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NightWatch 20111219


For the night of 19 December 2011

North Korea: Among the security measures now in effect are a closure of the border with China, a closure of all markets, and orders confining all North Koreans to their homes. Public safety officers patrolled streets and alleys in major cities to ensure compliance. North Korea also fired two short range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in a show of force.

Comment: The reaction of North Koreans to the death of Kim Chong-il contrasts sharply with the outpouring of genuine grief at the passing of Kim Il-sung in 1994. Then the security forces could not restrain the public outpouring of grief.

Today, the grief obviously was staged for TV; streets were empty and patrolled. Few loved Kim Chong-il because he did little for North Koreans; was pretty much an introvert who went through the motions of leadership, but took care of his personal interests and hobbies and those of the Kim extended family. Through his guidance and orders in 17 years, he essentially destroyed the economy, except for the arms and arms export industry. His excesses and neglect of the country only seemed to bother him after his stroke in 2008. The population control measures suggest authorities were concerned about maintaining civil order, more than expressions of grief.

The first acts of the new leadership and the announcement of the funeral committee with the ordered list of names convey important messages to the North Korean populace about the style of the new order and about the important people in the new administration.

The timing of the missile launches represents a warning to outsiders and continues the belligerent style of the attacks against South Korea in 2010. Kim Jong-un and his handlers have sent the message that North Korea is belligerent and unafraid.

The order of the persons and positions listed in the funeral committee indicate a calculated effort to project that the succession is institutional, supported by key organs of government - President of the Supreme People's Assembly, Premier of the cabinet,  the Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army and the MInistry of the Peoples Armed Forces.

The two family guides for Kim Jong-un are his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and his uncle Chang Song-taek. They are listed 14th and 19th. The leadership has gone to some pains to obscure the indicators of a dynastic succession.

The regime appears to be in the hands of the top four leaders listed after Jong-un himself. Two of them are senior civilians in government positions, not party positions. The other two are Vice Marshals of the Korean People's Army. The subtext is that government and Army are working together, in their respective lanes. For now, party orthodoxy is not prominent.

The preliminary implication is that the leaders of the regime intend business as usual with a more aggressive style. There will be no policy statements until the New Year, but key indicators of style, tone and substance will be disclosed in the statement of national goals and priorities for 2012 in the annual New Year's essay published on 1 or 2 January. Readers should watch for mention of military goals relative to civilian goals. If civil development objectives, for example, are mentioned ahead of national security and military goals, that will be a positive sign.

The US Allies: The United States, Japan and South Korea agreed on the need to maintain stability after the death of North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il and called on North Korea to take action to show it is interested in denuclearization, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said on 19 December after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. It is important to make sure Kim's death does not negatively affect the stability of the Korean peninsula, Gemba added.

Comment: Stability and denuclearization would appear to be minimalist, defensive goals for the Allies during a time of change and potentially great opportunity. Alternatives might include greater goodwill and normal relations between the Koreas; internal political reform and economic opening. The Chinese program of infrastructure investment and construction in North Korea and economic cooperation in joint ventures appears far sighted and better calibrated to achieve economic and, possibly, political progress that maintains stability, promotes growth and reduces North Korean dependency on international handouts.

Pakistan: For the record. President Zardari returned to Pakistan on 18 December.

Iraq: Update. The Shiite-dominated government issued an arrest warrant for Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats.

Iraqi television broadcast supposed confessions by three men, supposedly bodyguards for Hashimi, who admitted they planted bombs and fired on convoys conveying Iraqi officials.

Comment: Without the US military presence acting as referee among the factions and sects, the al Maliki government has no practical restraint for suppressing, even disenfranchising, the Sunni minority. Iraq has moved several more paces on the path towards violent internal instability.

Afghanistan: NATO will continue conducting nighttime kill-and-capture raids against suspected insurgents with increased Afghan special forces participation, a NATO spokesman said on 19 December.

Afghan special forces currently participate in nearly all nighttime raids, which remain the safest way to kill or capture insurgent leaders, the spokesman said. The raids account for less than 1 percent of civilian casualties, and no shots are fired in 85 percent of operations, he said.

Comment: President Karzai personally requested the US to halt night raids because they are a recruitment incentive for anti-government groups. The official statement about low civilian casualties misses Karzai's point that the raids undermine support for his administration and generate support for the Taliban.

End of NightWatch for 19 December.

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