For the night of 27 August 2013
China-Japan: Update. China broadcast that three of its coast guard ships patrolled in its territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands (aka, Senkaku Islands). No Japanese response has been reported in English language media.
Comment: The Chinese coast guard is patrolling daily in the Senkakus.
North Korea: South Korean press reported that during his visit to Beijing in May North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, a favorite of Kim Jong Un proposed "four-party talks" to China. The report contained no mention of the Chinese response to the proposal, but apparently China rejected it because Chinese officials called for the early resumption of Six Party Talks.
Comment: The four party proposal explains how North Korea could announce its willingness to talk about its nuclear program and try to reassure the Chinese of its good intentions, while publicly and explicitly rejecting the Six Party Talks. North Korean leaders attempted a subterfuge with the Chinese, which backfired.
North Korean media reported that on Tuesday, North Korea's first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan "had a friendly talk" with China's chief nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei in Pyongyang.
Comment: Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated publicly his support for the resumption of Six Party Talks. Readers may be confident that Wu Dawei conveyed Chinese expectations that the North will comply.
Pakistan-Afghanistan: The Chinese news service Xinhua published a report on the outcome of talks between Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Excerpts follow.
"Pakistan said Tuesday that Afghan Taliban insurgents are unwilling to talk to Karzai government and its peace negotiators at least for now."
"The statement came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan that was focused on efforts to encourage Taliban to come to the negotiating table."
"Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said in Islamabad that Karzai had pressed for Islamabad's help to bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table."
"Afghan government claims that leaders of Taliban are living in Pakistan and that Islamabad should use influence on them and facilitate direct talks between Taliban and Afghan High Peace Council."
"Pakistan's Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that Taliban are not willing to talk to Afghan government or Afghan High Peace Council."
"However Pakistan will try its best to persuade them to hold dialogue so as to avert outbreak of civil war in post-conflict Afghanistan, Aziz told state radio."
Comment: The message behind the message is twofold. First is that the Taliban expect to return to power which explains their disinterest in peace negotiations with Karzai. Second, Pakistani national security interests require stability in post-Karzai Afghanistan. Thus, Pakistan will act to avoid another outbreak of civil war after US and NATO forces leave and the Taliban returns to power. That is the meaning of the last sentence quoted above. Pakistan will not act to help save Karzai.
The simple bluntness of the statements attributed by Sartaj Aziz confirms that senior Pakistani officials are in communication with the Afghan Taliban leaders in Quetta sufficiently to speak for them.
Syria: Update. The mainstream media headlines with slight variations predict that an attack against Syrian targets by US missiles could occur as early as Thursday. The UK and France are lobbying hard for action because of the alleged chemical attack.
Special Comment: Numerous pundits and experts have expounded on the need for the US to take action, the consequences of inaction, and the potential for a US attack to generate a regional conventional war. Curiously, they have not mentioned the probability of Iranian-instigated terrorist attacks in the US.
NightWatch has little to add to all that "wisdom," but prefers to comment on matters not covered.
Feedback from one of the finest analysts alive provided a reminder that the "bugs and gas" (biological and chemical warfare) lobby in US intelligence contains fine people who get few opportunities to shine. That's because of the limits of intelligence on bugs and gas. Next to nukes (nuclear weapons) they are the most protected weapons a country, such as Syria and North Korea, has.
As a result, studies of national capabilities and stock piles of bugs and gas are notoriously suspect, but err on the side of caution because a little goes a long way. As a result, the record of predictive accuracy tends to be poor. That record includes the inaccurate judgments about various weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.
The detection of actual use of bugs and gas agents and of the specific agents used, as during the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, is even harder. It always requires reliable and competently educated and specially trained investigators on the ground at the site. Actual use cannot be inferred from radio intercepts or any other indirect or remotely collected information source.
A second observation derives from the Russian use of a chemical agent in 2002 when Chechen terrorists held more than 700 Russian hostages in a Moscow theater. The Russians used a crowd suppression agent that killed 116 people, but enabled 650 to be rescued. The agent is not banned by the Geneva convention on chemical warfare.
If the Syrians used such an agent, which can be delivered by mortars and artillery as well as aircraft, there would be no international legal justification for attacking Syria based on the Geneva convention. It would not have been violated. The possibility that a non-banned substance was used makes it all the more urgent that competent investigators inspect the sites to identify the agent as well as the culprit.
A third observation is that the use of lethal gas is notoriously and inherently dangerous, often depending on the weather and the delivery system. It can blow back, in some instances, for miles. That is why military forces do not use it.
A fourth observation from Feedback from chemical warfare experts is that lethal gas kills effectively. There are no large numbers of people left alive but suffering. Victims die by the thousands. Survivors are few, if any. That is the lesson of Iraq's use of such weapons at Hallabjah against the Kurds and later against the Iranians. Casualty reports from Syria are precisely opposite of the lethality pattern in a chemical weapon attack.
A fifth observation is that US media have given Syrian forces more than enough warning to enable them to protect themselves and their weapons. Leaks about US attack plans represent either monumental incompetence in operational security or a deliberate effort to tip off the Syrians for arcane political purposes.
In either event, the leaks ensure that Syrian military forces will suffer no significant damage from a US attack. An attack under these conditions must be considered entertainment for the benefit of the international press instead of a serious military operation.
As for Syrian defense capabilities, Syria has a respectable integrated air defense system, but the Israelis have defeated it thrice in the past year. It poses no serious impediment to a missile or air attack except to the unwary or unlucky.
Syria has supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles that have a range of 300 nm. Syria will use them if it can acquire the US destroyers off its coast.
As for the value of limited punitive strikes, Syria already has shown that it can withstand limited, genuinely surgical, punitive attacks by the Israeli air force. The Israelis have attacked three times in the past 18 months and the Syrians have not retaliated. Apparently that is because the Israeli attacks have had no demonstrable impact on Hizballah's operations or Syria's prosecution of the fight against the opposition.
Syria is in an existential battle. Surgical, pin prick NATO attacks are trivial compared to the prospect of Syrian forces destroying the rebel concentrations east of Damascus. This means Syria might not retaliate for a US attack, but just continue to prosecute the fight. Iran and Lebanese Hizballah are the more dangerous sources of retaliation.
As for ripple effects, Iran is so heavily invested in the survival of the government in Syria that US and NATO planners must plan for retaliatory attacks in Western Europe, in the US, in the Persian Gulf states and everywhere the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force has a presence. Iran's responses will depend on the damage inflicted on Syria.
Concerning leading from behind, American audiences apparently are not aware that in Libya and in Mali, Western European air forces were unable to sustain combat flight and logistics operations without comprehensive US support, from intelligence to mission planning to all types of resupply. Some US military personnel are resentful because they received so little recognition for so much effort to compensate for European NATO lack of capabilities.
The notion of leading from behind is a political and media myth. NATO is incapable of sustaining any but the most elementary level of air combat for a minimal amount of time without comprehensive US support. That means the feel-good notion of a coalition of the willing is actually a cover term for US military operations with minimal NATO help for window dressing. This is not a criticism, it is a fact of European economics.
Egypt: Security. In Upper Egypt, a protestor died from police fire during an anti-government march in Bani Suwayf. Four people were injured.
In North Sinai, Egyptian news outlets reported that a suicide bomber attempted to blow up the police station at Shaykh Zuwayid. Armed insurgents also attacked the station, but were beaten back.
Political. According to a survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, only six percent of Egyptians approve allowing the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to participate in Egyptian political life.
Head of the center, Majid Uthman, indicated that the poll was based on a sample of 1,400 people who were surveyed through phone in the period of 19-21 August. The poll assessed Egyptians attitudes towards the MB after the 30 June ouster of the Mursi regime.
The poll found that 78 per cent of those polled held that the MB government in Egypt was worse than their expectation, while only three percent said it was better than what they expected.
Instability. The Egyptian state-run news agency MENA reported that on 26 August three people were killed in a fight over bread in a village in Asyut governorate.
Comment: The facts of this incident are incomplete, thus any judgments are tentative. Nevertheless, fights over bread constitute a critical indicator of stress in a society. Stress often leads to instability.
Shortages of bread influenced the uprisings in Tunisia and in Egypt more than a year ago. Today's report is the first of its kind, but reinforces the hypothesis that the underlying economic causes of stress in Egypt are still not being addressed.
End of NightWatch for 27 August.
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