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NightWatch 20101006

NightWatch

For the Night of 6 October 2010

Japan-US-China: A U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia said 6 October that the security alliance shared by Washington and Tokyo needs to be in good working order to cope with a rapidly changing Asia. According to this US official, it critical that American policymakers focus on the changing security environment and not leave U.S.-Japan relations behind. He added that the United States did not play a role in facilitating dialogue between China and Japan in their dispute over the arrest of a fishing boat captain as it would not have been appropriate.

Comment: Actually, the assistant secretary misspoke because his boss, the Secretary of State, made a strange but strong statement in support of Japan that was not backed up by the Department of State. That disjointed behavior indicates policy disarray in the US when Chinese bullying has become the norm in East and Southeast Asia.

The US must stand with the Allies or accept that China now dominates northeast Asia. There are no in-between positions; no room for subtle balancing acts. The normal condition is that Asian states take responsibility for their own security. Restoring that normal condition has been the direction of international security developments since the end of World War II.

The US is not an intrinsic part of that formula. If the US chooses to remain consequential in the outcome of Asian disputes, it must demonstrate the post-War rules remain in effect. The Secretary of State's statement showed an instinct for this truth. In the end, the US did not back Japan. The Chinese will take careful note.

Japan-China: Update. Two Chinese fisheries patrol boats withdrew from waters near the Senkaku Islands, a Japanese coast guard spokeswoman stated. This action is a start in restoring normal security conditions around the islands. The Japanese coast guard is said to be using radar to monitor the Chinese ships.

South Korea-North Korea: For the record. The government in Seoul may consider sending a special envoy to North Korea if it leads to peace on the peninsula, South Korean national security aid Kim Song Hwan said at a confirmation hearing for his nomination as foreign minister. Kim also dismissed speculation that North Korea and South Korea are secretly pushing for a summit. Exchanges between the two countries would speed up if North Korea were to take responsibility for the sinking of a South Korean warship last March, Kim added

Comment: Kim's statements indicate the North is not yet ready to restore dialogue and bilateral cooperation with the South as they were before the Party Conference. The North's leadership is not confident at this time of its ability to manage complex international affairs.

North Korea-South Korea: For the record. The South Korean Secretary for National Strategy Kim Tae Hyo, at a forum on the future of Northeast Asia, said North Korea's nuclear program is evolving at a very fast pace.

Seoul believes North Korea is currently operating all its nuclear programs, including highly enriched uranium processing and the nuclear facility in Yongbyon, Kim stated, adding that North Korea is constantly working on making its weapons smaller. The dilemma is that strong neighboring countries may not faithfully cooperate with Seoul when North Korea might be harboring a nuclear weapon, Kim said.

Comment: As momentum towards nuclear talks builds, the South Koreans seem to want to ensure the North does not get a pass on its proliferation activities just because it is willing to resume talks conditionally. South Korea wants the North to apologize for sinking the corvette Cheonan before nuclear talks resume.

On the other hand, new construction at Yongbyon indicates new investment in that facility. It is axiomatic in despotic regimes that the successor pays tribute to the predecessor by honoring him with greater undertakings. Kim Chong-il outdid his father Kim Il-sung but creating missiles and nuclear weapons, though the real decedent directive from father to son concerned unifying the Koreas, not polarizing them.

Any new nuclear successes, such as uranium enrichment to weapons grade, would be proclaimed in the name of the successor. The South's accusations almost certainly have a core of fact that is a matter of national security concern, independent of the political maneuvering over nuclear talks.

Russia-Vietnam: For the record. The Russian Navy has proposed to re-establish a logistics base for Russian warships in the Vietnamese port of Cam Rahn Bay, formerly the largest Russian base outside Russian territory, Interfax reported 6 October. The Navy completed a report justifying the base's restoration, the completion of which could be finished within three years should a political decision be made, a source in the navy command said.

The primary purpose of the base is to support Russian naval vessels combating piracy in the Indian and Pacific oceans, former chief of the navy's General Staff Viktor Kravchenko said, adding if Russia still considers itself a maritime power, the restoration of such bases is "inevitable."

Russia-India: For the record. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov began a two-day visit to India on 6 October to attend the Russian-Indian intergovernmental commission on military-technical cooperation, Itar-Tass reported. A protocol will be signed that will address military-technical cooperation.

Discussions will touch on repairs and upgrade of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov; production of Su-30MKI aircraft and T-90C tanks in India; the joint development and production of fifth-generation fighter aircraft and of multipurpose transport aircraft; and the joint development and production of BrahMos cruise missiles. Serdyukov will meet with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony.

Comment: The timing of the Vietnam, India and Algeria initiatives, infra, indicates the Russians are making a bid to rebuild the weapons client base of the Soviet Union.

Pakistan-US: Update. Today, the US Ambassador to Pakistan apologized for the 30 September helicopter attack that killed Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers at their post opposite the Afghan border. The Ambassador said a joint investigation has established that the US helicopter crews mistook the soldiers for insurgents they had been pursuing. The ambassador extended deepest apologies to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Corps who were killed and injured. The Ambassador promised the US government will coordinate better with Pakistan to ensure such actions do not happen again.

Comment: This apology should save face for the government in Islamabad and start convoys moving through Torkham, assuming promises of compensation accompanied the apology.

Pakistan-NATO: The closure of the northern border crossing point at Torkham continued today. In Nowshera, about 40 NATO fuel tankers were set on fire by rocket-propelled grenade fire.

The status of the southern bordering crossing site at Chaman, on the road to Kandahar, has received scant reporting. Today, Pakistan's Dawn News reported that Pakistani customs officials detained 152 trailers and oil tankers with supplies for NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, after officials detected document tampering. U.S. officials in Pakistan approached customs officials 5 October with a request to release the trailers and tankers, but were told they would not be allowed to go to Afghanistan until the documents were cleared.

Comment: There are many ways to use border crossing procedures for political signaling. It now appears Pakistan has been using transit through both primary border points to Afghanistan for conveying its message that armed helicopter flights in Pakistani airspace cross the line of tolerable US actions inside Pakistan.

This incident and its aftermath have multiple significant implications. One is that the US has found a red line that Pakistan cannot afford to let the US cross. Mistakes from drone attacks are more forgivable than helicopter attacks inside Pakistani airspace. The latter humiliate the Pakistan armed forces, the only dependable institution promoting stability at this time.

Another implication is a lesson the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban will learn. A week-long cutoff of supplies at two border crossing points in Pakistan is enough to generate action by the US to have the border choke points reopened. That is enormously useful information.

A third is that US helicopter crews along the border do not necessarily know in which country they are flying. A fourth is that they cannot distinguish attacks from warning shots. There are others about the training, cultural and situational awareness of US and Pakistani forces.

Afghanistan- International Security Assistance Force (ISAF): ISAF announced it will use an alternate supply route from Russia and Central Asia to bypass the main supply routes through Pakistan, The News reported on 6 October. The US Central Command's decision reportedly was based on Pakistan's refusal to give a timeline for the resumption of the NATO supplies at the Torkham border. The alternate route will carry supplies from Riga, Latvia, through Russia, around the Caspian Sea, through Kazakhstan and south through Uzbekistan.

Comment: Islamabad also has demanded $600 million in compensation for using the country's road network.

Readers also should expect Pakistan to demand contractual, consequential and punitive damages as the result of the US apology for the 30 September attack. That seemingly modest, honest concession will open the flood gates to multiple high-dollar law suits for losses in Pakistani courts because the US has admitted liability.

Algeria-Russia: For the record. Russian President Medvedev and Algerian President Bouteflika signed a joint statement on 6 October for more coordination and communication between the two countries, Itar-Tass reported. The statement said the two countries' heads of state will meet regularly and that their foreign ministers will hold at least one meeting a year. The statement also said that there will be more coordination in the energy sector between the nations, considering the problems of energy security and resources in the world. Defense technology and military coordination were also mentioned in the statement.

Mexico: For the record. Fernando Larios, chief of a municipal police station in Ciudad Juarez, was shot to death by an armed group 6 October, El Universal reported. Larios was traveling in his personal vehicle when the group fired at least 50 shots at him.

Note: This is a reminder the drug cartels finally have figured out that assassinations of public officials -- mayors and police chiefs - are good for business.

Mexican President Calderon will sign an initiative restructuring the country's police departments into a unified command 6 October, the Mexican daily El Financiero reported. The proposal would consolidate Mexico's 2,200 local police departments in an effort to streamline their work in counter narcotics operations, according to the press.

Comment: The larger benefits of a national force are stricter control of recruitment; uniform pay and performance standards and reduced vulnerability to wholesale subornment of police departments by drug cartels.

End of NightWatch for 6 October.

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