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NightWatch 20111228


For the night of 28 December 2011

North Korea: During the funeral procession in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un walked alongside the vehicle-- reported to be a 40-year old armored Lincoln -- carrying his father's body, along with a contingent of vice marshals and senior generals.

On Wednesday night, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station and Radio Pyongyang aired in rank order the list of the top officials in North Korea who participated in the funeral ritual.

The first four names matched the first four names of the funeral committee, starting with Kim Jong-un, followed by the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the Premier and the Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.

Listed in the fifth position, was Jong-un's aunt and sister to Kim Chong-il, Kim Kyong-hui. She was listed 14th in the funeral commission. Her higher listing is probably honorific, but, nonetheless, conveys a strong message to the North Koreans that she wields significant influence in the leadership.

Among the next 15, eight men are members of the Political Bureau or are Party Secretaries; three are vice marshals or generals, two are members of the National Defense Commission; and two are members of the state government.

Kim Jong-un's uncle Chang Song-taek is listed 16th. He was listed 19th in the funeral committee.

The association of the people with their party, state or military positions provides some insight to the North Korean people about the relative influence of the organizations that the persons lead. Party, state and army are the pillars of the regime and represented as loyal to Kim Jong-un. The image of the young leader confidently walking in the snow in public without visible guards also is meant to reassure the public about the stability of the political situation.

Despite much publicity about Kim Jong-un supporting his father's "songun" - military first - policy, the army is not, in fact, first and is the smallest group to be represented in the short list published on the 28th.

The list also is inconsistent with some of the video images, which showed Chang Song-taek close to his nephew during the funeral observances. Proximity signifies influence. Chang's placement in the list belies his actual influence and probably is a deliberate deception to counter the perception that the government is a family-run business.

Nevertheless it is very close to a family because all participants who are not family members are longstanding associates of the Kim family. Several are companions of Kim Il-sung going back to World War II and the Korean War. The list conveyed a strong message of continuity.

The Korean Central News Agency in English identified Kim Jong-un as follows,

"Kim Jong-un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK and supreme leader of the WPK, state and army, took part in the ceremony." The use of lower case is not accidental and means the new leader has not undergone the official procedures for investing him with all his new titles. Apparently this is another gesture to suggest the succession is not dynastic or automatic, though it is both.

India-Pakistan: In talks ending on 27 December, Pakistani and Indian delegations agreed to extend two agreements on confidence building measures (CBMs) and conflict avoidance. They proposed to their respective foreign secretaries that they approve an extension for another five years to the "Agreement on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons." The second agreement, also to be extended for five more years is the "Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles."

The delegates also reviewed other confidence building measures, including the hotlines between the foreign secretaries and the Directors General of Military Operations; the ceasefire in place along the Line of Control in Kashmir that has been in effect since November 2003 and the agreement on advance notification of military exercises.

Pakistan proposed that the two relocate heavy artillery pieces 30 kms. back from the Line of Control, but no proposal concerning Kashmir was agreed. Pakistan has made this proposal in the past, but the terrain favors Pakistan so India has not agreed.

Comment: This sixth round of talks on nuclear CBMs was a follow-up to the agreement between the foreign ministers of the two countries, who met in New Delhi on 27 July. The framework for confidence building measures is the Lahore Declaration of February 1999, reached in the aftermath of nuclear weapons tests by both states in 1998.

Political observers expected the agreements to be extended and that is tonight's good news. A failure to extend the agreements would have signaled a crisis.

Note to new analysts: The judgment that a situation or condition is likely to continue, such as the extension of the two agreements in this report, often seems banal, but it is not trivial and must be made with careful fidelity to the intelligence evidence. That's because if the judgment were that the condition had changed, the implications for stability, in South Asia in this instance, would be enormous and dangerous.

For example, should India and Pakistan ever refuse to agree to notify each other of nuclear accidents or ballistic missile tests that refusal would signify that their leaders had decided to risk war, even through manipulation of perceptions. Since 1998, every crisis that risks escalation to general war between India and Pakistan risks the first nuclear war in history.

Saudi Arabia-Iran-US: Oil prices fell on Wednesday, 28 December, after Saudi Arabia said it will offset any loss of oil from a threatened Iranian blockage of the Strait of Hormuz. A Saudi oil ministry official told the press that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers are ready to provide more oil if Iran tries to block the strait.

The US Navy also warned against any disruption of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. "Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated," said a spokeswoman for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based at Manama, Bahrain, and is responsible for naval operations in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea.

Comment: The Iranian threat appears to be mostly rhetorical, but it exposed the skittishness of the oil market and succeeded in eliciting some of the responses the Iranians should expect to any interference with traffic in the Strait.

The Fifth Fleet statement restates the longstanding US commitment to freedom of navigation, including in straits used in international shipping. The Saudi statement is noteworthy because the Saudis have a public policy of not manipulating oil production for political purposes. The Iranian threat is both a political and a national security threat. The promptness of the Saudi response stabilized the oil market by neutralizing Iran's probably deliberate attempt to show it can manipulate oil prices just by making a threat.

Syria: The chief Arab League monitor in Syria said he saw "nothing frightening" on a first visit to Homs, Syria. France called his remarks premature and urged Syria to guarantee his team free movement.

Press services reported the second day of monitoring was inconclusive because residents of a Homs neighborhood refused to speak with the observers in the presence of a Syrian army colonel. A second attempt to visit the neighborhood was deterred by gunfire.

Comment: The BBC and other services identified the leader of the Arab League mission as Sudanese Lieutenant General Mohammed Ahmed Mustapha al-Dabi, who is suspected of crimes against humanity himself when he headed Sudanese intelligence.

This monitoring mission looks contrived, arranged with the cooperation of the Syrian government. What that means is that there still is no reliable, unbiased source of information on the Syrian unrest.


End of NightWatch for 28 December.

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