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NightWatch 20101130


For the Night of 30 November 2010

The Korea Confrontation


Japan: Top nuclear envoy Akitaka Saiki arrived in China on 30 November to meet Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, in his capacity as a special representative on the Korean Peninsula affairs.

US: Secretary of State Clinton is working to finalize details regarding a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan.

China: State Councilor Dai Bingguo will travel to North Korea, possibly on 1 December to try to help reduce tension and persuade the North Korean leaders to agree to an emergency session of the Six Party talks.

Russia: Russia's permanent representative to the UN said today that Russia supports China's proposal for an emergency session of the Six Party talks. Russia is the only member of the talks to support China at this time.


US-South Korea: On the third day of the joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea, South Korean and U.S. naval ships held a maritime interdiction drill and air defensive exercises designed to prevent the transfer of banned weapons, Yonhap reported, citing an official from South Korea's Joint Chief of Staff.

Yonhap reported that the scenario involved a North Korean ship that violated the Northern Limit Line resulting in an Allied operation to inspect the ship for weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea: The military is planning to conduct large-scale artillery firing exercises in 29 locations along the coast, including the offshore islands between 6 and 12 December, according to Yonhap's sources. The exercises are aimed at increasing defensive readiness to respond to future North Korean provocations.

South Korea also intends to revise its rules of engagement by allowing a significant expansion in the scope and nature of response to a North Korean provocation. The current policy specifies a symmetrical response with the same kind of weapon and firepower the North used, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry report.

According to the report, greater leeway will be given to field commanders in counterattacks and more power will be given to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for more timely responses. The report said attack response levels will differentiate between attacks on military and attacks on civilians.

Comment: The South Koreans are closing the readiness gap a bit late; no time has been announced for the changes to become effective.

North Korea will not provoke the South while a US aircraft carrier task group is offshore. After it leaves, however, South Korean forces on the offshore islands need to remain at full combat readiness because the North's behavior indicates it does not intend to respect South Korean possession of those islands. There is likely to be more shooting.

North Korea: For the record. Rodong Sinmun reported today that North Korea is actively constructing light-water reactors by operating thousands of centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant for peaceful uses. The newspaper reported that the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes have become a global trend. The article said that some Western countries favored some national nuclear programs while punishing others with sanctions, calling the practice an unjust double standard.

Comment: The North Korean media appear to be borrowing from Iran in their treatment of the uranium enrichment program.

India: For the record. India's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 8.9 percent in the third quarter with the industrial sector increasing 9.2 percent, the agricultural sector increasing 4.4 percent, the mining sector up 8 percent and the energy sector up 3.4 percent, according to an official press release. India's GDP growth rate in the second quarter of 2010 was revised to 8.9 percent from 8.8 percent.

Afghanistan: An Afghan border police officer opened fire on NATO troops, killing 6 U.S. servicemen before being killed himself in Pachir Wa Agam District of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, according to NATO and Pentagon sources.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary confirmed the gunman was a border police officer rather than an insurgent who donned the uniform. In an e-mailed statement to the media, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the gunman joined the border police to kill foreign soldiers and that he found his opportunity by killing six invaders.

Comment: Pachir Wa Agam is a quiet district.

Neither of the two versions of the gunman's story is comforting. The Interior Minister's version implies that the gunman was at one time a loyal and properly vetted border policeman. That means the man had an epiphany in which he received the call to jihad to kill Americans after he was on the force. In this circumstance proper vetting is no defense against the call to violent jihad which can arrive without warning.

The Taliban claim that the man infiltrated the border police force from the ranks of the Taliban means the vetting process is inadequate. Infiltration of the government forces by stay-behind fighters was one of the three Taliban directives for survival that Mullah Omar issued in 2001 as he fled to Pakistan. The other two were that some fighters were to continue fighting but that most would wait out the Americans in Pakistan.

A third explanation for the murders is a personal grudge. That is the one the government prefers so as to obscure the other two.

Egypt: The ruling National Democratic Party won 209 of the 221 seats that were contested in the national parliamentary elections. The Islamists failed to win a seat, according to an announcement of the national elections commission.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood won no seats, but is contesting 27 in run off elections. It had 88 seats, as independents, before the elections.

Comment: There is no practical way the Muslim Brotherhood candidates could lose all 88 seats without strong government meddling and voter intimidation. But that is Egyptian democracy. President Mubarak or his successor, most likely his son, wants an easy victory in next year's presidential election and the parliamentary elections paved the way.

The US administration and human rights groups criticized the election for strong arm tactics and irregularities.

Comments on two Wikileak reports in the news: The Guardian and The New York Times today highlighted one leaked report that North Korea sold Iran 19 BM-25 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and another that alleged that Chinese officials support Korean unification and expect North Korea to collapse. Both deserve comment.

The North Korean BM-25 missile is based on the Soviet SS-N-6 submarine launched ballistic missile which North Korea obtained from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. The SS-N-6 is one of the most reliable nuclear delivery systems ever developed.

North Korean engineers converted it into a truck launched vice submarine launched system, which was fielded in North Korea.more than five years ago. From North Korea, this missile can reach Guam.

Iran bought a battalion of these missile about five years ago according to FAS -- a photo of the missile can be found on the Internet. From Iran, the missile can reach Moscow and Eastern Europe.

Experts say that from its inception this missile was designed as a nuclear warhead carrier. Iran's possession of this missile is one of the more salient pieces of indirect evidence that support those who argue that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Any other warhead on this missile underutilizes its capabilities.

The point of this comment is that the US diplomat reporting officer mentioned in the report seemed unaware that this information has been in open sources since at least 2006. Moreover, the writers for The Guardian and The New York Times failed to do due diligence searches on the BM-25 sale to Iran.

More knowledgeable observers have known for years that Iran has a reliable nuclear warhead delivery system in these missiles. That information is always important, but it is not new and no longer sensational. Five years ago it was blockbuster news.

As for the report on China supporting Korean reunification, The Guardian's analyst overreached, at least based on the portions of the report that he quoted and missed much of the significance of the material he had at hand.

The portions of the telegram that he quoted did not support the headline that China supports Korean unification. It supported the proposition that China would not stand in the way of reunification if the US took the lead and made it happen.

The Guardian writer was not alone in interpreting Chinese ambiguous language as a green light because apparently US and South Korean officials began to make plans on reunification, according to accounts by other repositories of the leaked reports.

The story behind the story is that China only makes statements of this kind when it is seriously concerned about the survival of the Kim regime and wants to set in place plans for avoiding responsibility for the North Koreans during a political and economic implosion.

The Chinese made even more explicit suggestions during the severe famine of 1995 and 1996 when the North Korean economy devolved into a barter system that almost imploded. After the food crisis stabilized with UN and South Korean help, China denied it ever made suggestions about reunification.

The Chinese laid out a trap. If the public distribution system for food and daily necessities ceases to function, North Korea would become the world's largest ever refugee camp, with between 20 and 23 million people requiring food, public health provisions and medical care every day.

No one is smart enough to know how to take care of a dependent population that large. Plus the North's infrastructure is so decrepit that it has discouraged South Korea from investing in it or pursuing reunification with much vigor. That means that the roads and bridges in North Korea cannot support sustained aid convoys for long and would have to be rebuilt as part of the humanitarian aid problem. The same is true of the telecommunications system and the railroads.

The Chinese want no part of that burden or cost and would be pleased for the US and its allies to shoulder them. Consider, how do you disarm a hungry million-man army that has been raised from infancy to be hostile to Americans? The Chinese do not know the answer and would prefer to see Americans and Koreans die trying to find out, rather than Chinese soldiers.

Finally, the statements by the Chinese diplomats are not consistent with Chinese actions, aid and investments to prop up the Kim regime. That means the statements probably were made in the context of a hypothetical and imminent regime collapse, as in the mid-1990s. Today's news treatment made it seem as if China supports reunification now, which is not accurate.

The lesson for new analysts is that a statement by a foreign official or diplomat, as reported in a diplomatic telegram, always carries spin. If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true, even if it is partly true. Krauthammer said on 29 November that state department telegrams report our diplomats lying to their diplomats lying to our diplomats. That characterization is a bit harsh, but it is a useful starting point for analysis. Evaluation of diplomatic traffic requires subtlety and skill and lots of critical questioning. The meaning of the language is never self-evident.

The substantive information disclosed to date is somewhat embarrassing, but not all that newsworthy. One element of damage from the leaks not mentioned in mainstream reporting is the establishment of feedback links to the security establishments of the foreign countries.

Foreign security establishments can now develop a very good understading of what the US thinks about key issues; why it thinks that way; whether it is accurate or misguided in their view; whether US diplomats put personal spin on their reports; and whether they perceive accurately, understand the significance of what they are told and report is in verbatim and in spirit, as the host country judges such traits. With that knowledge, they can guide their own diplomats and officials more confidently.

Diplomacy and deception both require a feedback link so that the diplomat or the deceiver can fine tune the negotiations or the deception operation. In this respect, the leaks set up US ambassadors and senior officials to be manipulated because the other side knows the "real" US views on hundred of issues in hundreds of countries. That explains why national leaders can minimize and excuse the more sensational disclosures because all received an intelligence bonanza that should enhance their future engagements with US diplomats and officials.

End of NightWatch for 30 November.

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