North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency reported a meeting of the central authorities that decided to relieve Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the Chief of the General Staff of the Korean Peoples' Army, from all military and party positions. The official explanation cited unspecified illness.
Background: The Chief of the General Staff of the Korean Peoples' Army is the de facto senior military officer in armed forces who commands all three armed forces. The North Korean General Staff, like the Nazi and Soviet General Staffs, is a warfighting command structure whose primary function is to prepare for war in peacetime.
In the Congressional legislative history of the US National Security Act of 1947, Congress debated whether the US should have a General Staff to facilitate American responses to threats. After significant and pointed debate, Congress decided in a Chairman of the board arrangement and that no senior service officer would have command authority over his service. The senior service officers and the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, are senior staff officers and advisors, who command no troops. Congress also decided to station no combat units in the capital region.
That is not the North Korean system which is based on Soviet military doctrine, not Chinese. Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was a fast riser-in North Korean terms - under Kim Chong-il. He was promoted to Chief of the General Staff in 2009. The normal term of service in a post is eight years.
Prior to that he served as Commander of the Pyongyang Defense Command from 2003 to 2009. This corps-echelon command is the regime bodyguard and last line of defense. He was a member of the Presidium - the inner circle - of the Party Central Committee and was a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Korean Workers' Party. He was not a member of the National Defense Commission which is the highest government authority in North Korea.
Comment: Ri was a favorite of Kim Chong-il and, at 69, was young for a Vice Marshal. Three years ago, Ri supposedly was part of a transition to a more youthful military leadership.
Abrupt, out-of-cycle announcements of senior military changes, barring death, almost always means a purge is occurring. A purge always implies some group has challenged the policy position of the leader. The successful removal of Ri Yong-ho suggests that Kim Jong-un has survived the first significant challenge to his authority. He apparently has the military loyalty and support to compel compliance even by senior military officers and their followers. More heads should roll.
Diplomacy: On Saturday during his visit to Cambodia, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun announced that the North is ready to rejoin the six party nuclear talks. He stipulated no conditions nor provided any background to the statement.
Philippines-China: Update: A Chinese patrol combatant ran aground on a Philippine-claimed reef this weekend, which was confirmed by Philippine air reconnaissance. The ship is about 60 nm from Palawan Island, which is uncontestably an integral part of the Philippines.
During this Watch, a handful of Chinese recovery ships were successful in refloating the Chinese naval combatant, which sailed back to China.
Comment: The Philippines offered China its assistance in freeing the grounded patrol ship, but was refused. The international message is the Chinese cannot back up with naval capabilities what their diplomats have claimed. The Philippines - and probably other Southeast Asians -- are laughing at China.
Syria: Update: Reporters for the New York Times were the first to confirm that the accounts of a massacre of innocent civilians by the Syrian government last Thursday were another opposition hoax.
Instead, opposition fighters sustained more than 100 casualties in an ill-advised firefight with government forces near Hama. To camouflage their tactical disaster, they cranked up the propaganda machine so that the mainstream media reported a fictitious massacre. Secretary Clinton called the non-massacre "outrageous."
Comment: The government account of the incident was accurate. Its forces hammered the opposition. The opposition simply lied and gulled the US and other sympathizers once again.
Nevertheless, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) declared it considers Syria to be in a state of civil war, calling for the application of "international humanitarian laws without providing any justification for the declaration. No one knows what the ICRC declaration meant by referring to international humanitarian laws.
Recognition of a state of civil war or belligerency has implications. For one thing it implies that there exists an alternative and functioning government that meets the qualifications for recognition in the UN Charter, which are derivatives of international customary law. Thus, the United Kingdom could recognize the government of the Confederate States of the America because it had a central government capable of exercising administrative control over a definable territory and had an army that was capable of defending definable borders at the time.
Syria's opposition has none of those characteristics.
Recognition of a state of belligerency means that an outside party can meddle, at its own risk. Other than that, it is meaningless except for the attorneys in liability practice. Such a recognition has significant implications for insurance and indemnification in case of loss of cargo, more than for anything else. The problem is the Syrian opposition controls no ports or airfields. There are no grounds for indemnification under any circumstances for air or maritime carriers.
International humanitarian laws are fictions of the non-governmental organizations. The announcement apparently is intended to increase pressure on the Damascus government to allow the international aid organizations to provide aid and comfort to the enemies of the Syrian government with Syrian government protection. They are not recognized by and would not apply to restrain the anti-government terrorists and fighters.
The Syrian opposition has a great propaganda machine but governs no territory. Its self-styled leaders outside Syria command no forces that recognize their authority and are incapable of providing steady supplies, even with extensive outside assistance, according to anecdotal reports from a meeting of opposition field commanders this weekend. The field commanders complain that the external so-called leaders know nothing about what is going on in Syria and steal the money. Under the UN Charter, this group is not entitled to international support, much less recognition.
Finally, the recently defected Syrian Ambassador to Iraq has criticized the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, as much as he has criticized his own government. This is strange and undermines his credibility.
Chemical weapons: On Friday, news services carried nearly hysterical reports about the movement of chemical weapons in Syria. Unnamed US official sources opined to the media that Syria might be preparing to use chemicals in an ethnic cleansing campaign.
Comment: According to The Guardian which drew on Israeli sources, the Syrians are acting responsibly to ensure the protection of chemical weapons. Apparently they were detected by US resources relocating chemical weapons to more secure locations. The inflammatory press reporting last weekend was irresponsible, and stimulated by unidentified US official leakers.
Syrian forces may be expected to use chemical weapons against the opposition at some point, much as Saddam Hussein used them to suppress a Shiite uprising in 1991. But the Syrian law and order situation has not yet reached the point.
Egypt: Field Marshal Tantawi, Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, warned Egyptians that the armed forces will not allow a certain group to dominate Egyptian politics. The warning appears to have been directed to the Muslim Brotherhood, and President Mursi and the United States.
Comment: The timing of Tantawi's warning, just hours after his meeting with US Secretary of State Clinton, apparently reflects his understanding of the Clinton message. Her motorcade was pelted with tomatoes to protest American meddling in Egyptian politics. Egyptian commentators considered her visit a failure.
The Egyptian armed forces leadership is the only guarantor of ethnic minority and Christian and other cult rights. One commentator said, "If the SCAF goes back to its barracks, the Brotherhood will control everything." Whatever transpired between Clinton and Tantawi, it almost certainly was not to convey US support for a warning to the Brotherhood.
Mali: Update. On Friday, French Foreign Minister Fabius said there is a high probability of foreign military intervention in northern Mali to suppress the al-Qaida elements and reunite the country. He did not specify a time.
Meanwhile, the Tuaregs announced they no longer oppose living in a unitary Mali, apparently if that means killing the pro-al Qaida elements.
Comment: No nations will tolerate northern Mali becoming a safehaven for international terrorists. The pace is glacial, but eventually a mulit-national force will deploy to kill and remove the terrorists and reunite Mali.
End of NightWatch ###
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