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NightWatch 20110113

NightWatch

For the Night of 12January 2011

North Korea: For the record. Two separate South Korean news services reported that the transition leadership supporting Kim Chong-eun has instituted purges and executions of those not loyal to the new leadership-to-be. The purges and public executions reportedly began last month, but are said to be continuing.

Comment: Open source confirmation of the purges will take time. The North Koreans have an image problem, nevertheless. The transitional leadership is being described by defectors and hostile press as cruel and barbaric. The official North Korean news outlets have done nothing to counter those images.

What is known is that Kim Chong-il used the same tactics to eliminate opponents and doubters about his legitimacy as ruler. Execution of the losers is the way of some oriental despotisms. Less barbaric Asian states send opposition leaders into semi-permanent exile. Purges, thus, are normal features of leadership transitions in North Korea, but they always indicate the leadership has weak support

China- US: CJCS Admiral Mullen said today that China's high-tech military capabilities, including the radar-evading stealth J-20 fighter, focus on America.

China has every right to develop military capabilities, Mullen said, adding that he cannot understand why many appear to target the United States despite North Korea's being an evolving threat to the region and to the United States. If Pyongyang obtains long-range nuclear missile capabilities, its provocations may become more catastrophic, Mullen stated, adding that China must pressure North Korean leadership to cease development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and expansion of nuclear weapons capability.

Comment: It is difficult to accept at face value that Admiral Mullen does not understand the Chinese obsession with the threat from the United States.

Taking the statement at face value - and not as an act of political manipulation - it implies that the J2 and J5 staffs have failed to brief him about the origins of Chinese national defense strategy since the death of Deng Xiao Ping. If the Chairman's statement is genuine and not posturing, it is astonishing.

Older hands will recall that the Chinese and North Koreans were impressed by three US operations. The first was Desert Strom in 1991 and 1992. The second was the US response to the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996 and the third was the US role in the conflict over Kosovo in 1998.

Someone should have briefed Admiral Mullen, as old hands briefed his predecessors, that US capabilities demonstrated in those conflicts shaped Chinese weapons decisions and their consequences are now apparent.

Starting with Deng - and including Hu Jin tao last year -- every recent Chinese leader has assessed and stated that Chinese military forces are not yet capable of winning a war under modern conditions. The measure of modern capabilities always is the United States armed forces.

Thus the Chinese have sought to develop defenses against stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and helicopter attacks, all of whose advanced capabilities were demonstrated in those conflicts, plus the intimidating power of US aircraft carrier task forces.

Its analyses of and conclusions from US operations are prudent, under the circumstances. The US is the only successful model of a superpower and China has followed that model. If China ever has a conflict over Taiwan, it stands no chance of winning if it is not prepared to fight the only superpower.

Chinese military writings about the strategic implications of globalization, however, have refined the insights from the 1990s. Chinese strategists now write about the need to defend China's national or national strategic interests in maritime, air, space and cyber environments, both near and abroad. The theoretical writings go far beyond simplistic ideas of sea area denial, denial of access and air defense. Those are just immediate tasks. The Chinese strategic vision is much broader.

The only realistic obstacle or adversary is the US. That is not hard to understand.

Pakistan: Special comment. Prime Minister Gilani restated to US Vice President Biden Pakistan's policy of non-intervention in the affairs of Afghanistan, which was supposed to be a statement of reassurance.

It would have been more productive for Pakistan to offer the help of is border paramilitary forces and even regiments of the Pakistan Army's Frontier Force battalions to operate with Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan to beat the Taliban.

The requirement is not for hands-off, but for creative ways to service mutual goals. Reinforcements by Pakistan paramilitary and regular military forces are the only manpower reserves that can start to make a difference in improving security in the border areas.

Not feckless and futile offensives in North Waziristan, but new modes of cooperation along the main trade and border crossing routes between the two countries. Pakistani leaders have to decide about who they are. Right now Pakistani leaders remain lost and misguided.

Lebanon: The year-old unity government collapsed Wednesday, 12 January, after Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned over tensions stemming from a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The walkout ushers in the country's worst political crisis since 2008 .

"This cabinet has become a burden on the Lebanese, unable to do its work," Energy Minister Jibran Bassil said at a news conference announcing the resignations, flanked by the other ministers who are stepping down. "We are giving a chance for another government to take over

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain leader, cut short a visit to Washington after meeting with President Obama. Hariri made no public comment after meeting Obama, but the official said Obama offered U.S. support.

He was heading to Paris where he will meet French President Sarkozy on Thursday, his office in Beirut said. Hariri planned to hold consultations on his government's collapse while in France, then would return to Beirut, according to an official in Hariri's delegation.

The tribunal is widely expected to name members of Hezbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could re-ignite sectarian tensions that have plagued the tiny country for decades.

Comment: The collapse of the government is a short term setback for Saudi Arabia and Syria who had agreed on a stabilization plan. It might be a setback for the US which backed Hariri, but that depends on Hariri. The rule of thumb from old hands is that every Lebanese political arrangement is temporary. Hariri's government lasted longer than most.

Tunisia: President Ben Ali fired his Minister of Interior because of abuses by the police in suppressing civil protests. Human rights activists affirm that the chief of the army was dismissed two days ago, but the government has not announced the name of a replacement.

Comment: At this point the prospect of a praetorian coup by the security forces is more likely than a populist revolutionary movement. The demonstrators show no organization; their demands are inchoate and they have no guns.

On the other hand, some reports indicate Ben Ali is losing the support of the security establishment. That is a key indicator of a praetorian coup by the forces who took an oath to defend the government. If this week's disorders abate soon, Ben Ali is likely to be replaced by the Army.

Feedback: Expert Readers on the Maghreb advise Readers to watch for ripple effects in other states of northern Africa and extending to the Levant. High unemployment and high prices for staples affect every state from Morocco to Jordan. Every government is at risk.

End of NightWatch for 12 January.

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