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NightWatch 20111011


For the night of 11 October 2011

North Korea-US: The US and North Korea will hold a second meeting by the end of October to discuss the resumption of six-party nuclear talks, according to a senior South Korean diplomat. The date and the venue have not been decided.

Comment: North Korea seems to consider Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to be acceptably neutral for talking with US emissaries. For 12 years running, the US seems unable to come up with new ideas for dealing with North Korean except to talk.

The inequality of power between the US and North Korea means that a US agreement to talk invests North Korea with stature it has not earned, rewards it for bad behavior and bestows negotiating symmetry it does not deserve. Readers might be justified in thinking that the most powerful state in the world could find new people with creative ideas for managing one of the worst of the worst failed states.

Over the weekend a former US government official from the Bush administration presented ideas for dealing with North Korea. All have been tried in the past 15 years and failed. One included providing energy to the North, either from a Russian gas pipeline or from South Korean electricity. North Korea has no gas infrastructure of any kind. Most of its electricity is from coal-fired plants supplemented by limited hydro-electricity, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

The North Korean electric power distribution system and infrastructure are so decrepit that they would simply burn in the event steady, reliable South Korean electric power was fed into them. South Korean officials reached that assessment during the Clinton administration.

The Clinton administration found a way to stop North Korean plutonium production. It is the only administration that can claim to have stopped a strategic North Korean program. North Korea at that time had no capability for enriching uranium to weapons grade, though it was searching. It also had no nuclear devices and no delivery systems, which emerged under the Bush administrations. Thousands of South Koreans were in residence in North Korea, building light water electric energy reactors. American Department of Energy and UN inspectors were in residence at Yongbyon, monitoring the reactor and the spent fuel pond.

There is compelling logic to revisit what worked and build on it, rather than continue to repackage the things that failed and expect a different result. The historic evidence is clear that the North Koreans can be bought and rolled, but the US administration can't seem to find people who have the grit, imagination or skills to do it.

China-Vietnam: Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son signed a six-point agreement to help resolve maritime issues on 11 October. Both countries will implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and will discuss future disputes with other countries if they are involved. Both sides will explore interim and temporary resolutions, promote cooperation in less sensitive fields and set up a hotline contact mechanism. Border negotiation delegation leaders should meet twice a year, which will rotate between the two countries and special meetings will be held if necessary, according to the agreement.

Comment: Today's agreement is typical of Chinese diplomatic style. The Foreign Ministry's diplomats reach grand agreements that Chinese maritime security agencies refuse to acknowledge. Maps for sale in the Beijing international airport terminal show the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters. Those maps are more reliable guides of Chinese behavior than the agreements negotiated by Chinese diplomats.

Burma (Myanmar): (The US Department of State recognizes Burma, not Myanmar, as the official state name.) Burmese state-run radio and television announced the release of 6,359 prisoners on 12 October under an amnesty order. American Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Washington has continuing concerns about a number of dramatic events occurring inside Burma. Washington has communicated its desire to see progress on issues including prisoner releases and dialogue between the government and ethnic minorities, The Nation reported. Campbell said Washington has a firm line on nuclear proliferation and the Burmese-North Korean relationship, but the United States is prepared for a new chapter in relations with Burma.

Comment: Odd that a US assistant secretary of state declines to honor the State Department's official position on the name of Burma. The military junta on its own authority renamed the country Myanmar.

Burma is not experiencing a Burmese Spring leading towards democracy. The military junta remains the power behind the so-called elected presidency. It has determined that its control is so secure that it can make a few concessions and contrived gestures towards democracy and thus make its appeals for international aid look more attractable.

For example, the junta arrested at least 6,000 Buddhist monks during anti-government, prod-democracy demonstrations in September 2007. Plus it has made no accounting of the hundreds of monks it murdered. But international memories are short and run towards conflict and accountability avoidance in the current period.

The Burmese impulse to acquire greater international respectability is long overdue, but the impulse is fundamentally mercenary and the price of small gestures has been exorbitant.

Kenya-Somalia: For the record. French military forces discovered suspected members of the al Shabaab Islamist militia attempting to cross the Kenyan-Somali border in two boats at Raas-Kaambooni in Lamu West District, according to the Kenyan news service, The Standard. The French military fired on the militants' boats and managed to capture four of them. Six others are presumed to have drowned.

Lamu West District Commissioner Stephen Ikue confirmed that the French military was involved in an operation that occurred inside Somali waters, but declined further details. French security teams have joined their Kenyan counterparts in battling militancy in Lamu, according to various sources.

Comment: This looks highly unusual; more later.

Saudi Arabia-Iran: Saudi Arabia will respond against Iran after US authorities announced they had broken a plot linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a Saudi government official in Riyadh said on 11 October. Measures could include removal of the Saudi ambassador to Iran, the official stated, adding that the situation will not "pass easily" and may include a joint U.S.-Saudi response.

Comment: US and most western news service commentaries concur that Iran appears to have overstepped the boundaries of good judgment. One of the would-be assassins still at large reportedly is a member of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Quds force is the foreign operations arm of Iranian intelligence.

The plot was not designed to attack Americans, but to murder Saudi Arabians on US soil. Not the same, albeit humiliating for both states, if successful. The Iranian challenge is against the Saudis, whose reaction shows they understand it fully.

The US has called for more sanctions, but the Saudi Arabs know how to deal with the Persians much more effectively. The last time Iran over-reached; Saudi Arabia began an oil price maneuver that nearly bankrupted the Iranian government. Expect Saudi Arabia to retaliate economically and to squeeze Iran hard.

Syria: For the record. President al-Asad announced on 11 October that he will form a committee within two days to create a new constitution. An official said the committee will complete the constitution by the end of 2011, Al Watan reported. The document will need approval from two-thirds of parliament, after which it will be submitted to a referendum.

Comment: Asad is buying time by making this obviously transparent gesture. It might work.

Looking at what happened to the Copts in Egypt this past weekend, the French government's willingness to recognize the Syrian Sunni Arab opposition council outside Syria represents a position against French interests in Syria. France is now aligned with Bahrain against Iraq and Iran.

Israel-Hamas: Hamas leader Khalid Mish'al made a speech on 11 October, announcing a prisoner exchange deal with Israel. For those who do not want to read the bombast, Hamas will release Gilad Shalit in exchange for Israel releasing 1,000 Palestinians. In other words, a single Israeli soldier is worth a thousand untrained, undisciplined Palestinians.

"On this day, 11 October, after five years of hard work and steadfastness in the form of severe sacrifices, fatigue, sweat, and blood and after difficult indirect negotiations with the Israeli occupier via the mediation of our brothers in Egypt, we were able, with God's grace, to reach this exchange deal for our heroic and noble prisoners in the occupation jails, both men and women, in exchange for the soldier and Israeli prisoner of war we captured in a battle, in exchange for the prisoners who were abducted and arrested, their only sin being that they were steadfast about their land and were engaged in a legitimate resistance against the occupation."

"The gist of the deal is as follows: 1,000 male prisoners, in addition to 27 female prisoners. It will take place in two stages. The first stage will include 450 who will be released within a week from today. The second stage will take place two months after the first stage and will include 550 prisoners. This deal is part of God's grace upon us. It is a great achievement, in the distinct scope and quality of our prisoners, in exchange for the Zionist imprisoned soldier Gil'ad Shalit.

The Israeli cabinet approved the Shalit deal with a majority of 26 ministers who voted in favor and three who voted against, including hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Arab news sources claim Shalit will be flown first to Germany and then to Tel Aviv.

Comment:  There have been many false alarms during the past five years.  This looks genuine because both Hamas and Israel have confirmed it.

Egypt: Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi resigned in protest of the government's handling of the 9 and 10 October violence in Cairo. The clashes between protesters and Army forces near the TV building in downtown Cairo on the 9th were ignited by "unknown culprits," according to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in a televised statement on 10 October. According to the statement, SCAF will not respond to accusations blaming them for provoking the riots.

Comment: Multiple independent sources reported that Egyptian Army soldiers simply attacked the Coptic Christians, killing 26. The Supreme Council announced it has begun an investigation, but the behavioral data show it has lost control in Egypt. The Supreme Council is incompetent. Egypt is heading for insolvency and an eruption of economic discontent.

The most likely next step is a military coup d'etat by Islamist colonels within the armed forces who promise to fix everything. Egypt is a coup waiting to happen. The government that follows will be anti-Israel and governed by Sharia. It also will fail to solve food, fuel and jobs problems.

Slovakia: The Slovakian parliament rejected expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), AP reported 11 October. EFSF likely will be approved later in the week despite opposition by the country's largest party, Slovakian Finance Minister Ivan Miklos stated.

Comment: While Slovakia is expected to approve the EFSF measure, today's vote is consistent with a growing moralistic sentiment among fiscally responsible Eurozone states. They want to cast a moral judgment on and punish the southern European "club-med" states by refusing more bailouts for bad economic behavior.

Greece: The European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank said in a joint statement on 11 October that Greece's 2011 fiscal targets are no longer within reach due to further drops in gross domestic product and trouble implementing agreed upon austerity measures, despite major deficit reduction progress.

According to the statement, the recession will be deeper than anticipated, and a recovery will not begin until 2013. Overall progress with structural reforms has been uneven. Still, the next tranche of 8 billion euros will most likely become available in November, following approval from the Eurogroup and IMF.

Comment: The consistent themes in European commentaries is that a Greek sovereign default is unavoidable and that there is significant danger of a snowball effect once sovereign debt - that of Greece - is no longer considered safe.

One commentator said, "It would be a complete disaster, a signal that sovereign debt is not safe. Investors would pull their deposits out of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy and set off bank runs across Europe," he said. "The French are against doing this and so is the European Central Bank. They know banks need more time to adjust. We don't think Europe will pull the trigger."

The comment described the lemming effect. What makes it more urgent is that the German banking community appears to be vacillating between emergency measures to prevent a snowball effect and punitive measures against the Greeks. If German moralism prevails, the snowball/lemming effect will follow. It might follow regardless.

The resort to moralistic judgments in living systems is a defensive mechanism in response to fear of systemic threat plus uncertainty about the ability to defend against it. Moralistic judgments about the bad behavior of others justify retrenchment, in the form of refusal to take more risk to bail them out. In short, the next bailout for Greece may be the last, as Germany tries to find a financial line it can hold.

End of NightWatch for 11 October.

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