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NightWatch 20100811


For the Night of 11 August 2010

Fiji: Military leader Commodore Bainimarama said that China was the one country that understands the reforms he is trying to implement, Agence France-Presse reported 11 August. China is the only nation that can assist Fiji in its reforms because of the way the Chinese think outside the box, he said, and that the Chinese are visionary in what they do.

He said Fiji must maintain trade but should forget about the politics of the Pacific Forum, Australia and New Zealand. Fiji needs infrastructure, water and electricity, and Australia, New Zealand and America will not provide help, he stated.

Comment: During the past two decades, Chinese survey and other ships have sought to gain access to South Pacific states with mixed results. Access to and influence in Fiji would be a significant strategic achievement for China.

China: Special comment. The Japanese news service Asahi Shimbun published a report on 10 August that is a good summary of Chinese progress in developing an aircraft carrier force. The primary source of the information overstates its novelty and urgency. Almost all of the activities described have been reported, including the training of the first class of 50 pilots for carrier-based aircraft; the indigenous development of a carrier-based fighter; the creation of two sites for training carrier pilots and the continuing modification of the 60,000 ton carrier Varyag at Dalian to prepare it for training of crews and air wings. China purchased this carrier from Ukraine in 2001.

The article describes the Chinese as going forward at a "feverish pace." That overstates a decades-long program whose first milestone was purchase of Australia's HMAS Melbourne in 1985 for use in land-based training.

The important point is that the Chinese have maintained a consistent and steady pace in moving toward aircraft carrier capabilities for a quarter century. The pace is not feverish, but it is significant, cumulative and unwavering.

The item is a reminder that China's now medium-range intentions to follow the US pattern for asserting strategic dominance at sea, using aircraft carriers with a Chinese, poor-man's twist. They are smaller, sea control carriers by US standards, but mightily threatening to the northeast Asian and the Southeast Asian US friends and allies.

In past crises, western Pacific and Southeast Asian states could rely on the arrival of a US carrier task group to tilt the balance in the US favor. In the future, a Chinese aircraft carrier task group might arrive first, backed by carrier-tracking over the horizon radars, linked to carrier-killing ballistic missiles. Not there yet, but even in open source materials that end-state looks increasingly clear.

South Korea likely will respond with its own carrier force that is likely to match the Chinese, except in numbers. It is not clear how the Japanese leadership will respond, but the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the South Korean Navy are likely to find more reasons to train together and cooperate than ever before.

The prospect of a Chinese aircraft carrier squadron was once a distant future. That future is fast approaching and is spawning a northeast Asian naval buildup.

Pakistan: The Daily Times reported the following note.

"Mufti Munibur Rehman, the chairman of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, announced on Wednesday that the Ramazan moon has been sighted, and that the fasting will begin today (Thursday), as Ramazan 1, 1431, will fall on August 12. The meeting of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee was held at the Metrological Office, Gulistan-e-Johar in Karachi."

Ramadan has begun.

Germany-Afghanistan: Acting on instructions from Berlin, senior officers ordered two 600-man German battalions to team up with Afghan soldiers in the coming months and clear Taliban fighters from districts the insurgents now dominate, The Wall Street Journal reported 11 August.

The new German commander of the battalion in Konduz province expects to begin a series of attacks in October. German commanders are splitting the two battalions off from the 4,400 troops currently in Afghanistan. The new battalions will have enhanced capabilities, such as reconnaissance technology and combat engineers, along with access to artillery support.

Note. The report did not specify the target district, but it should be Chahar Dara in Konduz Province. Since mid 2007, the Germans have mounted multiple offensives to suppress the Pashtun rebels in Chahar Dara without lasting success.

Better technology is obviously not a solution. With 1,200 soldiers, the Germans only will have a four-to-one superiority, according to German data about the Taliban fighter presence in Konduz. This operation has poor prospects for achieving any lasting success.

It is curious that the government in Berlin announced its backing for this operation. Public statements of support of that kind are a red flag for a last concerted effort. Reinforcing that suspicion is that the announcement of this offensive operation coincides with the government proposal for cutting the German army from 95,000 personnel to about 55,000. Thus, this looks like the one last good effort with a demonstration that the announced plan for defense cuts does not signify a change in the German commitment in Afghanistan … yet!

Russia-Abkhazia: Russia has deployed S-300 air defense missile systems in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region, Russian air force chief Colonel General Alexander Zelin said 11 August, RIA Novosti and Reuters reported.

"We have deployed the C-300 system on Abkhaz territory, which, alongside other aircraft defense systems of the ground forces, will solve the problems of air defense of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Zelin said similar air defense systems have already been deployed in South Ossetia.

The deployment falls within the bilateral agreement on military cooperation, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maxim Gvindzhia said, according to RIA Novosti. Gvindzhia said the air defense systems are necessary because of the "constant threat" from Georgia and its allies.

South Ossetian Defense Minister Valery Yakhnovets said that while his country has reliable air defense systems in place, S-300 battery deployments "would not be superfluous.

The US State Department spokesman said it was his understanding these systems had been in the two secessionist states of Georgia for some time. The US statement suggests the advanced systems deployed with Russian regiments in the fight against Georgia and never left.

That implies that today's statement by Zelin is not intended to be news, so much as intimidating and provocative to Georgia.

Somalia Anti-piracy patrol: For the record. According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, the number of pirate attacks worldwide decreased in the first half of 2010 by 34% year-on-year mostly due to the ongoing anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden. More on this later.

Venezuela-Colombia: For the record. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and create five joint commissions dealing with bilateral trade, security, debt payment, infrastructure and promoting investment in border regions, Globovision reported 10 August.

The agreements were the result of their summit meeting in the Colombian city of Santa Marta. Many will recall that President Santos, most recently, was the Minister of Defense in the Uribe administration and regularly castigated Chavez. So Chavez has responded with superficial magnanimity to "reset" relations with a new president. This easing of tension will not last and the ever-mercurial Chavez is likely to be the first to need an external threat to build political support.

End of NightWatch for 11 August.

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