North Korea: Kim Chong-il's birthday is 16 February. The day is being marked by rallies and tributes.
China-North Korea: China announced it will invest US$3 billion in the Rason special economic zone in northeastern North Korea. Under the deal, by 2020 China would build an airport, a power plant, a cross-border railway and improve the port facilities in the North's Rason economic zone bordering China and Russia. The 55-kilometre cross-border railway track will connect Rason with the Chinese city of Tumen. In return, China secured the right to use the Rason port for 50 years.
Comment: The development of the Rajin-Sonbong (aka, Rason) special economic zone was a Kim Chong-il experiment 20 years ago The location is ideal for trade because proximity to Russian and Chinese railroads would significantly reduce the costs and time of Japanese shipping to Europe. It never attracted investors because the area has almost no infrastructure. Plus, the North wanted investors to build the infrastructure as well as invest in the project. Thus it languished.
Chinese companies are prepared to make the extra investment as part of the national plan to develop northeastern China. They are undertaking projects of this nature in Afghanistan and Indonesia, among other countries. The aim in the Rason project is to pass on the costs ultimately to the Japanese shippers and consumers.
The timing of the latest update to the project obviously was calculated to coincide with the birthday of Kim Chong-il. China now has large economic projects on both ends of the North Korean border. The other is near Sinuiju in northwestern North Korea. North Korea's border areas are being developed as extensions of the Chinese economic system. North Korea has no other benefactor since relations with the South remain strained. That is tonight's good news on many levels.
Pakistan: In the past three days, several Pakistani and western news services have reported the formation of the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council, the Defend Pakistan Council. This coalition of Islamist groups and parties, many of them officially banned, held a large anti-US rally in Karachi on 12 February. It announced its intention to stage a large anti-US demonstration outside the National Assembly in Islamabad on 20 February to protest the reopening of supply routes to trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Comment: Pakistani news services reported that this new ultra-nationalist and Islamist coalition was formed after the 26 November killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US airstrike. It is virulently anti-American and anti-Indian and strongly supports the Afghan Taliban.
This group could not organize and demonstrate in public without substantial official support. The most likely backers are elements in the security establishment, including the Pakistan Army leadership.
Every Chief of Army Staff who had political ambitions, especially Musharraf, formed political alliances with the Islamists to undermine the influence of the landed gentry and the urban mercantile elite. During Musharraf's tenure in the 2002 elections, Islamists won outright control of the government in then Northwest Frontier Province, led the coalition government in Baluchistan and were the swing vote in the National Assembly.
The Defend Pakistan Council is emerging as a revived Army-Islamist political coalition to prepare for political change. Parliamentary elections are not due until 2013, but many politicians expect early elections in 2012, in connection with the possible contempt conviction of Prime Minister Gilani. This is a serious political development.
Iran-Europe: An Iranian Oil Ministry spokesman said state media reports are false that Iran plans to stop crude oil exports to Europe. Iran's Supreme National Security Council would announce such a decision if made, the spokesman said. Earlier on the 15th, state media announced that Iran had decided to stop exports to six European countries.
Comment: The European Commission reacted to the media announcement by announcing that an Iranian cut off would not affect EU buyers much because the buyers already planned to switch suppliers. The European Union also is working to ban blacklisted Iranian banks from using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (Swift), a financial communications and clearing system, according to senior US and European officials.
Syria: Update. President al-Asad announced on 15 February that a referendum on a draft constitution will be held on 26 February. State media said the new constitution will establish political pluralism.
Militants blew up an oil pipeline in Homs that carries diesel fuel to Damascus and southern Syria.
Comment: Asad promised a new constitution 11 months ago as part of his political reform program. This is not a concession resulting from opposition pressure, but a tactic to co-opt popular support. Nevertheless, it will be the first opportunity in over a year to gauge attitudes of Syrians. The turnout will be as significant as the vote outcome.
Pipeline explosions are annoyances that get repaired fairly quickly. They were common during the worst periods of the Iraq conflict, but they always got fixed.They are easy targets that have little significance.
Egypt: Update. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Mohammed Attia said Egypt's presidential elections will be held in May. Nominations for candidates will be accepted for three weeks starting 10 March. No date for the election was specified.
Greece: The leaders of Greece's two leading parties have written assurances that they will implement austerity measures required by international lenders, according to Greek newspapers. The government announced it found additional places to cut as the EU had demanded.
Italy: Italy's national statistics agency ISTAT reports that the Italian economy contracted 0.7 % in the fourth quarter of 2011, marking the second consecutive quarter of negative growth, and is officially in recession. ISTAT expects 0.4 percent growth for all of 2011.
Comment: Italy's financial problems have prompted the government to order fewer F-35 fighter planes from Lockheed Martin Corporation as part of reduced military spending, Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola said. Italy will buy 90 planes, down from the 131 Rome agreed to in 2002, Di Paola told the joint Senate and Chamber of Deputies defense committees.
Special Comment: Our defense posture is also our intelligence warning posture. They rise and fall together, the way the US budget is put together. That means the risks to the US and its interests are increased twice: by cutbacks in defense capabilities and cutbacks in intelligence warning capabilities.
This linkage has been well known to strategic warning officers for more than 60 years. It has not been mentioned in the national debate over defense cuts. NightWatch advocates no budget position, but the linkage between defense capabilities and warning needs examination.
First, when the US defense posture shrinks, trouble makers perceive increased opportunities for mischief. Old poisons kept in check by the proximity of great power are released. At the end of the Vietnam War, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia became less stable. There also was no peace dividend after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Thus, when US forces draw down, defense intelligence must increase vigilance, especially in volatile areas such as North Korea, but with fewer resources. Defense intelligence always sustains cuts with the rest of the Department.
Second, warning time contracts when US forces contract. Warning capabilities, especially warning time, are a function of an enemy's estimate of US and Allied power plus their reaction time and ability to respond. That estimates translates into decisions about the amount of national power a country, such as North Korea, must generate to prepare for war and adn the time it takes to complete those preparations. Preparation time and the extent and visibility of the actions drive US warning time and the clarity of warning of war.
When Allied capabilities contract, the time and the actions the North needs to prepare for war also reduce. When Allied capabilities increase, the burdens of war preparations on North Korea also increase.
Variations on this theme exist in every hot spot and potential hot spot, when US forces are farther away or less capable. Intelligence warning capabilities always are tied to larger defense capabilities.
A third impact on intelligence is that human sources tend to dry up because the US is perceived as less able to protect them.
Historically, these effects have not been immediate, but they have always occurred. The lesson for warning officers is that substantial defense cuts by US forces always increase the risk of intelligence failure. The effects of US defense cuts on national security threats suggest that defense intelligence warning capabilities should be increased when other defense capabilities are reduced.
End of NightWatch.
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