Japan-North Korea: Japan's defense minister on Friday ordered missile defense systems to be prepared to shoot down a North Korean long-range rocket if it threatened the country.
"I have ordered officials to prepare to deploy the PAC-3 and Aegis-equipped warships," Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters. "We are talking to relevant local governments about the deployment," he added.
The Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air interceptors presumably would be deployed in the Okinawa island chain. Officials are concerned the North Korean satellite launch might pass over Okinawa. An order to shoot down the North Korean rocket would require the approval of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Comment: This alert is a precaution against a failed launch because the North Korean west coast launch complex was located and its facilities oriented so that test launches would avoid flying through any other nation's airspace and would land in open ocean. In contrast, the more limited, east coast launch range at Musudan Ri almost cannot launch any long range missile or rocket without overflying Japan, which occurred in the past.
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces have the capability and skill to shoot down the North Korean rocket.
North Korea: Update. South Korean officials told the press on 25 March that North Korea has moved a long-range rocket to the west coast launch complex in preparation for a launch.
Comment: The press report implies that an airframe/rocket body is visible at the launch complex, either on a trailer or in a gantry. It takes about a month for the North to prepare an important launch. If the airframe is detectable, preparations should be about half finished and would be on track for a 15 April launch.
Politics. For the record. North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly will hold a parliamentary session on 13 April. The news agency announcement did not specify the agenda.
Comment: The first week of April is the normal time for the Supreme People's Assembly to convene to approve the policy guidance for the state in the current year, the budget and approve any cabinet or other high level changes. If important changes are pending, the Supreme People's Assembly will be preceded by a high-level meeting of the officials of the Korean Workers' Party, which would formulate the changes.
Earlier this year, the North indicated it would hold a high level Party meeting. That has supported speculation that Kim Jong-un might be nominated for and promoted to some high level post that his father held. Two top military posts remain vacant.
There are many unknowns inthe North Korean leadership under military control. Kim might not take any more of his father's positions than the one he holds, Supreme Commander.
All leadership decisions and activities in North Korea at this time will be linked to the celebrations of the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung. For example, Readers may be certain that preparations for the 15 April birthday are far advanced and have been rehearsed by tens of thousands of North Korean party members, school children and select military units every day since early March. Rehearsals will intensify in the next three weeks.
China-US: During his trip to South Korea, the US President criticized China for implementing an ineffective policy for dealing with North Korea. He said Chinese policy has failed to restrain North Korea from launching rockets and enriching uranium and returning the North to talks.
In reply, the Chinese ridiculed the US President for being "irrational."
Comment: This was an odd exchange - bordering on a dialogue of the deaf. From a Us perspective the President's criticism is impeccable. The problem is that the US perspective is miles apart from that of the Chinese.
From a Chinese strategic perspective, North Korea is an excellent, and plausibly deniable, military buffer between the US and its allies and China. Meanwhile, China is methodically annexing the Yalu River basin and the four northern provinces of North Korea into the Shenyang Province economy. Parts of northern North Korea are key components in the economic development of the Chinese northeast.
China has dozens of major infrastructure, development and investment projects linking the two countries together. Ultimately, Japan and South Korea will end up paying for Chinese development of North Korean infrastructure and commercial opportunities because they will reduce significantly the costs of shipping from Japan to Europe and help China develop industries closer to both US allies.
Chinese economic ties with North Korea are prospering. North Korea is not isolated, no matter how many times US officials say so. Even the Russians want to get in on North Korean commercial opportunities that increase Japanese access to the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Russian Far East.
In the last two years of Kim Chong-il's life, North Korean relations with China have improved significantly. They have not been better since the Korean War.
China happens to not share the strategic interests of the US or South Korea in Northeast Asia and can tolerate a pro-Chinese nuclear armed North Korea on its border. It tolerates both Russia and India already.
The main Chinese criterion appears to be profitability. As long as relations are friendly and profitable, the nuclear weapons program does not appear to be an obstacle in China's alliance with North Korea. The Chinese act as if they consider it an asset.
The US and China do not share strategic goals for Northeast Asia. The Chinese understand this.
Pakistan: Over the weekend, Pakistani Taliban threatened to start killing members of the National Assembly in the event they voted to approve a resumption of NATO and US use of Pakistan's land transit infrastructure for supplying their forces in Afghanistan.
Comment: This is a serious threat because Pakistani security for senior government officials is poor to non-existent. However, financial gain will determine the outcome of any National Assembly vote more than intimidation.
It is worth noting that the Pakistani Taliban have not threatened the truck drivers, workers and associated companies. The trucking companies appear to be cash cows for the Islamist militants. Those that are not fronts for the Taliban get taxed.
Note for new analysts: Whenever a rich powerful outside power is engaged in counter-insurgency in a poor country, it always finances both sides of the fight. Historically, this has been as true for France and the UK as much it is for the US.
Saudi Arabia: For the record. European Christian websites have reported Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, one of the most influential religious leaders in the Muslim world, issued a fatwa against non-Muslim places of worship last week.
In response to a Kuwaiti lawmaker who asked whether Kuwait could ban church construction in Kuwait, the Sheikh ruled that further church construction should be banned and existing Christian houses of worship should be destroyed.
Comment: Senior European Christian prelates have pointed out the Grand Mufti is contradicting King Abdallah's policy of supporting interfaith dialogue. The King is seeking to build an interfaith center in Austria, taking advantage of freedoms and tolerance not available in Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab world. Foreign Christian minorities make up substantial and significant portions of the working populations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.
The Catholic Bishop for the Christians in the UAE, Oman and Yemen warned that some Muslims will be influenced to act on the Grand Mufti's edict. A delayed terrorist reaction against Christian churches is the threat, and has occurred in Iraq and Egypt.
Egypt: This weekend, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the armed forces leadership for supporting a prime minister and cabinet that do not have the confidence of the new parliament and senate, which Islamists dominate. The political party that fronts for the Brotherhood accused the armed forces of rigging future elections and the popular referendum on the constitution.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement on 25 March denying the Brotherhood's charges and arguing that its actions prove its honest intentions.
Egypt's parliament and senate met on 24 March to elect a 100-member panel that will draft a new constitution. The panel will include 50 legislators and a mix of 50 public figures and trade union representatives. Liberal groups called for protests against Islamist influence over the process.
Comment: The armed forces apologia was weak. Meanwhile, eight members of the new panel who belong to secular parties resigned on 25 March because they charged the panel is rigged to favor Islamists. Islamists do appear to dominate, but that is the outcome of Egypt's general elections.
Mali: The junta has tried to defend its unconstitutional action by accusing the government of neglecting the fight against the Tuaregs in northern Mali. In response, the Tuaregs took advantage of the disarray in Bamako to seize more towns and increase their demands.
Comment: The backlash against the coup plotters has been gathering momentum slowly over the weekend. Apparently the 7,000-man Mali Army, the guys with the guns, backs the coup leader, but the army captain that leads the junta looks naïve and foolish.
He and his supporters lack an appreciation of their own best interests, as they have expressed them. He has justified the coup based on a lack of support - logistics problems - in fighting the Tuaregs. His solution to logistics problems is not a better logistics system or more outside aid, but a new government. This does not signify clear thinking.
This junta apparently gave no thought to the challenges of supporting a substantial civilian population on whom the army depends for support. It also has incited the Tuaregs so that only an outside power can fix the problem now.
At least under the elected government, Mali was in the fight against terrorist with powerful allies and contacts willing to help. They included the US which provides about $137 million in aid. Now, because of the coup, US law requires a cutoff of US aid.
The coup plotters cannot withdraw without criminal penalties and they cannot stay in power with the trust of the foreign democracies on whom they must depend for the aid they need to fight the Tuaregs. Their time in history's spotlight will be brief.
An earlier NightWatch judged the coup plan was poor. That is proving to have been an overly generous evaluation.
End of NightWatch for 25 March.
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