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NightWatch 20141221

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NightWatch

For the night of 21 December 2014

North Korea-Russia: A South Korean news service reported that Russian President Putin has invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Moscow next May to participate in celebrations honoring the 70th anniversary of the Russian victory in the Great Patriotic War. North Korean media have not confirmed the invitation, but the Russians have.

"An invitation has been sent to him," presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told Interfax on Friday, 19 December.

Comment: The significance of the invitation is best understood in the context of Kim Jong Un's foreign travel -- Kim has never visited a foreign country since he inherited power upon the death of his father Kim Chong-il in 2011. He wants an appropriate public debut.

There are two subtexts in the statement that Kim has never visited a foreign country as head of North Korea. The first is that the Chinese are so displeased with Kim's leadership style and actions that Chinese President Xi has visited Seoul and hosted South Korean president Park in Beijing, but Xi has not visited Pyongyang and has not invited Kim to Beijing. Last week in Beijing, President Xi met the speaker of the South Korean national assembly, apparently to emphasize Chinese preferences.

The second subtext is that Russia can do even less for North Korea than before because of the drop in the price of oil. Russia is a meddler in Korean issues. They are attractive to Putin because he can needle the US with almost no consequence, simply by siding with North Korea on nuclear issues. Now that Russia has no rubles to lend or extend, his ability to needle the US is embarrassingly negligible.

For North Korea, a trip to Moscow might have seemed attractive prior to the collapse of the oil market. Now, it would be almost pointless.

North Korea-US: The North's media/propaganda departments have been busy this weekend. For example, the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission issued the following statement on Sunday, 21 December.

"The strange thing that happened in the heart of the US, the ill-famed cesspool of injustice, is now afloat in the world as shocking news."

(Note: This statement contains the North's response to the US rejection of its offer for a joint investigation of the hack attack against Sony Pictures.)

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has already launched the toughest counteraction. Nothing is a more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction."

"Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans. The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels."

"Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole US mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the "symmetric counteraction" declared by Obama."

Comment: The meaning of the "toughest counteraction" is not clear, except that additional targets are to be attacked. The term might refer to another nuclear detonation, which would anger the Chinese even more than the rest of the world. Alternatively, it might refer to a missile launch or another cyber attach, sponsored by North Korea.

Joint investigation proposal. North Korea on Saturday was evasive about its role in the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures and proposed a joint investigation with the United States into the allegation.

"We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case," an identified spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said, dismissing the allegations against the North as an "unfounded rumor."

Comment: The North made a similar offer to South Korea in connection with the sinking of the South Korean partrol ship, Cheonan in 2010. An international investigation team found that a torpedo launched from a North Korean submarine sank the ship.

The NightWatch experience with North Korea is that the North's offers of joint investigations should be considered admissions of responsibility, if not direct causality. The offer of a joint investigation is an attempt to acquire stature as a negotiating partner at no cost or concession. In other words, the North wants to manipulate the situation in order to get something for nothing.

North Korea-United Nations: The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK released the following statement on Saturday:

"The efforts of the DPRK government to build the world's best power and a land of bliss for people where they are well-off as the masters under the socialist system have faced a grave challenge of the hostile forces."

"The anti-DPRK "human rights resolution" which had been rammed through the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly by the US was finally adopted in a forcible manner at a plenary session of the 69th UN General Assembly on Friday.

"The "resolution" contains even the poisonous call for considering the matter of referring the "human rights issue" of the DPRK to the International Criminal Court, not content with malignantly hurting the DPRK's policy for ensuring genuine human rights."

"It is the most vivid manifestation of the U.S. harsh hostile policy toward the DPRK aimed at isolating and stifling it at any cost. Washington, in utter disregard of the procedures and regulations of the UN, staged a farce of making the "human rights issue" of the DPRK an official agenda item by instigating its followers at the UN Security Council even before the adoption of the "resolution" at the UN General Assembly…."

"Under the present serious situation where the human rights issue of an individual country was politicized at the UN to make a dangerous precedent for abusing it; for toppling the social system of the country and the human rights issue stands at the crossroads of genuine cooperation or war, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK solemnly clarifies its stand as follows:

First. The DPRK vehemently and categorically rejects the anti-DPRK "human rights resolution" rammed through the plenary session of the UN General Assembly by the hostile forces on the basis of plots, lies and fabrications and high-handed and arbitrary practices…."

"Second. As the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK to mount an invasion of it under the excuse of human rights has become clear, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has lost its meaning."

"Third. The DPRK will take all the necessary measures, not bound to anything, to defend its sovereignty and security from the evermore undisguised moves of the U.S. to stifle it. The DPRK will put increased spurs to its efforts to bolster up in every way its capability for self-defense, including nuclear force."

Comment: Beyond the usual bombast, the North threatened to increase its nuclear capabilities. By now Readers understand that the North has done and continues to do everything it knows how to increase its nuclear capabilities, generally with limited success.

The North has repeated this threat so often and in so many different contexts that it no longer intimidates anyone. Its terror effect also is undermined by the reasonably well known limits of North Korean capabilities to make more nuclear devices. It has the fissile material for a half-dozen devices and possibly a dozen, according to open sources. .

The North Korean nuclear threat is no longer an object of great concern in some respects. That is because North Korean use of a nuclear weapon is a death sentence for North Korea. That means that while a North Korean nuclear weapons attack might cause great casualties and destruction in Allied countries, a US nuclear counter attack is certain. A Japanese and a South Korean counterattack might also ensue. The counterattacks will destroy everything that the communists have built in North Korea during the past 60 years.

The certainty of the total destruction of North Korea as a place fit for human habitation --more deadly for a longer time than Chernobyl -- should bother the North Korean leadership and temper their threats.

Kim Jong Un and his advisors fail to understand that their threats are petulant and whiny, not substantive. One Chinese military scholar observed that North Korea is failing and will collapse if left alone.

India: Last week the first indigenously made ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) began nine months of sea trials. INS Arihant (Annihilator of enemies) is the first of three in its class.

Comment: This submarine was built with significant and substantial Russian assistance and training. It has limited, but respectable capabilities. It can carry 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that have a range of up to 750 miles. It is best considered a technology demonstrator with a genuine lethal threat against Pakistan.

The Indian Navy plans to equip the submarines with much longer range missiles, up to 3,500 miles. For now, Arihant enables India to claim it possesses a nuclear triad.

Pakistan: Within 48 hours of Prime Minister Sharif's directive to end the moratorium on executions for terrorism, Pakistan has hanged four prisoners. The four men were convicted of involvement in a plot to assassinate then President Pervez Musharraf.

Comment: The executions are a direct and immediate response to the Pakistani Taliban attack on 16 December against the Army Public School in Peshawar. Pakistani news services report that up to 8,000 men await capital punishment in Pakistan. .

Pakistan-India: India protested the decision by a Pakistani court to release on bail a Pakistani terrorist accused of complicity on the attack in Mumbai, India, in 2008. Government attorneys intend to challenge the bail decision.

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of seven men facing trial for the attacks in Mumbai, was granted bail by a court in Islamabad on Thursday. Lakhvi remains in custody for now, however, after Pakistani authorities issued a three-month detention order.

Comment: The attacks in Mumbai left 165 people dead and damaged peace efforts between India and Pakistan. Indian authorities judge that Pakistani intelligence was responsible for the attack. Every Pakistani legal action regarding Lakhvi is an indicator of the strength of Pakistani relations with India.

Iraq: Sinjar. Kurdish forces captured Sinjar mountain and part of Sinjar town in the past three days. These advances permitted the evacuation of Yazidi refugees. Helped by intensified coalition air strikes, the Kurdish peshmerga fought their way to the eastern tip of Sinjar mountain range on Thursday, opening an escape corridor for hundreds of minority Yazidis who had been trapped there for months.

The Kurdistan region's president, Massoud Barzani, personally directed the offensive in which up to 8,000 peshmerga took part.

Comment: Consolidation of control of Sinjar town would position Kurdish forces to interdict a major supply line from Syria for Islamist forces in Mosul. The Kurds might claim Sinjar and the surrounding area as part of Kurdistan because of the effort involved in expelling the Islamist fighters. This fight does not appear to be concluded.

Baiji. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) recaptured the central Iraqi city of Baiji after the Iraqi military ordered its forces to retreat to the nearby refinery. Iraqi forces withdrew one month after taking the city from ISIL with the help of Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

"Top army commanders ordered troops to leave the city and take positions inside the refinery, which was given priority. They knew staying inside Baiji would help the Islamic State to drag the army into a war of attrition," an unnamed Iraqi Army major told the press.

An Iraqi Army major said the military had decided to give the refinery priority over the city, believing that a fight for the city would allow ISIL to drag them into another war of attrition.

Comment: The fights at Sinjar and Baiji reveal significant weakness in the ISIL organization in Iraq. It is unable to fight major conventional battles simultaneously on two fronts. In other words, it is overextended. Any achievements in secondary clashes are the result of the weakness of local Iraqi security forces rather than ISIL strength.

Israel-Gaza Strip: The Israeli air force attacked a site belonging to Hamas in southern Gaza early Saturday morning. At least two air attacks and naval supporting fire retaliated for an earlier rocket attack from Gaza into Israel on Friday afternoon. Neither side reported injuries from the attacks.

An Israeli military spokesperson said in a statement, "The IDF struck terror infrastructure belonging to the terrorist organization Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip. A direct hit was identified."

Comment: The rocket attack was the first since September, according to Israeli military sources. The Netanyahu government apparently intends to allow no rocket attack to go unpunished.

Tunisia: Candidate Beji Caid Essebsi claimed victory in today's run-off election for the presidency. This was Tunisia's first free presidential election. Exit polls suggested Essebsi won 55.5% of the vote. Supporters of the 88-year-old candidate celebrated in Tunis.

Preliminary official results have not been released by election authorities. Final results are expected on Monday, 22 December.

Comment: Tunisia was the first country to depose its tyrannical leader in the so-called Arab Spring, which inspired other uprisings in the region. In Tunisia and other Arab states, the Islamists showed themselves to be the most organized and best prepared to take advantage of democratic elections, as a step towards installing an Islamist government based on Islamic law and destroying democracy.

That process almost occurred in Tunisia. However, today, if Essebsi is correct, Tunisia is the first Arab Spring state to elect an anti-Islamist president. That means that Tunisia is the first Arab Spring country to prove that democracy can defeat Islamist tyrants.

End of NightWatch for 21 December.

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