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NightWatch 20101216

NightWatch

For the Night of 16 December 2010

The Korea Confrontation

South Korea: A spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced today that South Korean forces on Yeonpyeong Island will hold a one-day live-fire artillery exercise between 18 and 21 December. The guns will be aimed away from North Korea, "as usual," and officials from the Military Armistice Commission of the UN Command will observe the exercise. The government will advise island residents to leave or take shelter in bunkers. The spokesman said South Korea "will firmly and strongly respond" if the North attempts provocations during the exercise.

South Korea-US: The South Korean live-fire exercise is "transparent" and will be held on a "well-established and well-used" range but it could draw a negative North Korean reaction, according to General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. A concern is the loss of control of the escalation, the General stated. If North Korea were to fire back, that would start a chain reaction of "firing and counterfiring."

Comment: The South Korean government is under pressure to not give in to North Korean threats, such as by changing training. The delay in artillery training for forces on Yeonpyeong, until after training was completed at 27 or 28 other sites, has given the government time to prepare to respond in the likely event of a North Korean reaction.

North Korean statements have been explicit that the Pyongyang government considers any shelling into the water from Yeonpyeong Island to be a violation of its territorial sea and have warned that it will retaliate with force. Moreover, the North's retaliation probably would be asymmetrical, as it was on 23 November, and not limited to shooting at Yeonpyeong Island or other islands. The North favors misdirection and also has had time to prepare its next steps.

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency on 16 December published a Foreign Ministry statement about the confrontation. It was directed at the United States, ignoring South Korea. It accused the US of avoiding talks by raising "preconditions" and cited the North's need for stability so it can build its economy. (Note: yesterday the Allies announced five conditions for resuming six party talks.)

"The DPRK is at a very important juncture in which it should channel all its efforts into the economic construction as it should attain the goal to open the gate to a thriving nation in 2012. In expanding foreign investment in the country it requires a stable peaceful atmosphere, not a war atmosphere"

The statement contains a detailed list of agreements with the US that the North accuses the US of having broken. It also repeats the North's insistence that it has a right to build light water reactors and pursue peaceful nuclear activities. It concludes in unusual fashion.

"The DPRK supports all proposals for dialogue including the six-party talks, prompted by the desire to prevent a war and realize denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula but will never beg for it."

Comment: The language is defensive and a little imploring. It contains no threats and represents the most explicit statement since Kim Chong-il's stroke that the national priority is economic construction. It contains a very rare reference to the requirement for stability. It is carefully constructed and uncommonly clear with none of the usual communist bluster. It looks like the North blinked in that the conclusion, above, is an invitation for an offer the North can accept.

It does not mean there will be no response to South Korean artillery shelling. It does mean another round of confrontation can be contained.

Thus the stage is set for a dramatic breakthrough as well as for an escalating crisis. New Mexico Governor Richardson arrived in Pyongyang today for a five day visit to try to ease tension. The North Koreans invited him which is an additional reason for guarded optimism that a crisis can be avoided. A CNN anchor and crew accompanied Richardson to Pyongyang, which means the North intends for its side of any development to be aired to the international audience.

In light of today's Foreign Ministry statement and Richardson's visit, general war is not likely, but fast and reliable communications will be critical to reduce the likelihood of escalation in the event of a shooting incident.

Iran-Pakistan: Iranian officials on 16 December accused Pakistan of being linked to a 15 December suicide bombing in southeastern Iran. Iran's deputy minister and chief of security at the Interior Ministry, Ali Abdollahi, said Pakistani officials had ignored Iranian warnings about bases in Pakistan for anti-Iranian elements and had allowed the terrorists to cross into Iran.

Iranian lawmaker Kazem Jalali said initial reports and confessions from arrested Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi showed that the bombers had been trained in Pakistan. Pakistan must clarify its position on the terrorists and on the Iranian government, Jalali said.

Comment: On the 15th two bombers detonated themselves at a mosque in Chabahar, killing 41 people and injuring at least 50 on the eve of the Shiite holy day Ashura, which honors the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed.

The results of Iran's custodial interrogation and Iranian accusations against Pakistan are virtually identical in substance to Indian interrogation of the surviving Mumbai terrorist and Indian accusations about Pakistan and terrorists.

Afghanistan-India: For the record. The Indian Embassy in Kabul issued a terrorism warning on 16 December that anti-government elements intend to attack Indian interests in Afghanistan within days. The alert reported the terrorists might wear police uniforms and operate vehicles with tinted windows. They might target guest houses in which Indians live using vehicles with female drivers. The embassy requested that Indian nationals in Afghanistan maintain special vigilance during the next few days.

Comment: The Indo-Tibetan Border Police guard the Indian embassy in Kabul and consulates in Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, all of which received the alert order. Indian facilities in Afghanistan have experienced four significant terrorist attacks: in July 2008, October and December 2009 and February 2010. Indian investigation of the most serious attack in 2008 found evidence linking the attacks to the Haqqani syndicate and to a Pakistani intelligence general, the Times of India reported.

Afghanistan-Germany: German Foreign Minister Westerwelle said on 16 December that Germany will begin withdrawing its forces in Afghanistan at the end of 2011, DPA reported. Speaking to the German parliament, Westerwelle said the deployments to Afghanistan were "the right thing to do" to defend its own security, however it must not go on without end, "and that is the right thing too."

Comment: The Germans command the Regional Command North which covers nine provinces and includes Swedish, Hungarian and Norwegian forces. The German contingent is 4,877 soldiers in Afghanistan, according to the NATO home page. Despite numerous offensives in Konduz since mid-2007, the Germans have not prevented the Taliban from establishing a reasonably effective fighting force that is supported by the Pashtun populations in Konduz Province. They have kept the Taliban from overrunning the province.

It is likely the Germans would draw down gradually, but, unless security conditions in Konduz improve and last, their departure would leave a gap in NATO capabilities along the two main northern supply links to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Estonia: For the record. The mayor of Estonia's capital of Tallinn denied allegations by the country's security police (KaPo) that he was an "agent of influence" for Russia, RIA Novosti reported on 16 December.

The denial was in response to an article in the Estonian newspaper Postimees. It reported that the KaPo submitted a letter to the government that identified Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who leads Estonia's main opposition party, as a national security threat. The letter reported Moscow gave $1.5 million to Savisaar to increase Russian influence in Estonia, noting that was the same amount spent constructing a Russian Orthodox Church in Tallinn's Lasnamae district.

Savisaar said the report was an effort to undermine his Center Party ahead of elections, adding that he was unaware that collecting money to put toward building an Orthodox Church was a threat to the state.

Comment: Whatever the merits of the accusation, the article serves as a reminder that the Baltic members of NATO remain vigilant against any signs of Russian subversion and encroachment. Russian President Medvedev said that alliances can be changed in his "sphere of influence" policy announced in 2008.

End of NightWatch for 16December .

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