For the night of 3 December 2012
North Korea: The government announced closure areas off the west coast missile launch range for a long range rocket or missile launch between 10 and 22 December. The Unha-3 rocket will carry a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite, according to the Korean Central News Agency. The last rocket launch attempt in April was a failure.
Comment: There will be a launch this month. All the activity reported by open source imagery analysts is consistent with genuine, high cost launch preparations. The timing remains uncertain, but that may be determined by the location of the fuel and the time it takes to assemble the upper stages of the rocket in the gantry. The North will launch when it is as ready as it may be.
Some analysts judge that the timing of the launch is intended to influence South Korean presidential elections on 19 December. A North Korean power demonstration would seem to encourage election of another hard line South Korean president. It is difficult to understand how that would serve any North Korean strategic interests.
The North acts as if it is pursuing a scientific research program, rather than a provocation that risks war. It has announced the launch window and the flight path, including splash down east of the Philippines. The North is asserting a sovereign right to shoot a rocket into the open ocean.
The political ripple effects do not seem as important to this Kim regime as they were during the regimes of Kim Il-sung and Kim Chong-il. The goal now appears to be to gain regional acceptance that the North Koreans have a credible science program.
The argument is a deception because long range rocket research supports long range ballistic missile development, especially for the first and second stages of the rocket. All nations with missile programs have done the same. The North insists it has the same right to launch scientific rocket experiments as China, Japan, South Korea and India, among others.
In so doing, it is attempting to lull its enemies into acceptance of a fundamentally lethal missile development program. North Korea has no practical use for a space launch program except as a cover for a ballistic missile weapons program.
Reaction. Criticism of North Korea has been worldwide. The Russian and Chinese foreign ministries on Monday urged North Korea to scrap plans for launching a second multi-stage rocket. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the move would run counter to UN Security Council restrictions. China urged "all sides" to remain "calm and restrained and not take any moves to worsen the problem.
Comment: The Chinese have made clear to North Korea in multiple encounters, meetings and speeches that their paramount interest is in stability, by which they mean no provocations in northeast Asia that could escalate to war or interfere with economic development in northeast Asia. The North Koreans appear to be defying the Chinese, just as they did in April.
Syria: Today Western news services reported that Syrian chemical warfare military units are positioning the components of binary chemical weapons in such a fashion that they can be employed in defense of the Asad regime. The best services have reported credible details of the activities that indicate the nerve agent Sarin might be used against the opposition in order to save the regime.
Comment: The regime has asserted that it will never use chemical weapons against its citizens. The regime also states that the opposition fighters are foreigners backed by the US, the West and the Sunni Arab monarchies. Thus, the stage is set for the use of chemical weapons to defend the regime. To do less, would be irresponsible, as the regime has defined the situation.
Preparations for chemical weapons attacks represent an option for the regime at this point, to protect itself and betray its understanding that the security situation calls for desperate measures. There are no down sides to using chemical weapons if the regime is in danger of collapse. Asad is damned if he uses them and might be dead if he does not.
In 1989, Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Arab army used non-persistent chemical weapons to defeat the Persians, Kurds and Shiite Arabs in successive battles that ended the Eight Years War against Iran. The US, Saddam's ally at the time, said nothing.
That was then; this is now, as Winston Churchill famously said. Use of chemical weapons might justify insertion of US special forces teams to neutralize those that are known to US intelligence. The problem is that the extent and dispersal of the Syrian arsenal of such weapons is probably second only to North Korea's.
Egypt: All the judges in Egypt are on strike to protest President Mursi's new constitution. The highest court suspended its operations because of pro-Mursi agitators outside the court building.
Over the weekend, pro- and anti-Mursi groups in the tens of thousands demonstrated in Cairo. Mursi announced that on 15 December Egypt would hold a referendum on the new constitution, which is strongly Islamist. With the courts on strike, there would seem to be little need for a rush and less time to prepare for an accurate and valid sample of public views on a constitution that has some 240 articles.
On 4 December, opponents of the new constitution will hold a major rally in Cairo. Violence seems unavoidable.
Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council -- the highest administrative body overseeing courts -- agreed Monday to oversee the national referendum on the new constitution.
Comment: The decision by the Supreme Judicial Council, which is an administrative body not a court, lends a fig leaf of legitimacy to the referendum. There will be a vote by all who do not boycott the referendum, but the outcome will not be an accurate measure of public support because there is insufficient time to prepare. This is a deliberately rigged procedure.
In light of Mursi's assumption of supreme power, Readers would be justified in doubting that Mursi would comply with a popular rejection of the Islamist constitution and would continue his one-man rule. He has set himself above the law so his compliance with constitutional limits on his power depends on his acceptance of such limits at any given time. He might change his mind and suspend the constitution.
End of NightWatch for 3 December.
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