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NightWatch 20101004


For the Night of 4 October 2010

North Korea: North Korea is preparing a large-scale military exercise near its northeastern city of Wonsan, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry report to a parliamentary inspection session. According to the report, Kim Chong-il is expected to observe the training which is to involve naval ships, air force fighters and artillery units. The exercise is to be held prior to the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea on 10 October.

Comment: The newly minted vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Kim Chong-un, almost certainly will be present, even if he is not named as the inspiration for the training. The political situation is not normal.

For the armed forces, October is normally a stand-down month to complete the harvest and begin preparations for the winter training cycle. A significant training event at this time would tend to disrupt those preparations, costs a lot and makes little contribution to force readiness.

The forthcoming training, thus, will be a propaganda event to showcase the new leaders. Wonsan is a safe venue for non-provocative military exercises.

India: Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, Chief of the Air Staff, said anything that affects India's growth is a matter of concern, Press Trust of India reported 4 October. All of India's neighbors need to be observed with caution, Naik said. The Indian air force's current procurement plans rest on four pillars: see, reach, hit and protect. Like the Indian Army, the air force is tweaking its doctrine to prepare for future multi-front wars, Naik said.

Comment: This is one of the few times an air force chief has mentioned in public a "multi-front" war role for the air force. The Army leadership more often mentions the development of doctrine for fighting a multi-front war.

"Multi-front war" means fighting Pakistan and China simultaneously. A question seldom asked is what are the tasks of the Indian Navy in a multi-front war scenario.

Pakistan: Militants burned tankers at the Torkham border crossing site for the fourth day.  The site remains closed to NATO supply convoys in support of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed regret for the drone attack last month that caused Pakistani soldiers to lose their lives, Reuters reported 4 October. Rasmussen met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to request that the border be open for supplies as soon as possible. Qureshi agreed to work on the issue.

Comment: Pakistan's strong reaction to the drone strike has built domestic support for the Gilani government at American and NATO expense. In this action, Gilani is not much different from Musharraf. Americans are the allies the Pakistanis love to trash in public while taking as much aid as they can get.

The Torkham gateway will reopen soon because its prolonged closure hurts Pakistani enterprises that carry on trade with Afghanistan, separate from support for NATO forces. Many of the trucking companies reportedly have Pakistani military or Pakistani Taliban backing and will not tolerate the loss in revenue much longer.

One assessment found that overland shipment from the Baltic by rail across Russia to Afghanistan is exponentially cheaper than overland shipment from the Indian Ocean by truck to Afghanistan. If that study is accurate, the US payments for truck convoys from Karachi port to NATO forces in Afghanistan are a disguised form of American public aid, over and above the cost of transport.

Iraq: During the weekend, Sadr's movement and the other main Shiite Arab political parties decided to back Prime Minister al Maliki to head the new post-election government. The Shiites are still a few votes short of having a majority in parliament which would enable them to form a government.

Former Prime Minister Allawi, albeit a secular Shiite, and his Sunni Arab supporters are seeking outside support, and probably financing, to advance their bid to head the next government.

Comment: The NightWatch hypothesis is that the Iranian backers of the Iraqi Shiite parties have had enough of the free wheeling Shiite political maneuvers and have ordered an end to the fractiousness.

Muqtada al Sadr's political bloc's flirtation with Allawi and disdain for al Maliki have helped prolong the political stalemate. Sadr's credentials as a Shiite cleric, however, derive from Iranian support. Iran evidently has called in its marker on al Sadr. The prolonged political stalemate apparently has put in jeopardy Iran's interest in having a Shiite-led, pro-Iran government remain in power in Baghdad.

It is not yet certain that al Maliki and his pro-Iranian cronies will head the next government. However, with sufficient money the few votes needed to give the Shiites a parliamentary majority should be within reach, provided the Saudis and others do not bid up the price. The political stalemate is getting close to ending, but not yet.

Mali-France: Mali is not involved in negotiations to free hostages seized by an Al-Qaida linked group on 15 September in Niger, Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure said on 4 October in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro. Toure said Mali has neither received a mediation request nor named a mediator. Toure said Mali and France are in talks about the French military taking action, but said there are currently no French forces stationed in Mali and only France can make such a military decision.

Comment: The significant point is Toure's admission that military talks, meaning military planning, are taking place. French forces might not be in Mali at the moment of the Toure interview, but they could stage in Mali for a rescue mission without warning.

Special comment on warning: In the past few days the US media has bombarded viewers and listeners with the latest State Department warning about an al Qaida threat in public places in European cities. The warning instructs travelers to not change their travel plans, but to be alert in public places, transportation hubs and gathering places.

It goes without saying that governments must disseminate such warnings, though reporting from Germany and France disputes the threat as stated in the US warning. However, there are some well established precepts of warning that the recent US warning ignores, at least as reported by radio and television.

The main purpose of any warning message, obviously, is to help keep people, companies, countries safe. Warnings do this by raising vigilance in order to generate appropriate reflexive responses. An appropriate reflexive response is a human behavior that is reasonable under the circumstances, that is, appropriate to the information about the threat. (See the writings of Irving Janis, Alexander George and many others for detailed explanations.)

Vigilance is fragile because it is a fear response that is difficult to sustain if the threat fails to materialize as damage.

The appropriateness of a vigilance response is related to the amount of fear-generating information in the warning plus the amount of reassurance it contains. For example, long experience has shown that blanket reassurance always negates vigilance. In practice, reassurance and vigilance cannot co-exist. Reassurance always trumps vigilance.

In attempting to raise vigilance, the latest warning messages advised travelers of potentially mortal danger, but then instructed them to make no changes in plans, which is a blanket reassurance message. The advice to be alert, but make no travel changes is almost certain to erode vigilance, except in the most skittish. It also makes little sense.

Another lesson form the history of warning concerns the content: how much information must a warning contain. Researchers in the 1960s compiled lessons for use by civil defense authorities in responding to natural disaster, such as hurricanes, as well as civil threats, including air raids.

They found that too much history and explanation negates vigilance. Familiarity breeds reassurance and thus, disregard of the warning. On the other hand, too little information breeds disregard because the audience does not know what to do or to avoid.

A problem with the weekend warnings as publicized is they contain no guidance about what to do or avoid. Everyone does something to protect themselves in the face of potentially mortal danger. The warning message advised travelers to not do those things, just be alert.

The US warning also includes a presumption that precautions are universal. Consider, during a recent trip to Europe, travelers could find that Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris had no visible security, but at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, commandos patrolled with slung sub-machineguns.

What constitutes reasonable precautions differs by country and by culture. Plus, what are the reasonable precautions travelers can take against Mumbai-style machine gun and grenade attacks at hotels and synagogues?

Good warnings - meaning, useful in keeping people safe -- require careful crafting and drafting. The weekend warnings seem to be aimed at exonerating the government and placing on travelers the responsibility for being safe from terrorist attacks. Thus, if some US citizens were to die, the government could and would claim it had warned them to be careful, for whatever good that does.

End of NightWatch for 4 October.

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