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NightWatch 20101116

NightWatch

For the Night of 16 November 2010

North Korea: A South Korean official said Wednesday, 17 November, that the Seoul government is keeping a close watch on North Korea in response to reports of unusual activity at the North Korean nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, in northeastern North Korea. The concern is that the activity could be preparations for a third nuclear test.

Japan's Sankei Shimbun reported that recent satellite imagery detected tunneling and an increase in the level of activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where the North detonated its second nuclear explosion last year.

"It appears to be true that some preparations are under way there, but we're not sure what they are for," an unidentified foreign ministry official said.

Comment: This is the second time that news services have reported increased activity at Punggye-ri this year. The North Korean government has strong motives for a third nuclear detonation, including to demonstrate that it is genuinely a nuclear weapons-capable state; to improve its nuclear weapons science and to play on fears that the North might proliferate nuclear weapons science, as the recent UN report found, in order to extort concessions from the US in future talks.

A third test would generate significant negative international blowback, but ultimately would reshape the future negotiating environment in the North's favor.

A final point is that the North Korean media associate heir-apparent Kim Chong-un with "cutting edge technology," for reasons not evident in his background or education, as it is known. A successful test attributed to his "genius and leadership" would enhance his standing as the heir apparent and rightful leader into a hi-tech future. That is the completely fabricated leitmotif the communist propagandists use to try to generate domestic respect for the heir-apparent, who has no revolutionary, military or communist credentials.

In short, the youngest Kim needs a big blast he can call his own. The evidence in open source channels does not indicate a nuclear blast is planned, much less imminent. But concerned Allies should be making their contingency response preparations because increased levels of activity at Punggye-ri are a warning indicator of general intent.

North Korea-US: A Clinton administration specialist on North Korea and retired US Army officer, who visited North Korea last week, told reporters that North Korea has begun construction of a light water nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

"What they told us is that they are building a light-water reactor at Yongbyon," Jack Pritchard said. "Physically, it is slightly in front of where the old cooling tower was located. We observed for ourselves the relatively early stage….North Koreans want to complete the construction of a 100-megawatt light-water reactor that "will only provide enough electricity for the immediate area of Yongbyon... by 2012."

Pritchard said, "They described it as experimental in nature….They are trying to build on their own a relatively small light-water reactor to ensure that they can build one. If it is successful, from there, they intend to build a larger one."

He estimated the size of the reactor being built at "probably 70 to 75 foot square" and "60 or so feet in diameter." He said the reactor is "one tenth the size that was originally being built at Kumho-Sinpo on the east coast of North Korea by the defunct, US and South Korean-backed Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO)."

"...Everything under construction in Pyongyang has a due date for the final construction of 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il sung" said Pritchard, who has made 13 visits to North Korea. "Quite frankly, we are skeptical."

Comment: Pritchard is the first eye witness to confirm reports earlier this year that construction had resumed at Yongbyon. The earlier reports, based on satellite imagery, were unable to identify the nature and purpose of the construction, which Pritchard has supplied. The North's nuclear program is alive and well, for an impoverished country.

The year 2012 is the target year for the country to become a "great, powerful and prosperous nation." Prosperity in two years is a pipe dream, but the campaign justifies imposition of extra heavy exertions and production quotas on the labor force.

KEDO, a now-defunct international consortium, was established to oversee construction of two 1,000-megawatt light-water reactors in North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's nuclear freeze. It stopped the project in 2003 after the U.S. accused North Korea of running a clandestine uranium-based nuclear program. Up to that point, during the Bush administration, the North had honored its freeze of the reactor at Yongbyon for ten years; launched no ballistic missiles and detonated no nuclear tests.

The North will never give up its nuclear program because it is desperate for cheap energy. Light water reactors use low enriched uranium for fuel and thus are less capable of efficiently producing fissile material for weapons. Weapons grade material can be manufactured using fuel from a light water reactor; it just takes longer and costs more to produce.

On the other hand, a successful North Korean light water power reactor design would have a huge and ready market in Asia and Africa.

Pakistan: For the record. The Daily Times published today an essay by former Chief of Army Staff and President Musharraf. It is titled "Don't Mess with Pakistan." This essay also was printed in Newsweek.

The essay is an essentially accurate and fairly balanced short history of Pakistan. It appeals to all the prejudices Pakistanis hold against India, Russia and the United States. Musharraf leaves out a few key facts but overall it is accurate to the intelligence. Three paragraphs are excerpted below because of their cogency and accuracy in describing the Pakistani world view.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 presented Pakistan with a security threat from two directions: Soviets to the west, who wanted access to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan, and Indians to the east. Once again Pakistan joined hands with the United States to fight Moscow.

We called it jihad by design, this effort to attract mujahideen from all over the Muslim world. And from Morocco to Indonesia, some 25,000 of them came. We trained and armed Taliban from the madrassahs of the then North West Frontier Province, and pushed them into Afghanistan. By this time, the liberal and intellectual Afghan elite had left for the safer climes of Europe and the U.S., leaving behind a largely poor, religious-minded population to fight the 10-year jihad. We-Pakistan, the U.S., the West, and Saudi Arabia-are equally responsible for nourishing the militancy that defeated the Soviet Union in 1989, and which seeks now to defeat us all.

The Soviets quit Kabul, and the Americans abandoned Islamabad. Washington rewarded its once indispensable ally by invoking the Pressler Amendment and imposing military sanctions, and by choosing to foster a strategic relationship with India. Pakistan was left alone to deal with the nearly 4 million Afghans who had streamed into our country and became the world's largest refugee population. The people of Pakistan felt betrayed and used. For Pakistan, the decade of disaster had begun. No efforts were made to deprogram, rehabilitate, and resettle the mujahideen or redevelop and build back war-ravaged Afghanistan. This shortsightedness led to ethnic fighting, warlordism, and Afghanistan's dive into darkness. The mujahideen coagulated into Al Qaeda. The Taliban, who would emerge as a force in 1996, eventually would occupy 90 percent of the country, ramming through their obscurantist medievalism.

A couple of points stand out. Musharraf claims Pakistan volunteered to join the coalition to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. This is a patent lie. Musharraf refused to cooperate in 2001 and had to be persuaded.

More accurately, he said that Pakistan joined the US to prevent India from gaining an upper hand in the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. Thus, under Musharraf, Pakistani cooperation always served its anti-India national security goals. That remains the case today.

The final point is Musharraf's expectation, or fear, that the "coalition" will abandon Afghanistan again, as it has in the past and will leave Pakistan with 30,000 dead who will have died for nothing.

This essay is part of Musharraf's program to prepare for his return to Pakistani politics. He still sees himself in messianic terms as the man who can rescue Pakistan from incompetent leadership and militant attacks. He is preparing to return and is determined to lead once again.

Pakistan-US: For the record. "Pakistan has been the primary victim of international militancy and curbing it is in Islamabad's interests," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake said on 16 November, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. He said that increasingly, it is difficult to differentiate between militant groups in the region, saying that they are increasingly acting as a syndicate. He said that U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear that Pakistan is the primary victim.

U.S. President Barack Obama's recent three-day visit to India was not meant to counterbalance China's growing global influence in any way, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said, PTI reported 16 November. Blake said the trip was more about expanding and supporting India's role in global and Asian institutions, a growth that need not come at the expense of China. Blake said both Obama and India want a positive and cooperative relationship with China and do not seek to contain it.

Comment: These are odd statements and their timing is infelicitous.  For example, it is not normally the role of an assistant secretary of state to clarify the statements of a US President or correct perceptions about the purposes of his actions. Assistant secretaries are often deliberately left in the dark about larger strategic purposes.

Some of the statements are factually wrong. Others are superficial and pointless. Plus no leaders in Islamabad, New Delhi or Beijing will credit them. Odd, coming so soon after the President left Asia.

Afghanistan: The German army is planning to escalate operations against the Afghan Taliban, German State Secretary of Defense Christian Schmidt said 16 November, DPA reported. The announcement came after a successful offensive to drive the Taliban out of Chahar Darah District, Konduz Province, according to Major General Hans-Werner Fritz, the International Security Assistance Force's northern Afghanistan commander.

Schmidt said the Chahar Darah offensive proved the worth of an offensive strategy against Taliban nests, but he also said that Taliban influence does not necessarily always need to be pushed back with violence. Fritz said the surge of troops into the country this year has resulted in more battles and attacks but that forces can now go into areas they were previously unable to enter.

Comment: In the past three years, the German contingent in Konduz has mounted at least six offensives against the Taliban in Chahar Darah District, which is the center of the Pashtun insurgency in Konduz because Pashtun are the majority in that district. All Taliban combat actions radiate from Chahar Darah.

The Germans have proclaimed victory repeatedly, only to be embarrassed by aggressive Taliban attacks in retaliation. The Pashtun fighters simply avoid combat and move to welcoming Pashtun communities in other districts of Konduz. The fight in Konduz is fundamentally ethnic and the Taliban protect the Pashtuns.

For the record. Afghan U.N. Ambassador Zahir Tanin asked the UN Security Council to remove 10 Taliban members from the list of individuals of the Taliban and al Qaida subject to UN sanctions, adding that reconciliation and reintegration of former combatants is crucial for lasting peace and security in Afghanistan. Speaking at an open U.N. Security Council meeting, Tanin asked the sanctions committee to consider removing other names submitted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

Comment: This is a substantive initiative to create an atmosphere conducive to talks with the Taliban. It might not work, but it is noteworthy.

End of NightWatch for 16 November.

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