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NightWatch 20101209


For the Night of 9 December 2010

The Korea Confrontation

North Korea: The Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) published an article on 8 December in which North Korea said Yeonpyeong Island resides deep within its territorial waters above the Northern Limit Line (NLL) and any live shell firing from this island will fall into North Korean territory regardless of the direction the shells are fired.

The danger of military confrontation remains "forever" while South Korea and the United States remain hostile toward the North, and the recent artillery exchange was prompted by South Korea's "perpetrating direct shelling under the pretext of military exercises," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea stated, Yonhap reported on 9 December.

Comment: The KCNA article is an ultimatum in the form of a legal sophistry. The implied threat is that any artillery shooting from the island into adjacent waters is a violation of North Korean sovereignty and thus warrants retaliatory fire. The argument is nonsense under the law of the seas treaty and general international law, but is consistent with an official statement published in August that North Korea does not respect the legal status of the South Korean occupation of the islands. The underlying message is that South Korea illegally occupies a North Korean island which sets the stage for more harassment and provocations.

The article above implies that North Korea intends to keep pressure on Yeonpyeon island, at least,  probably with the expectation that South Korea eventually will be forced to abandon it. This statement adds context to the South Korean announcement on the 8th that it intends to fortify the islands.

North Korea-China: North Korean leader Kim Chong Il and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo met in Pyongyang on 9 December. Xinhua reported the two men reached a "consensus on bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula after candid and in-depth talks." Also in attendance was Deputy Prime Minister Kang Sok Chu.

KCNA reported the talks were "held over the issue of boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and a series of issues of mutual concern."

Comment: The description of the talks as candid and in-depth is a reasonably good sign that State Councilor Dai reminded Kim that China wants stability in northeast Asia so as to foster economic development in Shenyang, which borders North Korea. Dai also probably reminded Kim that China's longstanding policy is that it will not support North Korea in a conflict that North Korea provokes, i.e., that the tail will not wag the dog.

Kim very likely explained the limited objectives of the offshore islands shelling incident. He probably did not tell Dai that North Korea intends to destroy loud speakers in South Korea that broadcast anti-North Korean messages.

China-US: The Chinese Foreign Ministry said military threats could not resolve the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, responding to statements by US Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen on 8 December. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Mullen's remarks were deemed an "accusation."

She questioned what "Mullen" had done "for peace and security in the region" during a regular news conference.

Iraq: For the record. The Iraqi Defense Ministry disabled al Qaida's "biggest electronic website," a spokesman for the ministry said on 9 December. The Iraqi army discovered the location of Al-Furqan website and seized its devices and equipment, the spokesman said. He said Arabs operated the website, which Iraq considers al Qaida's ministry of information for the world.

Venezuela-Iran: Die Welt is the original source for the following item, which is too important to overlook.

"Iran is planning to place medium-range missiles on Venezuelan soil, based on unidentified western sources, according to an article in the German daily, Die Welt, on 25 November. According to the article, an agreement between the two countries was signed during the last visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Tehran on 19 October 2010.

The previously undisclosed contract provides for the establishment of a jointly operated military base in Venezuela, and the joint development of ground-to-ground missiles. According to Die Welt, Venezuela has agreed to allow Iran to establish a military base manned by Iranian missile officers, soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Venezuelan missile officers. In addition, Iran has given permission for the missiles to be used in case of an "emergency".

In return, the agreement states that Venezuela can use these facilities for "national needs" - radically increasing the threat to neighbors like Colombia. The German daily claims that according to the agreement, Iranian Shahab 3 (range 1300-1500 km), Scud-B (285-330 km) and Scud-C (300, 500 and 700 km) will be stored in the base. It says that Iran also pledged to help Venezuela in rocket technology expertise, including intensive training of officers."

Comment: The Die Welt report is the first in open sources and has not been confirmed. The status of the agreement also is not clear. For example, it is unknown whether the article describes a proposal, an agreement in principle, or a contract. If a contract or other agreement, its status is not clear.

The legal complications of building foreign missile base are layered and complex. Even in Venezuela Chavez lacks the authority to complete an agreement on his own. The complexity of the arrangements suggests this might be wishful thinking, a preliminary agreement of some kind or just plain propaganda to stoke US concerns.

What is known is that Chavez has sought to develop a ballistic missile capability for years, but with little apparent success. Iranian Revolutionary Guards also have been reported in Venezuela as well as Nicaragua, but not in significant numbers.

Venezuela has engaged in a multi-billion dollar arms spending spree in Russia to build its military capabilities to deter a US attack, according to Chavez. However, no sources have reported Russian sales of ballistic missiles.

North Korea has tried to market ballistic missiles in South America with no success to date. It genuinely wants a foothold in America and has good relations with Cuba, but no foothold there. Thus, Iran could be fronting for North Korea.  Iran most likely possesses all three of the missiles mentioned, but acquired them, the technology and any production facilities from North Korea.

If the Die Welt report is accurate, it would be the first agreement to base foreign ballistic missiles in a Latin American country since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. If Shahab-3s eventually show up in Venezuela, then so will North Koreans because that missile is an Iranian modification of the North Korean NoDong ballistic missile. The Iranians are not good at maintaining them and over the years regularly have required North Korean technical assistance. If Iranian missiles ever show up in Venezuela, North Korea will be in on the deal and gotten a significant share of any profits. That would make this the first North Korean foothold in South America.

End of NightWatch for 9 December.

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