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NightWatch 20101123


For the Night of 23 November 2010

The Yeonpyeong-Do Artillery Confrontation

Special Comment: A review of diplomacy, international relations and leadership activities confirms that North Korea is not preparing for war. Its volleyball team just advanced to the quarter finals at the Asian Games in Beijing. Senior officials are receiving foreign diplomats as usual. Kim Chong il and his son were reported on 23 November visiting a plant together and Kim visited two others without his son.

The number and detail of the activities show that the North does not expect the shelling incident to escalate. There also are no reports of increased civilian or military alerts in North Korea, which would be mandatory precautions if the North expected or intended an escalation.

South Korea: The North Korean artillery attack on the afternoon of 23 November has prompted significant responses by South Korea. The measures include the following:

-The Unification Ministry announced it will ban South Korean nationals from visiting the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea for at least a day.

-Workers at the Mount Kumgang resort are to be recalled

-The government has banned all civilian boats and small planes from Yeonpyeong Island

-The government ordered state-run utility companies to improve protection of 120 facilities, including power plants and fuel storage facilities.

-Security at major harbors has been tightened.

-The air force is "regulating" flights in the northwest

-Red Cross talks set for 25 November have been postponed indefinitely

-Seoul authorities have suspended flood relief aid to North Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak ordered the South Korean military to strike at North Korea's missile base around its coastal artillery positions if North Korea conducts additional provocative actions, according to a spokesperson for the President.  During a conference with South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman General Han Min Koo, Lee ordered "multiple-fold retaliation" against the North for its attack if there is an indication of further provocation.

Comment: No additional firing has been reported during this Watch. News releases indicate that 2 South Korean Marines died from the artillery attack and 16 were injured. Marines garrison the offshore islands.

All the casualties were Marines and the destruction reportedly occurred on a Marine base. This confirms that the North has registered fires and is reasonably accurate with its artillery. Presumably the South has done both as well. The North has not admitted any casualties from South Korean fire.

South Korea-US: Update. Redeploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea would harm the greater goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, parliamentary Defense Committee chairman Won Yoo Chul said on 23 November.

National Defense Minister Kim Tae Young clarified that yesterday's comments were taken out of context. Kim said South Korea and the United States were discussing available options to counter North Korea's nuclear threat. Won said there were no discussions about bringing back tactical nuclear arms

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency broadcast at 7 p.m. Korea time,

"The Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army Tuesday released the following communique: The South Korean puppet group perpetrated such reckless military provocation as firing dozens of shells inside the territorial waters of the DPRK side around Yonphyong Islet in the West Sea of Korea from 13:00 on Nov. 23 despite the repeated warnings of the DPRK while staging the war maneuvers for a war of aggression on it codenamed Hoguk, escalating the tension on the Korean according to the statement broadcast by the on 23 November.

The above-said military provocation is part of its sinister attempt to defend the brigandish "northern limit line," while frequently infiltrating its naval warships into the territorial waters of the DPRK side under the pretext of "intercepting fishing boats."

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike.

It is a traditional mode of counter-action of the army of the DPRK to counter the firing of the provocateurs with merciless strikes.

Should the South Korean puppet group dare intrude into the territorial waters of the DPRK even 0.001 mm, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions against it.

It should bear in mind the solemn warning of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK that they do not make an empty talk.

There is in the West Sea of Korea only the maritime military demarcation line set by the DPRK.

KCNA broadcast a separate commentary that accused the United States and South Korea of bolstering their military ties and tightening their alliance as a prelude to an invasion of North Korea.

Curiously the North's Deputy UN Permanent Representative told the press in New York that the reason for the artillery attack was the South's harassment of North Korean fishing boats.

Comment: North Korea has been threatening "powerful physical strikes" regularly since the sinking of the corvette Chonan. The artillery shelling confirms that the words simply signify use of ordnance, not necessarily weapons made from nuclear physics, as some experts have opined.

The Supreme Command statement places on South Korea the blame for the incident. The alleged trigger for North Korea's asymmetric escalation was South Korean artillery practice, shelling into the water.

Even North Korean senior leaders know this is foolish chest thumping. The Supreme Command's attempt at a justification almost looks like a cover-up for a blunder and would be risible, except that it accurately presents what happened and conveys the North's smugness in getting away with it again. The Allies now know that "merciless military counter-measures" include shelling houses.

This has implications for South Korean propaganda actions along the Demilitarized Zone because North Korea has used identical language warning against a resumption of anti-North propaganda. Apparently the North intends to shell the outpost of the South Korean soldiers who would erect the propaganda loudspeakers.

The North has now put forth three separate and inconsistent explanations of the artillery shelling, none of which can be credited. A Chinese commentary provides a different insight.

China- North Korea: China's official response called the shelling undesirable and made the usual calls for calm. State media have not blamed North Korea.

The Global Times' editor wrote that "North Korea showed its toughness during the skirmish," and criticized the "failure of the hard-line policies" of the current South Korean government toward its northern neighbor.

Coverage of the incident on China Central Television included prominent airing of a North Korean news broadcast railing at South Korea for starting the incident and threatening retaliation.

A Chinese government spokesman on 23 November expressed "concern" over the incident, while saying Beijing still sought to "verify" what took place.

Comment: One of the commitments in creating a sphere of influence and taking on the economic burdens of North Korea is that China must side with its ally, or at least remain neutral. Short of taking military action or creating an economic nightmare in North Korea, China has no control of the ruling family in Pyongyang.

The Allies have demanded China restrain North Korea and bring it back to negotiations with no substantive results since the end of the Agreed Framework in 2003. The new uranium enrichment plant is a testament to China's lack of will or ability to restrain North Korea or actual support for the North as a "tough" member of China's new sphere of influence.

Nevertheless, the Chinese commentary about "toughness" contains insight. When discordant actions occurred last December when Kim Chong il had a relapse, they signified policy disarray. That is not the case now, after the Party Conference in September. The consistent theme is of the past weeks events is that they show the new leadership team to be modern, scientific and tough in dealing with South Korea.

They appear to be acting out a fantasy vision of a rebuilt robust state, except that it simply does not exist. If so, this carrot and stick political theater will continue through 2012, which is the Party's target date for the North to be prosperous.

North Korea-US: North Korean officials proposed to transfer all of their nuclear fuel rods to a third country if the United States reiterated its commitment to an October 2007 joint communique, according to the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, the Washington Post reported 22 November. In the 2007 document the US stated it holds no ill will toward Pyongyang.

The North Korean officials threatened to continue missile tests and test a third nuclear device if the United States failed to resume negotiations. They said South Korea would be expected to help them produce electricity if they surrendered their several thousand spent fuel rods, a move that would effectively halt their attempt to make nuclear weapons from plutonium. The officials also expressed a willingness to hold talks on ending their uranium-enrichment program.

A senior U.S. administration official said Washington was not inclined to accept the offer in part because it did not address the uranium-enrichment program. The proposal "concerning facilities nearing the end of their usual life is not sufficient," he said.

Comment: The North Koreans might have proposed all of the above, but the proposals are mostly bait. For example, the North agreed under the Agreed Framework that it would transfer the spent fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor to foreign country. Those rods were the first to be reprocessed into plutonium for nuclear weapons. The target country was to have been Russia.

During the Agreed Framework (1994-2003), the North never divulged the location of the first core of 8,000 spent fuel rods that it removed from the reactor. Since 2003, it has not disclosed were it has hidden other cores of spent fuel rods.

If the North is willing to transfer spent fuel rods, it probably is no longer able to store them safely and they are becoming a hazard. The same thing occurred in 1996. The North will want cash because it was promised cash for the rods, under the Agreed Framework.

The North always has the ability to detonate a device or launch a missile. The threats are shop worn, but in context they reinforce the North's repeated claims that it wants to resume negotiations on its sterms - meaning it is desperate for aid. The new uranium enrichment facility raises enormously the price of any agreement, which is probably a primary purpose.

As for electricity, during the Agreed Framework, South Korea agreed to supply electricity to the North. It has more than enough capacity, but engineers discovered the North's transmission and distribution system is so poor that they could not bear the load of a modern electricity supply. If the preparations for linking the two systems were ever completed and the systems connected, North Korea would be in the dark because the lines would burn.

As for transferring unburned fuel rods, the plutonium program for which they were designed has terminated. The Yongbyon reactor has not operated in two years and the cooling tower was demolished. This would amount to paying for nothing because the officials said nothing about surrendering nuclear weapons or fissile material or components.

The North might truly be willing to hold talks about ending the uranium enrichment program is interesting because it is not clear the program works. At first blush, this appears to be another invitation for payment for something that does not work.

End of NightWatch for 23 November.

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