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NightWatch 20120801

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For the night of 31 July 2012

North Korea-South Korea: Last week the North Korean government approved Hyundai Asan's request to visit the resort at Mount Kumgang for an annual commemoration on 4 August of the death of Chung Mong-Hun, the former chairman of the Hyundai Group who committed suicide in 2003, according to South Korean and international press reports.

Chung was instrumental in pushing ties between North and South, killing himself after it emerged his firm played a role in transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to Pyongyang ahead of a historic summit between the two.

"Some 10 officials including our chief executive will visit Kumgang for the event, which has been held there every year," the company's spokesman said.

South Korea's unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, has approved the visit.

The scenic resort was once a source of hard currency for the impoverished North, earning it tens of millions of dollars a year.

Comment: This is an annual event so its occurrence is less significant than its cancellation would be. A restoration of regular tourist visits to the Mount Kumgang resort would be an indicator of policy change in favor of openness under the new leadership, but does not seem likely.

A mixed indicator is the visit by a UN team to evaluate the aftermath of floods and the need for food, potable water and public health assistance. Earlier this year North Korea was experiencing a severe drought. The rains in July ended the drought, but produced floods that killed 90 people. The provinces affected worst include Kangwon, one of the rice growing areas in the North.

Cholera, typhoid and typhus commonly follow North Korean summer floods because of chronic shortages of all kinds of medicines and no effective national immunization system.

The policy orientation of North Korea remains difficult to define. The North is prickly on matters of national security, but the national ideology of self-reliance does not prevent it from accepting all kinds of handouts from the UN and its members.

The official media went to pains to remind its audiences that "Marshal" Kim Jong-un hosted the 29 July meeting of the veterans of the Fatherland Liberation War. Nevertheless, North Korean policy appears unclear or unsettled, vacillating between bellicosity and openness.

For the record, there have been no follow up statements about the review of the nuclear program.

India: Comment: India suffered the world's largest electric power outage Tuesday as transmission networks serving areas inhabited by 680 million collapsed, more than double the entire population of the United States.

The grid failure was the second massive blackout in two days. It affected 18 of India's 28 states, plus two union territories. The northern tier of states along the Himalayas, including New Delhi, experienced the outages. The government said power was about 80% restored in north India by late Tuesday evening.

Some commentators have suggested that India is not an emerging power because its infrastructure is so fragile. Those comments are unfair and uninformed because electricity is the weakest, least protected and most devastating infrastructure in all modern states, especially the United States. A technician in Ohio can make a switching error and shut down the entire northeast including the entire seaboard.

No terrorist group has yet shown that it can do as much damage or impose as many costs as occur routinely in the operation of complex power systems. Electric power systems are the most vulnerable infrastructure to terrorist attack.

India's experience in the past two days shows how extensive and costly the consequences can be. Yet the Indians managed to restore power to 80% of the population in half a day. That is about 500 million persons/customers. News commentators need to understand that every complex system will fail, but the speed of recovery is the best measure of a healthy living system. Weak, failure-prone systems take weeks to recover.

Pakistan: Pakistan will allow NATO supply convoys to cross its territory into Afghanistan until the end of 2015, one year beyond the deadline for withdrawal of US combat forces there, under an agreement signed on Tuesday by US and Pakistani officials. The pact seems to close, for now, one of the most contentious chapters in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, cementing cooperation by Pakistan in winding down the war in Afghanistan at least in terms of logistical assistance.

Comment: the signed agreement will save American taxpayers an enormous amount of money because of the shorter distances to the Indian Ocean, compared to the overland route across Russia.

Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor wrote an insightful article about the ironic ripple effects of the restoration of the logistics supply lines. The agreement helps both the US and NATO forces and the Taliban, who arm themselves from the porous nature of the supply chain and earn funds from protection money paid by the trucking companies, and others.

The insurgency can now continue as before for both sides, but the Taliban are major beneficiaries of the US' porous system. That is the price of fighting an inland war that relies on external lines of communication.

Daily fighting has remained around 100 attacks. Expect that number to increase now that the NATO and US supply line is restored.

Syria: The "Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army" inside Syria promulgated a "National Salvation Plan" for the transitional stage after the end of the al Asad government. It stipulates the establishment of a Supreme Defense Council that will form a Presidential Council consisting of six military and political figures to manage the transitional regime.

The statement explains that the military council will include "all the commanders of the military councils in the Syrian cities and governorates, the dissident senior officers, and the officers participating in the revolution."

The duties of the Presidential Council include "proposing laws to be submitted to public referenda, restructuring the security and military institutions on national bases, and setting up solutions to absorb the civilians who carry arms during the revolution in both the military and security institutions."

The statement says the Plan was the result of extensive consultations. It proposes "the establishment of the Supreme National Council for the Protection of the Syrian Revolution," which is considered "as a parliamentary institution to supervise the work of the executive organizations."

The plan considers it imperative that the Syrian National Council, all political powers and national figures, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, The Coordination Committees, the revolutionary activists, and the Free Syrian Army participate "in the establishment of the new institutions."

The statement says: "Any government that is formed here-or-there will not see the light, and will not enjoy any national and revolutionary legitimacy if it does not adopt the entire demands of the revolution without exception or prevarication, and if it does not enjoy the agreement of the Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army inside Syria, and all the effective real revolutionary powers."

Comment: The authors of the Plan are not identified and need to be because no one knows whether this represents the views of anyone other than the guy who wrote it and sent it to the media. It could be a ruse.

If it represents a consensus of the leaders of the fighting cells in Syria, this Plan shows they want a military-dominated regime, much like the al Asad government, except for the Alawites. The Plan is issued in the form of an ultimatum to other Syrians- take it or leave.

A fuller version includes a list of persons designated for each cabinet position in a transitional government, including at least one Christian. All are appointed by the so-called Joint Command. The plan is the blueprint of a military-dominated authoritarian regime. It would recreate the kind of government the Syrians already know. There is no innovation or enlightenment.

There are no plans to prepare for elections or a transfer of power to an elected or representative government. Apparently, the rulers would be those who bore arms. The irony is that its drafters seem to consider it liberal and generous.

This proclamation sharpens the dissension among multiple Arab groups who seek to lead a new Syrian revolution. Ex-brigadier Manaf Tlass is a hopeful and cuts a dashing figure. A former Syrian judge also has formulated a plan. The exiled politicians of the Syrian National Council have their own plan. These groups are invited to participate in the Plan.

Now the fighters have had their say, in the form of an ultimatum to all other groups. Their language is almost incoherent, except for their clear determination to control Syria, if they get the chance. There will be now rewards for outside scholars and politicians.

The iron law of violent internal instability is that the group with the most guns and ammunition wins. The Plan is woefully inadequate as a road map for a future Syrian government, say, compared to the Libyan statement of intentions during the fight against Qadhafi.

On the other hand, it is a prescription for a political disaster and the message is that the Syrian émigrés and all other outsiders are not welcome unless they are willing to comply.

The Western and wealthy Arab investment in revolution promises to produce an authoritarian, intolerant regime exactly like the one those states are determined to overthrow. The main difference is the substitution of a Sunni leadership group for the Alawites. At least now everyone knows.

End of NightWatch for 31 July.

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