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NightWatch 20110607


For the Night of 7 June 2011

North Korea: The Korean Central Broadcasting System (KCBS) broadcast on 7 June proceedings of an "expanded" meeting of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Korean Workers' Party that met in session on the 6th. This is believed to be the first confirmed meeting of the Politburo since October 1993 when Kim Il-sung was still alive and the first confirmed expanded meeting of the Politburo since 1981, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

An expanded meeting means that the 4 members of the Presidium of the Politburo, the 12 full members and the 14 candidate members of the Politburo attended, according to the Unification Ministry.

Most of the broadcast described details of Kim's trip to China last month followed by statements of approval by the Politburo.

Comment: The meeting was unusual not only because such meetings have been rare, but because it signals a strategic shift in the direction of the regime. The Workers' Party got rehabilitated and reinstated as a base of authority. The KCBS broadcast informed the Korean people on 7 June.


Kim Il-sung is respected in North and South Korea for his leadership in fighting the Japanese in two wars. He also is revered in the North for fighting the UN in the Korean War. By late 1993, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, however, North Korea under his leadership was five years into a catastrophic economic decline from which it has not recovered. Between 1988 and 1993 North Korea experienced a 25% drop in Gross Domestic Product; 66% drop in oil imports and declines in every measure of industrial production.

In December 1993, Kim Il-sung abandoned the central planning system and blamed the party bureaucracy for the failures of every seven-year plan after the Korean War. He turned national priorities upside down, making food production, exports and civilian welfare higher than military support for the first time in North Korean history. He began experimenting with free market economics. He never lived to see his reforms enacted.

When he died six months later, Kim Chong-il reversed his father's legacy to North Korea by placing military support first again, primarily to avoid being overthrown by the Army Corps commanders who disdained him as a playboy and fop. Even so, the 6th Army Corps revolted against him in late 1994 and early 1995.

Kim Chong-il blamed the Workers' Party officials and the professional bureaucracy for his and his father's inept leadership. During his first years as leader, Kim Chong-il only visited military installations; the only places he felt secure, according to defectors.

Throughout his tenure, Chong-il has bribed, purged, cajoled and bought off the 27 Corps commanders because he has no military experience and no credentials as Supreme Commander, except being his daddy's son. Chong-il's Faustian bargain is that he promised to channel all the resources of the state to support the Army as long as it did not overthrow him. The most compelling evidence of this bargain is that North Korea has nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems, but remains unable to feed itself and is facing famine for the third time since Kim Chong-il succeeded his father.

About ten years ago, Chong-il also rehabilitated the professional bureaucracy, apparently because he belatedly came to realize that the Army is an extension of the society and economy. The promotion of Deputy Premier Kang Sok-ju, a professional diplomat in the Foreign Ministry and an expert American handler, to full membership in the Politburo attests to Kim's late appreciation that he also needed government professionals to keep North Korea limping along.

The result of Kim Chong-il's leadership is that North Korea is unable to feed itself, is an international dependency for food and medical assistance, and is no longer an industrial state. It has devolved into a rural agrarian country whose primary medium of exchange outside a few cities is barter. Nevertheless, it has maintained a large army, with a small supply of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

The Politburo Meeting

The public announcement about the Politburo resets the political clock to October 1993 and means the leadership has now come full circle. The timing indicates it is linked to the succession process and problems, associated with third son, Kim Jung-un.

Jung-un has even fewer leadership credentials than his father. Chong-il's stature was derivative from his father. Jung-un's is a derivative of that. Most of his youth was spent in elite schools in Switzerland.

Anecdotal reports in the past two years consistently indicated that the Army - the corps commanders - resisted accepting him as their future Supreme Commander, despite episodes of intense indoctrination and national propaganda campaigns. For example, the sinking of the South Korean corvette and the shelling of the South Korean island last year were, for a time, lauded as the brilliant work of the young general, Jung-un.

That internal propaganda line has been muted since the youth was promoted to four-star general officer rank last September. Most North Korean four-star generals actually fought in wars and are in their 70's or older. That affront to their service appears to have been over the top.

Back to the Future

The 6 June meeting hints that the Workers' Party will become the leadership base for the future regime and the military base will be de-emphasized, only in propaganda Kim Chong-il already announced new national priorities that mirror those of his father in 1993. As a basis for prediction, the Korean People's Army rules North Korea.

A shift to build the Party's image is not a portent for a kinder, gentler North Korea. The events do signify, however, that the leadership succession remains fragile. That always is a dangerous condition in North Korea, because someone always feels the need to prove himself.

Yemen: Reports that anti-government forces are controlling the southern city of Taiz are inaccurate, Al Jazeera reported 7 June. Even though there are armed rebels inside the city, government buildings and the presidential palace are still under control of government forces. Neither side has taken complete control of the city.

President Saleh's condition

Press sources provided details of Saleh's physical condition that indicate he will not soon return.

"The US ambassador told the opposition leaders to cooperate with the vice president and the ruling party. He said we must understand that President Saleh will not come back to Yemen, anytime soon."

Multiple press services and US officials reported that Saleh suffered much more severe injuries than the Yemen government has admitted. US officials said he suffered burns over 40 % of his body, probably from a bomb inside the President's compound, rather than a rocket attack.

A Yemeni press outlet reported that Salih still needs "a lot of plastic surgery because of the burns." It said he also is suffering problems with two vertebrae at the back of his head; is experiencing kidney failure; problems with his eyesight and possible bleeding inside the skull.

The health condition of other high-level officials, who also are being treated in Riyadh, also is very serious. The head of the Shura Council and the Prime Minister both reportedly have lost their eyesight permanently. Others not named reportedly have had limbs amputated. Saleh's son Salah, an heir apparent, is said to have died in the attack.

While President Saleh is unlikely to return, his system continues. His son, Brigadier General Ahmad Ali Salih, reportedly has taken control of the presidential palace, the army and the government. He has rejected ceasefire and other agreements made by Acting President Hadi and refused to permit him access to the presidential palace. He is supported by his cousins Ammar and Yahya Muhammad Abdallah Salih.

Today, Ahmad Ali ordered the deployment of forces and tanks near Shaykh Sadiq Al-Ahmar's house which signals that the country may enter a new cycle of violence.

The end game has begun with a de facto military coup. That ensures more violence in the short term. The Army must revolt against the Saleh family or the killing will not stop. Nevertheless, without President Saleh, the regime is not likely to last much longer.

Pakistan: Update. Mainstream US TV has not reported the following.

The 4 June 2011 statement supposedly issued by a Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HuJI) spokesman, confirming the death of Commander Ilyas Kashmiri in the 3 June 2011 drone strike in South Waziristan, has lost its credibility after a photograph of the al-Qaida-linked jihadi commander posted on internet by the HuJI turned out to be bogus.

US officials said on 7 June that al Kashmiri probably is not dead. The photo broadcast around the world was of another jihadi killed in the Mumbai attack in November 2008.

End of NightWatch for 7 June.

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