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NightWatch 20111104

NightWatch

For the night of 4 November 2011

North Korea-South Korea: South Korea plans to build a natural gas power plant in North Korea if Pyongyang allows a natural gas pipeline linking South Korea and Russia to pass through North Korean territory, Dong-a Ilbo reported on 3 November. According to a source in the ruling Grand National Party of South Korea, Seoul is considering building the plant in lieu of offering cash that Pyongyang might misuse.

Comment: The natural gas power plant deal is a carbon-fuel Russian variation of the Agreed Framework deal. In the Agreed Framework a South Korean-led consortium backed by the US was to have built light water nuclear reactor electric power plants in North Korea. Most of the power would have been sent to South Korea because of the inability of the North Korean electric power delivery and distribution system to handle a consistently steady high power electrical load. Most of the power lines in North Korea simply would have burned up, had the light water reactors ever become operational.

In the natural gas plant deal, the Russians substitute for the US and the natural gas plant substitutes for light water reactors. The natural gas pipeline to South Korea replicates the new high voltage lines that would have been constructed to deliver cheap North Korean-generated power to South Korea.

It is too soon to tell whether this will work, but the North went for such a deal once. NightWatch advised the US to repeat what worked in the past with North Korea. The Russians appear to have figured it out.

Pakistan: Comment. An inflammatory US news story claimed that Pakistan has started moving its nuclear weapons in low-security vans on congested roads to hide them from U.S. spy agencies, making the weapons more vulnerable to theft by Islamist militant.

The authenticity of the allegations of movements cannot be determined from open source material. What is known however is that the Pakistanis store their nuclear weapons and delivery systems according to the Chinese model, in disassembled fashion.

Nothing about this storage practice makes it vulnerable to terrorists to steal all the parts required to make a weapon because there is no weapon, just parts that require assembly and the parts are stored far away from each other.

In this system, the Pakistan Army itself, not individual soldiers or guards, would have to be in complicity for a theft to result in a fully assembled weapon mated to a delivery system. Moving parts to new storage sites is not a vulnerability so long as the critical parts never come together under the control of competent technicians.

If this story is accurate, the Pakistanis probably just want to reduce their vulnerability to nuclear-destruction-vulnerability blackmail by the US or anyone else. Rotating locations is a good security practice.

Afghanistan: The US State Department said US civilian aid to Afghanistan has peaked and Washington is shifting from funding stabilization projects in Afghanistan to long-term sustainable development at lower funding levels.

In a congressional status report on civilian efforts in Afghanistan, the State Department said US economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan fell to $2.5 billion in 2011, down from $4.1 billion in 2010. The report said future U.S. aid will focus on economic growth, infrastructure and educational development.

Comment: Afghans will understand that the facts establish the declining aid as another indicator of US withdrawal.

Taliban. Mullah Mohammad Omar gave a speech on 4 November that called for followers to avoid civilian casualties, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reported. Mullah Omar called for Afghans to renounce the International Security Assistance Force to protect their lives, wealth and honor. He added that the people should stay informed about the activities of the Islamic Emirate through its spokesmen, websites and news media.

Comment: This is the second speech since the end of Ramadan. Omar is becoming bolder, as he senses the approach of the end game in Afghanistan.

Iran-US: The United States announced that it will not impose new economic sanctions against Iran's central bank in retaliation for the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US on US soil.

The proposed sanctions could disrupt international oil markets and further damage the US and global economies, and such moves would face resistance from other governments. Instead, the United States will seek to persuade key Iranian trading partners such as South Korea, Japan and the Persian Gulf states to enforce existing sanctions. The United States will also add more narrowly focused sanctions.

Comment: The Iranians will understand that this decision means the US will hold individual Iranians accountable for the acts of the Iranian government. That is no punishment and strange policy because it seems to be a peculiarly American view of accountability. That is how US administrative law applies to bureaucrats who abuse or exceed their authority, who act ultra vires. Even in the US acting ultra vires is not a crime, per se.

This US back down against Iran undermines the case for an assassination plot. What was described as an act of war last month has now devolved into an unenforceable slap on the wrist for Iranian officials who made the mistake of trading overseas.

Syria: The Interior Ministry announced today that "insurgents" can turn themselves in to authorities by 12 November to qualify for amnesty. Citizens, who carried, sold, delivered, transported or funded the buying of weapons, but who did not commit crimes, will be freed immediately after surrendering themselves and their weapons to the nearest police station, according to the report.

Comment: This is the first time a government ministry has admitted that the government is fighting insurgents, as translated by English news services. The term carries enormous baggage so it would be useful to know what Arabic word the Syrian government announcement used and the multiple meanings it has in English and in an Arabic context.

As for the substance of the announcement, no opposition person in possession of her or his faculties would pay any attention to the amnesty offer.

Kenya-Eritrea: The government in Nairobi threatened to take unspecified action against Eritrea because of reports that the Eritreans are supplying the Somali militant group al-Shabaab. In a news conference in Nairobi, an official said that he had "raised concern" about intelligence Kenya has showing arms flowing from Eritrea to al-Shabaab.

United Nations investigators also have accused Eritrea of arming al-Shabaab. Eritea has repeatedly denied the allegations, most recently this week, and calls the accusations "outright lies."

It is almost a given that Eritrea is and has been one of the main backers of al Shabaab as part of a proxy fight against Ethiopia. Al Shabaab forces Ethiopian forces to fight on two fronts.

The reinforced Kenyan brigade in Somalia is helping correct the imbalance in the threat against non-Islamic countries in east Africa.

Kenya-US: A US Army sergeant died in Kenya this week, reportedly in a bar room brawl. The sergeant was a native-born Kenyan citizen in the US Army who served in Afghanistan. His family does not accept the account of his death and the US Army will provide no information.

The family told international news services that they suspect the sergeant died in operations supporting the Kenyan Army. If so, this sergeant would be the first US Army casualty in the latest expansion of the US wars. More when received.

Greece: Prime Minister Papandreou survived tonight's vote of confidence in the Greek parliament. No analysts quite know what that means.

Cyprus: Moody's Investors Service downgraded Cyprus' sovereign bond ratings two notches to Baa3, saying the Cypriot government must support the banking sector in 2012 to protect against Greek bond exposure. The rating will be reviewed for more possible downgrade.

Comment: This is a ripple effect from the Greek financial situation. It is an example of how collapse can spread.

Tunisia: The Islamist-led Tunisian government will focus on human rights, a free-market economy and democracy in the planned changes to the constitution, leaving religion out of the text, Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi said on 4 November. Sharia and other Islamic concepts will not alter the secular constitution of the new government, which will be announced the week of 7 November, he said.

Comment: Tunisia would be the first Arab state to enact a constitution that does not refer to Sharia as the source of its authority. The content of the draft constitution will be the measure of the Tunisian revolution, then.

End of NightWatch for 4 November .

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