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North Korea Continues to Escalate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea-South Korea: At the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the North Korean representative, Jon Yong Ryong, told the meeting on the 19th that, "As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction."


Jon also said, "Our current nuclear test is the first countermeasure taken by the DPRK (North Korea),  in which it exercised its maximum self-restraint. If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward the DPRK to the last, rendering the situation complicated, it (North Korea) will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession."

Comment: The North Korean outburst is one of a handful of times in the history of the UN when a UN member at a UN forum threatened to destroy another member. The Ambassador from Spain accused North Korea of violating Article 2.4 of the UN Charter which prohibits the threat of the use of force against a fellow UN member. The British Ambassador joined in the denunciation. The Chinese, Russians and US did not.

The language coming out of Pyongyang seems to have gotten shriller and more petulant. The two recent propaganda videos about burning the US and US personnel betray cockiness, but seem pointless because the North is alienating the nations that it must rely on for aid in its economic development plan.

For now, those considerations seem less urgent than generating national pride and loyalty to Kim Jung Un, which justifies suspicions about the stability of the leadership. The North is deliberately stoking perceptions of an external threat. That is a classic diversionary tactic to hide internal stress.

As for weapons, the NightWatch hypothesis is that Iran is helping finance the nuclear and missile developments. For example the Shahab III is an Iranian variant of the North Korean No Dong missile and was developed with North Korean assistance. The Iranian missile test launch site was built with North Korea assistance and Iranians have been reported at every major North Korean test.


What this suggests is that the tests appear to be part of a program that serves North Korean and Iranian weapons interests. If this hypothesis is accurate, the testing would take place, regardless of the threats, as part of a normal development process.

The threats provide a fig leaf of justification for a controversial development and testing program. For Iran, outsourcing weapons developments to North Korean enables Ayatollah Khamenei to state with accuracy that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, i.e., none is located in Iran.

Syria-Lebanon: The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Wednesday threatened to shell positions held by Hezbollah in Lebanon after accusing Hezbollah of firing at FSA positions in Syria. 'What is new in the past week is that Hezbollah has been shelling into villages around Qusayr from Lebanese territory, and that we cannot accept,' General Selim Idriss, the FSA's chief of staff said that the FSA have given Hezbollah a 48-hour deadline to stop the shelling.

Comment: The FSA did not state what it would do in the certainty that Hezbollah will ignore the FSA ultimatum. Qusayr is a town in Syria, just across the border from northeastern Lebanon. It was the site of a series of battles between the FSA and its cohorts and a Syrian Army unit a year ago. The FSA controls most of the town and uses it as a base, but the Syrian Army also has a presence. 

As for fighting Hezbollah, the FSA has a few captured tanks and other weapons, but has no ability to stand against Hezbollah.


Turkey was the first country to widen the Syrian internal conflict on behalf of the Sunnis. Israel was second with its air attack against a Syrian government installation. Now Hezbollah has begun to intervene on behalf of the Asad government and the Alawites. This is getting much messier.

Egypt: The Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo objected to five articles in the Mursi government's latest draft election law on several grounds, including the division of electoral districts. The measure will now be referred back to parliament's upper house, the only part of the legislature still functioning after the lower house was shut down last year, the Court said by fax.

Comment: Mursi tried to use the pendency of parliamentary elections to resist formation of a national unity coalition government, which the secular parties and some Salafis want, but the Brotherhood does not. The Court's ruling probably will delay elections and weakens Mursi's justification for resisting a national unity government.

Mursi is using the same tactic the Tunisian Jebali government tried without success-hold more elections. The religiously conservative rural voters would renew the Islamists' electoral mandate, return them to office and provide them the justification for suppressing secular opposition or at least ignoring their views..

In Port Said, four days of a general strike threatened to disrupt operation of the Suez Canal, according to press accounts. Workers walked out of the Port's Authority building, though Canal traffic proceeded normally. Army personnel are deployed in Port Said to prevent damage to factories and government buildings.


Comment: Readers will recall that on 29 January the Egyptian Army warned that unchecked unrest could lead to the collapse of the state.

Tunisia: Prime Minister Jebali resigned on the 19th after his Ennadha Movement rejected his plan for a technocratic caretaker government until new elections can be held.

Comment: Ennadha and its members judge they do not require their electoral mandate to be renewed in elections. News outlets have not identified the most likely candidate to replace Jebali, but a new government from the same ruling coalition probably will worsen political unrest.

On Tuesday, Standard and Poor's downgraded Tunisia's credit rating, citing "a risk that the political situation could deteriorate further amid a worsening fiscal, external and economic outlook."

Mali-Germany: For the record. Germany has agreed to send 330 troops to Mali to provide aid for French and West African soldiers. The German mission has yet to receive approval by the lower house of parliament.

France reported that a French Foreign Legion paratrooper was killed in a clash with Islamist fighters on the 19th in northern Mali near the Algerian border.. Twenty extremists were killed in the same action, the Defense Ministry reported.

This is only the second soldier killed in Mali that France has acknowledged to the press since counter-terrorism operations began in January. The significance of this death is that the Islamist/al Qaida fighters in Mali are not intimidated by French ground forces.


End of NightWatch ###

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