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NightWatch 20111222

NightWatch

For the night of 21 December 2011

North Korea: North Korea is demanding that foreigners either remain in their homes or leave the country. Pyongyang authorities ordered some foreigners to leave, according to Chinese nationals who frequently visit North Korea.

A Chinese student in Pyongyang said North Korean professors ordered their Chinese and Russian students to avoid leaving their residences. According to a Chinese man who flew out of Pyongyang on 20 December, foreigners were not allowed to leave their accommodations after the announcement of Kim Jong Il's death on the 19th.

North Korea also is deporting some foreigners from Pyongyang, Sinuiju and the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone, Chosun reported on 21 December. Missionaries and US businessmen engaged in charity work in Rajin-Sonbong and Sinuiju have been forced to leave. North Korea is preventing foreigners from entering the country and will not issue any new visas until after 29 December.

Comment: Control of foreigners, including expulsion, is one of the national civil readiness measures prescribed in a semi-war state of alert, which is a preparatory stage of war preparations for an attack as well as for defense against an attack. Such measures are out of sync with a global and increasingly integrated economic system, but for North Korea they are normal during conditions of stress, such as leadership change.

Kim Jong un's first military order, according to Korean news services, was to order all military units to return to garrison. His military mentors, most likely Vice Marshal Ri, the chief of the General Staff, had him sign this order on 18 December. This also is prescribed in a semi-war state of alert for rear and mobile military units. For forward forces just north of the Demilitarized Zone, they are supposed to report to wartime defenses and commence tunnel living.

Comment: The context for this order is that the annual Winter Training Cycle for the Korean People's Army began on 1 December. Winter is the period of the most intense and extensive training for the entire Army.

In December, which is the first month of the cycle, soldiers are in classrooms or at shooting ranges and other basic field training sites for the early phases of the cycle. The cycle culminates in large unit - corps- and multiple corps- echelon -- field exercises in early spring.

Confining units to garrison means the early phases of the training cycle have been interrupted and the entire cycle must be truncated by at least a month. Army readiness peaks in April, after the cycle ends and remedial training is completed for units that failed to meet standards. The Army cannot now meet that schedule without sacrificing readiness.

The North Korean Marshals and Generals will appreciate that the coming year will be a period of extraordinary military vulnerability until the summer training cycle is completed. They may be expected to be prickly and prone to violence over perceived provocations by the Allies.

The order to confine troops to barracks during a time of internal stress always means the leadership does not trust its lower echelons of leadership. It does not want troops to have access to live ammunition and will not risk normal training because of the danger of a military revolt.

Special comment: The succession of Kim Chong il in 1994 was not peaceful or smooth, despite western punditry and North Korean propaganda. There were multiple assassination attempts against Kim Chong il during his first year as leader, although he was his father's understudy for more than a dozen years. An entire North Korean Army Corps revolted against him in early 1995 and requested American and South Korean assistance, which it did not receive. Its leaders fled to China. The corps was disbanded.

Despite the North Korean propaganda and the shallow Western news coverage, the succession of Kim Jong un is likely to be much more unstable than was Kim Chong il's, once the mourning period ends in January 2012.

All the video reports and written news items on the home pages of the Korean Central News Agency stress that the Army and the people support Kim Jong un. Every video of Kim Chong-il during his life shows Kim Jong un in the background. But all the images are quite recent and they are few. Kim Chong-il did not take his designated heir everywhere with him, as his father did with him.

Moreover, the videos and other reports do not mention that the communist party or the government support Kim Jong un. The Army always is listed or mentioned first. The North Korean people will understand that for now they are under army rule.

Finally, North Korea is an oriental despotism as described by Professor Karl August Wittfogel in his seminal book "Oriental Despotism." It is not inscrutable or unpredictable or mysterious. It is Asian.

That means that an extended royal family governs and risks being destroyed if the government changes. It will exhibit no interest in reform that jeopardizes its status and life style.

That family pampers and depends on the loyalty of the armed forces leaders. That means that every army corps commander has a villa, Mercedes Benz personal vehicles, Rolex watches, flat screen HD TVs and all the luxuries that North Korean can afford. Kim Chong il never neglected his senior commanders and they are now in charge of national security.

All of that means that peace with South Korea is highly unlikely because the generals and vice marshals will lose their life style and the Army will lose its reason for existence.

Internal economic reform will be measured by whether it helps the Kim extended family. The young Kim is a victim of the decisions of his grandfather and father.

Anecdote: South Korea's director of the National Intelligence Service told the press today that US satellite photos show that all of the leadership trains used by Kim Chong-il were in their normal parking areas in Pyongyang rail yards on 17 December, the day Kim died.

This means that Kim could not have died on a train during a field tour, as the Pyongyang government announced on the 19th, and as the official media broadcast. He died with no heroics.

On the 18th, however, the North Koreans did move a leadership train from Pyongyang, apparently and belatedly recognizing their gaff.

The South Korean intelligence chief reported that Kim most likely died in bed, or at least in Pyongyang. The story about dying on the train was part of the mythology the North Koreans love to indulge, but which no North Koreans believe.

Final comment: The New York Times published an absurd article about a massive intelligence failure because the US did not know that Kim was dying in his villa in Pyongyang, and learned of his death from official North Korean press statements ... as it did when Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

The intelligence failure thesis reveals an ingénue's complete misunderstanding of US intelligence. No one knows or can know when a national leader is dying suddenly, including the Chinese, even in a Web 2.0 world. There is no App for dying national leaders.

Turkey-Libya: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Libyan National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdel-Jalil agreed to train the Libyan army in Turkey, Abdel-Jalil said on 21 December after visiting Istanbul the week of 11 December.

Comment: The announcement reinforces the emergence of Turkey as a model for Sunni, Islamist democracy. The announcement is potentially good news for the US because it implies that the future Libyan Army will be trained in the image and likeness of NATO forces.

Turkey-Israel: The Israeli and Turkish air forces have re-established lines of communication as part of the countries' efforts to improve relations, a senior Israeli air force officer said on 21 December. The Israeli air force might invite Turkey to participate in a large-scale international aerial drill in Israel in 2013, the officer said.

Comment: The media reports provided no explanation for the change of heart. Turkey terminated such contacts over Israeli enforcement of a blockade of the Gaza Strip. The obvious inference is that Turkey, or at least the air force, has had an epiphany that depicts Israel as less the enemy than other potential regional threats.

Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki urged Kurdish officials to hand over Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terror charges and threatened to replace ministers who belong to the Sunni Arab Iraqiyah bloc if they do not end a Cabinet boycott.

Al-Maliki said Baghdad will not accept any interference in Iraqi justice and that ministers have no right to suspend their membership in the government. If the ministers do not come back for the next Cabinet meeting, he will appoint replacements.

Local leaders, in addition to Vice President al-Hashimi, are involved in violence, Prime Minister al-Maliki said at a news conference in Baghdad on 21 December. He also called for the arrest of his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, for sabotaging the political process.

Al-Maliki said he gave videotapes incriminating al-Hashimi's security personnel to President Jalal Talabani and late Chief of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Abdel Aziz al-Hakim in 2008, but the leaders asked him to put the case on hold to ensure success in the political process. Al-Maliki said he has similar files proving the other leaders' involvement and that he will reveal their identities if they do not stop using violence.

Comment: In effect, Maliki has announced a pending purge of Sunni Arab political leaders, three days after the departure of the last American soldiers. It is an extraordinary act of defiance to consolidate Iraq as an Arab Shiite state before other groups and sects can act to prevent it.

Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said it will cooperate with judicial decisions from the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council regarding Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, Kurdistan Alliance member Mahmoud Othman said. Othman asked the judiciary to declare an arrest warrant and said the alliance will leave this decision process to the judiciary.

Comment: The logic of political events this week leads towards a resumption of civil war next year. The Kurds no longer have the US as their protector and they lack the strength, politically and militarily, to protect the Sunni Arabs. Together they can cooperate to defend their territories, but al Maliki is making it clear that Iraq is the first Arab Shiite state.

That probably explains the Sunni Arab determination, with obvious outside Sunni Arab financial support, to overthrow the Alawite government in Damascus to prevent the formation of a Shiite belt from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean Sea. To Sunnis, the spread of the Shiite heresy and apostasy means the return of fitna … chaos. Iraq is lost to the Sunni Arabs, for now, and the new battle lines against the Shiism are being drawn in Syria.

End of NightWatch for 21 December.

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