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NightWatch 20101101


For the Night of 1 November 2010

Japan-Russia: Russian President Medvedev visited Kunashiri Island on 1 November, which is an island in the Kuril Islands chain that both Russia and Japan claim. His is the first visit to the disputed islands by a Russian President.

Japanese President Naoto Kan told the parliament the Medvedev visit was "very regrettable." Foreign Minister Maehar said the visit "hurts Japanese public sentiment." Japan will make a formal protest to Russia.

Comment: Japan claims the four islands just north of Hokkaido Island, out of the 56 islands that make up the Kuril Archipelago, which runs southeast of the Kamchatka Peninsula to Hokkaido. Russia possesses and administers them. No peace treaty exists between the two nations since World War II that covers the ownership of the islands.

As for Russia, the islands and the Presidential visit back up Russia's claim to be a consequential power in Northeast Asia and in the western Pacific. Russia also appears to be "piling on" Japan, backing China in its confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, off southern Japan.

US-Japan-Russia: The United States backs Japan in its dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands and desires negotiations to end the dispute, a U.S. State Department spokesman said 1 November. The United States has for a number of years encouraged Japan and Russia to negotiate a peace treaty regarding this and other disputes, the spokesman said.

NightWatch Comment: Today's State Department statement regarding the Kurils, which the Russians administer, contrasts sharply with the lack of official statements about the Senkakus which Japan administers, but China claims. The US Secretary of State backed Japan's claim to the Senkakus, but official Statement department spokesmen did not back up her statements.

Asian leaders might wonder about the consistency and substance of US policy when it concerns Japanese claims held over from World War II. While Secretary Clinton has been consistent in backing Japan's claims to the Senkakus and the Kurils, the US administration has not. The administration seems willing to back Japan in claims against Russia over territory Russia holds. Against China, however, the administration has not backed Japanese claims to islands Japan holds, but China claims.

Every time China is involved, the administration seems to become conciliatory and deferential. Every time Russia is involved the administration takes a tougher position. Feedback invited.

China-India: A member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee presented a five-point plan to boost relations with India, Xinhua reported 1 November.

Zhou Yongkang's proposal includes,

promoting political mutual trust;

expanding economic and trade cooperation;

expanding friendly exchanges;

strengthening international cooperation; and,

strengthening friendly consultation and handling issues on a foundation of mutual respect.

Zhou said the development of friendly ties with India is "an established policy and strategic decision" for China.

Comment: The most noteworthy part of the presentation is Zhou's assertion that friendly ties with India are "an established policy and strategic decision." This language has power in that it signifies a decision of the highest level of the Chinese government.

Nevertheless, the language does not necessarily imply cordial relations with India. From a Chinese perspective, the language asks India to "understand" Chinese behavior in India's strategic space. It does not imply that China will respect Indian aspirations for strategic dominance in the Indian Ocean region, but asks India to respect China's right to poach in Indian waters.

The language does imply that China is not now prepared to use pressure tactics with India when confrontations emerge, which, per ipse, implies that confrontations will emerge. In that sense, the proffer of the olive branch for resolving challenges means that India must expect challenges..

If China is banking the fires of confrontation with India, the question arises as to what will be China's primary strategic direction. Inasmuch as securing Chinese claims to territories lost in past wars appears to be the top objective, the top priority targets of Chinese combined diplomacy and coercion can only be Northeast and Southeast Asian nations.

Afghanistan-US-Russia: On 28 October, a joint Russian and US team executed a counter-narcotics raid in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan counter-narcotics forces were reportedly involved in the recent joint Russian-American-Afghan raid on four drug labs in eastern Nangarhar that yielded nearly $56 million of heroin.

Nevertheless, Afghan President Karzai criticized the operation, calling it a violation of Afghan sovereignty and demanding an investigation. Russia and the United States will continue joint operations in Afghanistan to destroy drug laboratories, following an agreement with Afghan President Karzai, according to a statement by the head of the Russian Federal Service's drug enforcement department Viktor Ivanov.

Concerns about the 28 October joint counter-narcotics operation in Afghanistan were addressed and an understanding was reached, Ivanov said. Documents regarding the continuation of operations have been signed with U.S. officials in Washington, Ivanov added.

Comment: Mainstream US media played down the significance of the return of Russian forces to Afghanistan last week, for the first time in 20 years. The Afghans were and will remain outraged.

Terrorism: Update. Update. Saudi intelligence reported that the U.S.-based parcel carrier Federal Express, also reportedly was used in the parcel bombing scheme, though details are sketchy.  No source is providing information on how many packages were sent via FedEx or where those packages are located.

A Saudi intelligence source reportedly has provided tracking numbers for roughly 26 packages used in the plot, though it is unclear if all of those contain explosive materials, which were found in at least one of the packages in Dubai.

U.S. and British authorities have temporarily banned all incoming air freight shipments from Yemen while this plot is investigated, and UPS and FedEx have temporarily suspended their Yemen operations as well.

Comment: Many press analysts are calling this an intelligence success, which it is in that damage was avoided. That is an absolute good no matter how it was accomplished.

However, the details of the attack raise questions how the bombs moved so far without detection; whether other bombs are still moving in the parcel service companies' systems without detection; whether the plot is a long term attack in multiple phases; in short, whether the weekend success was just the result of dumb luck from Saudi intelligence work plus swift reactions by governments on the operations end.

Analysis seems to have played little to no role in warning or in preventing the movement of bombs out of Yemen. Saudi intelligence gets great credit, for at least the third time. It also warned France about al Qaida threats earlier this year. The British and UAE security forces also deserve credit for finding the two bombs.

This does not seem to represent the systemic improvement that Mr. Brennan attempted to correct in his January 2010 statements about intelligence. The open question is whether this success is replicable. Another implication is that attacks via maritime shipping are only a matter of time because every other mode of transit of goods and people already are being tried.

Mexico: For the record. A total of 350 people were killed in the Ciudad Juarez metro area during October, according to the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, making it the deadliest month of 2010 to date.

According to the Attorney General's Office, Juarez has seen some 2,387 drug trafficking-related deaths in 2010 compared to 2,666 for the entire state of Chihuahua - and those are only the ones reported. To give some perspective, 2009 was believed to have been the deadliest year on record for the state of Chihuahua, with 2,754 drug trafficking-related deaths. Now, 2010 - which has yet to have a month with fewer than 100 deaths - is on pace to break that record.

End of NightWatch for 1 November.

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