take action to keep people safe. They act when they have a suspicion of criminal behavior. The Yemenis did nothing to raise a criminal suspicion.

On the other hand, all airports contain notices that passengers consent to searches of themselves, their fingerprints and their luggage, as a condition for flying. This imputes no suspicion of criminal or civil wrongdoing; it is a civil consent. The penalty for refusal is not criminal detention; it is a denial of flight.

That means inspectors are empowered to do what is reasonable under the circumstances. In tort law that is called the reasonable man standard. It is a behavioral standard, not a criminal evidentiary standard to support a prosecution.

Miami, hopefully deliberately and conscientiously, acted on a reasonable man standard and the passenger's consent to search. It is reasonable to question the owner of luggage that X-Rays show contains what looks like a pipe bomb or other hazard. Plus, the passenger consented to such searches in buying a ticket!

The inconvenience was expensive, but not as expensive as a mid-air explosion. The outcome was airport and aircraft safety; there is no basis for legal liability from a consent search.

Chicago and Birmingham applied a criminal law standard against the Yemenis. The trigger for action was suspicion of criminal behavior. The result was different.

The Dutch ended up doing the work US officials should have done, and could have done legally, before the flight. The good news is there was no bomb. Presumably, neither Yemeni was conducting a trial run, but that will never be confirmed now. The good outcome was a matter of luck, not intelligence. Huge potential legal liabilities remain on both sides of the Atlantic.

Feedback is welcome on the differences between intelligence evidence used with civil standards for assessing behavior plus passenger consent vs. law enforcement criminal evidentiary standards.

End of NightWatch for 3 September.

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