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NightWatch 20130402

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NightWatch

For the night of 2 April 2013

North Korea-South Korea: During this Watch, South Korea's Unification Ministry reported that North Korea is allowing South Korean workers to leave the Kaesong joint industrial zone but is blocking workers from traveling north.

"North Korea has not yet given us the daily permission for the entry of 484 South Koreans into Kaesong

today," a South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman said.

Comment: North Korea said on 30 March that North-South relations would be put at State of War. A separate statement noted the anomalous situation at Kaesong and warned that South Korean access would be terminated if South Korea continued to insult the North's dignity.  The North has corrected an oversight. The confrontation is not over and it remains dangerous.

North Korea: On 2 April the government bureaucracy announced measures to execute the legislation passed at yesterday's (1 April) session of the Supreme People's Assembly. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carried the following announcement. Emphasis added by NightWatch.

"A spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA as regards the new strategic line laid down at the March 2013 plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of nuclear armed force to cope with the prevailing situation so as to meet the law-governing requirements of the development of the Korean revolution:"

"The field of atomic energy is faced with heavy tasks for making a positive contribution to solving the acute shortage of electricity by developing the self-reliant nuclear power industry and for bolstering up the nuclear armed force both in quality and quantity till the world is denuclearized, pursuant to the strategic line on simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of the nuclear armed force."

"The General Department of Atomic Energy of the DPRK decided to adjust and alter the uses of the existing nuclear facilities, to begin with, in accordance with the line."

"This will include the measures for readjusting and restarting all the nuclear facilities in Nyongbyon (Yo'ngbyo'n), including the uranium enrichment plant and 5MW(e) graphite moderated reactor which had been mothballed and disabled under an agreement reached at the six-party talks in October 2007."

"This work will be put into practice without delay."

Comment: The manner of presentation and the level of the authority making the announcement convey the message that this announcement is a matter of normal procedure, in light of the law enacted by the Supreme People's Assembly. Of course that is a fiction. The North's leaders know this is a significant act of defiance of the UN and the other members of the Six Party Talks.

The missile forces almost certainly remain at high readiness and will until the leadership judges the threat of an Allied attack has passed. Since Exercise Foal Eagle will last until 30 April, according to the US Forces Korea (USFK) web site, the Korean situation will remain dangerous  at least for the duration of that exercise which is an Allied combat readiness exercise.

Concerning the statement, the North Korean nuclear openness policy includes graphite moderated reactor which has been shut down since 2007 and the uranium enrichment facility that Stanford University professor Heckler observed in 2010. Heckler said the North would need six months to a year to restart the graphite moderated reactor.

The highlighted terms, adjust and alter the uses, are important. The Yongbyon reactor has never operated as a power generating station, except to serve the living quarters of the workers at Yongbyon.

Yongbyon has been a consumer of electricity and apparently still is. Its output of 5 megawatts of electricity (5MW (e)) is enough to provide power for about 2,500 average households, according to some calculations. It supplied power to the residential facilities that contained 10,000 workers at one time, but that was secondary to burning spent fuel rods for reprocessing into plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Major construction is necessary, in addition to restarting the reactor at Yongbyon, to convert the complex into a center of nuclear power generation. That is the significance of the words in bold. That construction should be easily detectable at Yongbyon and at any other nuclear power construction site. They include Sinpo, where the light water reactor was to have been built, and Taechon, where the foundation for a 200MW(e) reactor was poured years ago.

With concerted effort, North Korea could have three or four power stations and the fissile material they produce probably by 2020. The graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon first went critical in 1985, five years after construction began.

China's reaction. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "I was aware of the North's report. If it is true, it would be highly regrettable North Korea must live up to its promises it made in the past and achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula." The spokesman that the Chinese government is closely watching developments in North Korea

Some implications. North Korea's actions perpetuate the need for vigilance. The likelihood of a provocation resulting from deliberation or misadventure remains high, if for no other reason than that the North is still in send mode.

The North has changed fundamentally the nuclear issue from a discussion of non-proliferation to one about responsible management of a dangerous capability. The Supreme People's Assembly has legislated the creation of a new energy industry with which North Korea has no experience. If it is serious, it will need extensive outside assistance. China, South Korea and Russia are potential competitors for the opportunities

One near term challenge, then, is to get the present and any future expansion of the nuclear energy industry under international supervision again. That might be achievable based on the North's commitment to be a responsible nuclear state in the nuclear law, but it will not be easy because of Kim's rejection of the history of the nuclear issue.

North Korea's open declaration of nuclear weapons means that every future crisis that risks war risks nuclear war. Warning of war on the Korean peninsula has become warning of nuclear war.

That is precisely the condition that pertains between India and Pakistan. Thus, there now are two areas of past  conventional and potential nuclear conflict between less developed states.

The likelihood of a nuclear arms or other exotic weapons competition in northeast Asia has increased. It is difficult to imagine that governments in South Korea and Japan could long resist popular and military pressure to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, to assure mutual destruction.

The nuclear military capabilities of the US have not deterred North Korea from pursuing its  nuclear program. The asymmetry spurred the North in the opposite direction. Under North Korea's new strategic line, South Korea and Japan will become more vulnerable over time. 

China will tolerate North Korea's new position. It copes with nuclear armed India and Russia. Some strategists might perceive an advantage in the North's nuclear capabilities, as guaranteeing North Korea remains independent from South Korea indefinitely.

More later.

China Comment: For the record. Bill Geertz reported on 1 April that China reinforced its border with North Korea and put some forces on highest alert in response to the North's declaration that "North-South Relations have been put at State of War" (title quoted from Korean Central News Agency).

There is a problem with the timing. A careful reading indicates the anonymous US officials said the Chinese military actions were made between mid-March and the 21st. The declaration that North-South Relations have been put at a State of War, which supposedly prompted them, was announced on 30 March. Nevertheless, some Chinese military and security precautions and increased border security almost certainly were ordered

That declaration was not by the Supreme Command, National Defense Commission or senior Party officials. It is not a declaration of war. It was a statement by the government, which is the least powerful official entity in North Korea, about the channel by which government and non-governmental organization exchanges would be handled. .

The Geertz article reported an incident on the China-North Korea border on the 21st that prompted an over flight by a Chinese fighter. It is unclear as yet just what happened. Other news outlets with sources on the China-North Korea border have reported no unusual activity on the China side, but such reports might be prohibited.

Feedback is invited on Chinese military actions in response to the Korean confrontation.

Afghanistan: Afghan President Karzai told a German newspaper that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar could run for president in elections next year. Karzai's government has agreed the Taliban can open an office in Qatar if the group breaks all ties with al-Qaida and renounces terrorism. Karzai was in Qatar Sunday to discuss the issue.

Comment: This seems like good press outside Afghanistan, but Omar believes that popular elections are against Islam. The invitation is an insult. However, the Taliban might follow the Muslim Brotherhood strategy in Egypt of winning elections in order to create a caliphate, if they cannot take Kabul by force after NATO departs.

Central African Republic (CAR)-Republic of South Africa (RSA): South Africa's military trade union spokesman said today that most of the 200 South African troops in the Central African Republic have been withdrawn. Pikkie Greeff of the South African National Defense Union said that the "bulk of soldiers have been withdrawn and dropped off on the other side of border in Congo."

Comment: Thirteen RSA soldiers died and 27 were wounded in the fighting against the rebels who ousted CAR ex-president Bozize.

End of NightWatch for 2 April.

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