NightWatch

For the Night of 26 May 2009

 

North Korea: Two noteworthy events followed the nuclear test today, 26 May. North Korea fired two more short-range missiles from a launch location on the east coast, South Korean news media reported.  The second and more significant event was a large rally in Pyongyang in support of the nuclear detonation reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

 

The missiles.  The North has launched five missiles in connection with the nuclear test, some anti-aircraft and others anti-ship from launch sites on both coasts.  A “South Korean source” told Yonhap news agency 26 May that there were indications of more potential activity -- possibly a test of the KN-01 anti-ship cruise missile -- off the west coast, where Pyongyang has issued a ban on ships from 25 to 27 May.

 

Comment:  During the past 40 years North Korean leaders have been blustery but fundamentally risk averse. They have done nothing that would risk the total destruction of their state -- which means Pyongyang for all practical and symbolic purposes – until now.  Even the 1976 Tree Cutting Incident in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom is trivial compared to the events of the past two days, which are provocative acts of propaganda by deed, a term used by General Rupert Smith that has descriptive merit. 

 

The actions in the past two days represent risk accepting behavior, defiance bordering on recklessness. This behavior began shortly after Kim Chong-il’s stroke in August 2008. If Kim is ordering these actions, he has had a personality change, which can occur if dementia follows a stroke, according to medical authorities.

 

NightWatch perceives three characteristics of North Korean behavior since the missile launch in April. It is uniformly and deliberately provocative.  Between August and April, North Korean behavior towards the outside world was inconsistent, alternately accommodating and threatening, especially to South Korea.  The advocates of a defiant threatening demeanor are dominant.

 

The second characteristic is the behavior is escalating.  One implication of the missile firings on 26 May is that they imply more events will follow. A North Korean diplomat in Russia told a news outlet that additional nuclear tests and an ICBM test are also likely to follow as part of the process of building the nuclear deterrent. The outlook is for more and more frequent behavior.

 

The third characteristic is the behavior supports weapons science.  Nuclear scientists as a profession have never received public acclaim in North Korea comparable to that which they have received in the past two days. 

 

One side effect of the nuclear test is to divert attention from the obvious failure to launch a satellite. A point missed in analysis of the Taepo Dong launch is that the North has tried to convert a ballistic missile into a satellite launch vehicle and failed to place an object in orbit. Nevertheless, the ballistic missile components performed well. Even a satellite failure serves the interests of the missile weapons scientists.

 

To put this in perspective, Japan has a space launch vehicle but no ballistic missiles. India’s space launch vehicle is a separate system from its ballistic missile suite. Space launches do not directly benefit weapons systems, as they do in North Korea.

 

The worst case outcome of a small yield detonation would be that the North is on the path to miniaturize a nuclear warhead that will fit on the missile launched in April. More ICBM-class launches might signify that the worst case outcome had merged with the most likely outcome.

 

The Pyongyang rally.  KCNA reported a meeting of “Pyongyangites” (sic) was held at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium Tuesday to celebrate the second successful nuclear test.  “Attending it were senior party, army and state officials, leading officials of party, armed forces and power organs and working people's organizations, ministries and national institutions, officials of organs and enterprises in the city, persons of merits and citizens of different circles. “

”Choe Thae Bok, alternate member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, in a speech said that the nuclear test was a grand undertaking to protect the supreme interests of the DPRK (North Korea) and defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and nation in face of the U.S. imperialists' unabated threat to mount a preemptive nuclear attack and sanctions and pressure upon it.”

 

Comment: The speed with which the rally was organized and the rapid broadcast of the news of the detonation to the internal North Korean populace are out of character.  Under the risk averse rubrics, the leadership waited a while before crowing about it successes.  One commentator noted the leadership waited nearly two weeks in 2006 before holding a celebratory rally like that today in Pyongyang.

 

Some Japanese and South Korean commentators have opined that the nuclear test is related to the succession in some fashion and to ensuring military support for the regime. One point not made is that Kim Chong-il has for the first time surpassed his father in something. Kim has labored in the shadow of Kim Il-sung … been Confucian filial in respecting his legacy.

 

Kim Il-sung consistently disavowed that North Korea would become a nuclear armed state. Kim Chong-il now has put his own stamp on North Korea for the first time, moving out from under the long shadow of his father to make his own mark. The test is the first legacy of the Kim Chong-il regime to its successor. If this hypothesis is accurate, expect more provocative actions, including nuclear experiments and missile tests.

 

Reactions:

China: The nuclear test has created a crisis in relations with North Korea that will not be easily repaired. The post-Olympics period is supposed to be the time of China’s ascendancy as the leader of Northeast Asia.  North Korea has just signaled that it does not intend to follow China’s lead.

 

China has a large number of primarily economic levers it can apply to coerce more compliant North Korean behavior, including stopping the delivery of crude via pipeline. Chinese leaders seem to lack the imagination or fortitude to deal harshly with the North, up to this point, and to manage its petulance.  Now they must choose between advancing China’s rise and preserving North Korea’s historic relationship while holding their noses.

 

Russia: Kremlin authorities postponed the 28-29 May meeting with North Korean officials for discussing economic, trade and technological cooperation, Itar-Tass reported on 26 May.  No date for a rescheduled meeting was given.  The question Prime Minister Putin and his acolytes persist in sidestepping is whether it is in Russia’s interest to have a nuclear armed North Korea on its borders in the Far East.  A nuclear armed North Korea is a wild card in a future confrontation between Russia and China, for example.

 

Russian statements show the old KGB line of converting adversity into advantage. Russia wants the influence of a great power and thus is unlikely to support harsh sanctions against North Korea and will try to cash in on its self-appointed role of international buffer for the North Korean regime.

 

South Korea:  South Korea announced its decision to join the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), Yonhap reported. The vote to become the PSI’s 95th member took place the day after North Korea’s rocket launch on April 5, but the government delayed the announcement as it attempted to restart talks with Pyongyang.

 

Yesterday’s test showed there is no longer a reason to delay the announcement. Thus the Foreign Ministry issued a statement noting Seoul’s endorsement of the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles -- designed to stem trafficking in weapons of mass destruction and missiles -- while also noting that a 2005 inter-Korean maritime agreement will remain in force.

 

South Korea has now officially joined the initiative to prevent North Korea from exporting the technology it just demonstrated. The South is not likely to lead any effort to arrest and inspect North Korean shipping but the act of joining PSI is mildly defiant of the North.

 

India:  Update. The federal government lifted curfews and other restrictions in the major Sikh towns of the Punjab today. The riots have been contained and suppressed.

 

Pakistan:  Politics. A five-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday unanimously declared Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif eligible to contest elections, clearing the way for Nawaz to return to parliament and Shahbaz to return to his duties as Chief Minister.

According to the Daily Times article, the bench, comprising Justice Tassadaq Hussain Jillani, Justice Nasirul Mulk, Justice Muhammad Moosa K Leghari, Justice Sheikh Hakim Ali and Justice Ghulam Rabbani also set aside previous judgments of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the SC itself that declared the Sharif brothers ineligible to contest elections. The court also disposed of Nawaz, Shahbaz and the federal government’s review petitions, and dismissed all appeals seeking the disqualification of the Sharif brothers.

“Consequently, the judgments of the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court announced on June 23, 2008 and February 25, 2009, respectively are set aside and the orders of the returning officers accepting nomination papers of Nawaz Sharif on May 15, 2008 and Shahbaz Sharif on May 16, 2008 and the order of the chief election commissioner on June 1, 2008 are restored,” said the short order announced by Justice Tassadaq Hussain Jillani.

 

Comment:  This is bad news for President Zardari who had to back down in trying to halt the Lawyers’ Long March which was backed by Nawaz.  Nawaz is out for Zardari’s job, or less likely, Prime Minister Gilani’s job. Gilani helped persuade Zardari that he had to relent during the lawyers’ march and has had an ostensibly cooperative relationship with Nawaz Sharif.

 

A constitutional amendment is necessary for Nawaz to serve a third term as prime minister, but he could become President of Pakistan without legislative legerdemain. NightWatch predicts Nawaz intends to become President. Today’s judgment starts that process.

 

Security. The Daily Times reported six suspected Taliban were killed on Tuesday in South Waziristan after helicopter gunships were sent in to repulse an attack on a paramilitary force fort, officials said.  The Army sent in helicopters after Taliban fired rockets at a paramilitary force fort in Siblatoi town, 60 kilometres east of Wana in South Waziristan, military sources told Daily Times.  The clash follows build-up of army and Taliban forces in Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, giving rise to speculations that fresh action against local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud is on the cards.

 

An editorial in a news outlet urged the Army to bring the Swat Valley operations to an early conclusion, after a month of attacks. Those operations should wind down by the end of this week. The significance of the Daily Times report above is it means operations are soon to be switched to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, specifically the two Waziristan agencies.

 

Chief of Army Staff General Kayani intends to bring the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan into compliance with the federal constitution. Today’s gunship attack is an opening round.

France-UAE: French President Nicolas Sarkozy formally opened a French military base in the United Arab Emirates, France's first permanent base in the Gulf. The flags of France and the UAE were raised at a ceremony at the so-called "Peace Camp" in the Abu Dhabi emirate. Sarkozy said, “Through this base - the first in the Middle East - France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region. ”

 

Some 500 French troops will support and train capacity, rather than taking part in actual military operations.

 

The real significance of the base is that it makes France a protector of the Emirates against the Iranians. "Be assured that France is on your side in the event your security is at risk," Mr Sarkozy said in an interview with the UAE's official news agency.  It might also help support French anti-piracy operations

 

Along with Russia, France is inserting itself in Middle Eastern Affairs, at the expense of the US. The base represents a strategic French commitment to the region. The UAE has a French buffer in any future talks with the US, for example. The base might also prove useful in sustaining a French naval contingent in the Gulf of Aden.

 

Somalia: The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of African Union peacekeepers in Somalia, Reuters reported today. The eight-month extension also comes with an estimated $200 to $300 million in funding to support the African Union mission.

 

The situation on the ground in Mogadishu is that Islamic militants are about to recover by force the area that the African Union peacekeepers are supposedly maintaining peace. The presidential palace in Mogadishu was mortared today.

 

Somalia- Anti-piracy patrol:   Update. Sweden's Navy said one of its ships detained seven suspected pirates after stopping them from capturing a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Swedish sailors fired warning shots with a cannon, a machine gun and a sniper rifle early Tuesday to thwart the attack on the M/V Antonis. The pirates fired a grenade launcher, but Swedish navy spokesman Anders Grenstad said no one was injured in the attack.

 

He says the crew of the Swedish corvette HMS Malmo boarded one of the fishing vessels used by the pirates, but a second pirate boat escaped. Seven people were detained by the Swedes, who also seized weapons and a GPS navigation system.

 

Two Swedish navy ships are patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia as part of an EU flotilla. A Swedish support ship is based in Djibouti. They began operations on 15 May, according to Stockholm News. The Swedish rules of engagement include sending captured pirates to Kenya for trial.

 

Mexico-US: The Brownsville Herald reported on 25 May that the frequency and size of marijuana seizures keep climbing in the Rio Grande Valley compared to last year, the U.S. Border Patrol announced this week.

 

During the week of 11 to 17 May, for example, the agency's Rio Grande Valley sector confiscated more than nine tons of marijuana compared to 3.8 tons during the same time period in 2008. Officials attributed the 71 percent increase in narcotics seizures to increased manpower and a better infrastructure to prevent drug smuggling. "Our ability to detect and apprehend is higher," according to a Border Patrol spokesman.

 

The Border Patrol seized more marijuana in the first six months (sic) of 2009 than in all of 2008, said another local Border Patrol spokesman. Smugglers appear to be taking larger risks by smuggling larger quantities because of increased Mexican patrols. (Apparently the meaning is that smugglers plan more carefully and push larger loads because the chances of apprehension have increased. Last year, dozens of bus riders and pickup truck drivers carried 100 to 200 lb loads in backpacks and gymn bags daily.)

 

The largest seizure of the week occurred in Rio Grande City when agents found 3,883 pounds of marijuana inside an abandoned truck. The driver of the truck led agents on a chase away from the Rio Grande before ditching the vehicle and fleeing on foot.

 

Agents found more marijuana scattered throughout a nearby dilapidated shed. Also last week, agents seized 1,454 pounds of marijuana from two separate vehicles after each was seen leaving the Rio Grande area. In total, agents seized 18,159 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of about $14.5 million. The drugs were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Rio Grande Valley sector has nine stations stretching from Brownsville to Corpus Christi.

 

The key point is that the drug flow into the US has increased during the Mexican Army operations in Ciudad Juarez, where violence also is again increasing.  The increase reinforces the suspicion the violence that prompted the Army operations was a diversion for the drug cartels to harvest marijuana and ship the harvest into the US.

 

End of NightWatch for 26 May.