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North Korea Leadership Split on Nuke Tests

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

North Korea: A Foreign Ministry spokesman refuted UN, South Korean and US claims that North Korea could not legally withdraw ex parte from the Armistice Agreement. The spokesman said it is in the nature of an armistice that it can be broken by not abiding by it.

Internal. Several commentaries during the last week have judged that the belligerence North Korea is now showing emanates from internal disputes in the leadership.

On 15 March a South Korean daily published details of disagreement over the decision to conduct a third nuclear test. Kim Jong Un and the Vice marshals and senior generals favored the test. Those opposed to the test because of the likely negative Chinese reaction included Kim's uncle Chang Song-taek; Chang's wife and the sister of Kim Chong-Il Kim Kyong-hui and Deputy premier Kang Sok-ju.

Comment: Open source reporting is unable to corroborate those reports. Still, the senior military officers identified in the South Korean daily article as key advocates of the nuclear test have included two generals who have been military public spokesmen during the past week. All of those mentioned have been members of Kim Jong Un's entourage during visits to the coastal artillery units or to other military events. That provides some prima facie credibility to the substance of the article.

On the other hand, the daily article makes a serious mistake in describing the parties as hawks and doves. Nothing in the report suggests that Chang, for example, opposed the test as a demonstration of North Korean strength, say. The reported opposition was based on a different judgment about what was best for North Korea at the time.

It would be a grave mistake to conclude that there is fundamental disagreement about strategic priorities and goals, which are always reached collectively, or that the leadership is in disarray.

China: As expected, on 15 March, the National People's Congress elected Li Kegiang as Premier, replacing Wen Jiabao. President Xi Jinping nominated him. He has a degree in law and a doctorate in economics.

Korea: Feedback. A Brilliant and well-informed Reader noted that his contacts in the executive levels of corporate America admit to having been poisoned by the "venomous swish of a skirt." They approve the metaphor.

India: Feedback from another Brilliant and well-informed Reader judged that the Kashmir attack that killed five Central Reserve Police Force men probably was not the work of the Kashmiri militant group who reportedly claimed responsibility. The Reader suggested a more sinister, Pakistani connection, because the Kashmiri militants do not conduct usually suicidal attacks, which this was.

Today Indian media reported that India's Home Secretary told the press that items made in Pakistan were found on the dead attacker; the claim by the Kashmiri militant group is not confirmed and the Ministry suspected a link to the Pakistan-based and -supported Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) terrorists.

Some Indian analysts tentatively have concluded that the claim by the Kashmiri group was intended to mask the role of the LeT. The LeT executed the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and the 2008 attack in Mumbai.

An increase in attacks in Kashmir in the coming months is highly like and almost certainly would be intended to influence Pakistani elections by weakening the appeal of the Pakistani political parties that favor friendlier ties with India. Generally, the Islamist parties oppose reconciliation with India along with veterans and groups in the Pakistan Army.

End of NightWatch


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