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NightWatch 20110118


For the Night of 18 January 2011

North Korea-China: North Korea will develop the islet of Hwanggumpyong on the Yalu River Delta linking Sinuiju with the Chinese city of Dandong as a special economic zone in cooperation with Chinese businessmen, Chosun Ilbo reported 18 January. North Korean Cabinet already approved a law on the development that will be announced in March or April.

Comment: This is another example of Chinese business tutelage for North Korea. All other special economic zones have either failed for lack of investors or been troubled by North Korean government meddling. In the last category are the Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast and the Kaesong joint industrial park, north of Panmunjom.

One would surmise that a joint venture with the Chinese would be relieved of the unpredictability of North Korean leadership whims, which have undermined the profitability of the joint ventures with the South Koreans. More importantly, every Chinese economic lifeline tossed into the North Korean economic morass is a burden on China and a restraint on North Korea.

The Chinese are moving slowly, but steadily based on their understanding of the magnitude of North Korean economic mismanagement. Thus far, they appear to be helping North Korean enterprises that have prospects of profitability, such as textiles, and Chinese enterprises that benefit from North Korean geography, such as ports and infrastructure on the Sea of Japan.

North Korea never has been self-reliant and its condition of dependency on the global economy has steadily deepened under Kim Chong-il. The Chinese appear determined to salvage what they can and rebuild the rest of North Korea in a different, more sustainable direction, slowly, by converting some North Korean activities into extensions of China's economy.

Lebanon: Update. Hezbollah will act "moderately" until the content of the indictments filed with the international tribunal probing the Rafik al-Hariri murder are made public, a senior political official told al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Hezbollah is closely following actions at The Hague, the source said, adding that all future options remain open.

Comment: The transfer of the draft indictments to the investigating magistrate of Special Tribunal has generated a storm of international diplomatic activity in the Middle East and stopped internal political maneuvers inside Lebanon. Today, the Saudis joined the Turks, Qataris, Syrians and Iranians as interested parties to maintain political stability in Lebanon. The statement by Hezbollah contains no long term promise of good behavior.

Tunisia: The day after the interim national unity government was announced, four members withdrew in protests and thousands of Tunisians called for the government to resign.

Three ministers who withdrew were from the General Union of Tunisian Workers, whose supporters staged anti-government protests in which they called for a general strike, constitutional changes and the release of all imprisoned union leaders. One of those who withdrew said the unity government did not represent the will of the Tunisian people.

Meanwhile, the self-styled national unity government said it intends to investigate whether there was foreign interference in the recent demonstrations, Foreign Minister Kamal Merjan said. Authorities are aware that corruption and unemployment sparked the revolt, and they doubt foreigners were involved, but nothing can be concluded until the investigation is complete, Merjan said.

Comment: The Unions and other activists sense nothing substantive has changed. The government's commitment to waste funds on an investigation of foreign meddling justifies and reinforces the hostility of the activists.

The Foreign Minister's mention of corruption and unemployment without mentioning food prices and availability indicates the government has not processed the significance of the recent civil disorder, which has not spent itself. Those are the wrong issues in that they have no short term solution and they are not the issues that have been driving the public protests.

In continuing to focus on political issues, the government is perpetuating and consolidating the conversion of economic protests into an authority challenge. It is nailing its own coffin by not first addressing the immediate economic needs. Its actions are a case study in political escalation because the protestors will meet the government on its own terms. That is the next test of strength.

A danger is that al Qaida missionaries will arrive in Tunisia, during a period of openness, to provide leadership and guidance to the Tunisian activists, who apparently lack an agenda or plan of action at this time.

Ripple Effects

Yemen: Authorities are increasingly concerned about the ongoing demonstrations denouncing President Ali Abdallah Salih's regime and urging him to step down.

Some observers have reported that the number of demonstrators has been increasing daily, ever since the beginning of the protests last Saturday, 15 January -- the day after the overthrow of the Tunisian president.

Comment: Yemen and Egypt appear to be the two most sclerotic regimes whose leaders are vulnerable to overthrow, not by popular demonstrations but by factions within the leadership who will manipulate the mobs for their own ends, as in Tunisia thus far.

Ivory Coast: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) military officials, meeting on 18 January in Bamako, Mali, held a special session on Cote d'Ivoire, Agence France-Presse reported. The military chiefs met to finalize plans to intervene in Cote d'Ivoire and remove Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency. The plans, drawn from a December 2010 report, would have Nigeria heading a military force that would include combat troops and attack helicopters, according to one attendee. The meeting concludes on the 19th.

Comment: Laurent Gbagbo lost the national election but refuses to leave office. Alassane Ouattara won the election, but the armed forces are loyal to Gbagbo and have refused to remain neutral. Multiple international mediation efforts have failed to persuade Gbagbo he lost fair and square according to the Ivory Coast Election commission. The dispute has led to escalating violence in Abidjan, risks another civil war between the northern Muslims and the Christian southerners and has prompted interested outside parties to intervene for the sake of stability in West Africa.

ECOWAS, which is composed of 15 West African states including the Ivory Coast, has had some success in military stabilization missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, but always with substantial outside support. Nigeria is the main leader and personnel contributor, usually. The Nigerians have manpower but use these missions to re-equip their battalions.

Logistics, transport and finance are the chief and recurring deficiencies. Thus, if ECOWAS commits soldiers it almost always means the US is paying and helping.

The US position is worth noting because Gbagbo represents the Christian south and Ouattara the Muslim north. A Ouattara regime would be much more open to Islamist fundamentalist teachings than Gbabo ever was. This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 18 January.

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