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North Korea: On Friday, South Korean media reported that Kim Jong-un had taken control of the economy from the military. Unconfirmed reports related that an exchange of gunfire occurred over military resistance to civilian redirection of national priorities. Vice Marshal Ri, the former Chief of the General Staff, was reported to have been shot to death.

On the same day, North Korean security detected and thwarted what it called a South Korean-assisted attempt to destroy the statues of the two Kims outside the Korea Revolution Museum in Pyongyang. This prompted the government to announce a complete review of the nuclear program, without providing details.

Comment: Seldom in a two day period does North Korea show both sides of its official temperament so starkly. The reports about internal upheavals and their resolution disclose vulnerability and durability.  The death of Vice Marshal Ri, however, is not confirmed. 

As for the plot to blow up the statues, it is almost a joke. The world is supposed to believe that a former North Korean citizen/defector supposedly made his way from China to Pyongyang and risked his life to blow up some dumb statues, rather than a nuclear or other industrial or military facility. This scenario is not credible and appears contrived by the North Koreans to make a point that internal changes do no signify military weakness.

It is the North Korean practice to concoct some crisis that justifies sending a message of belligerence outwards whenever internal turbulence is being managed. The North's institutional paranoia is such that its leaders are programmed to believe that outside predators are primed to exploit any sign of weakness in the North. Thus, in order to ensure that no outside party concludes the North militarily is weakened by measures to set its internal house in order, and attempts to take advantage, the North's propaganda machinery belches out hostile nonsense. This has been the pattern for at least 40 years.

It is not necessarily bad news that a fortified Kim Jong-un wants to review the nuclear program. Retention and protection of the program has cost the North Koreans enormously in the interest of self-reliance. The young Kim might judge that price to be prohibitive, in light of the fact that all other sectors of national life have deteriorated.

Syria: The Syrian regime threatened Monday to use its chemical and biological weapons in case of a foreign attack. Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed, however, that Damascus would not use its unconventional arms against its own citizens.

Comment: This is the first time a regime official acknowledgement that Syria possesses chemical weapons. Later the government reverted to its longstanding policy of ambiguity about its possession of chemical weapons.

The most important thing to remember is that the Asad government consistently has claimed that the fighting is the result of foreign influences, encouragement, money and military support.

Feedback sources have reported that a significant number of the neighborhoods in which the fighting is taking place are populated by Sunni immigrants and squatters from other countries, such as Iraq. They qualify as foreigners in the Syrian government definition because they are illegal aliens. The Syrian government will gas them if they continue to support opposition fighters because they are not citizens of Syria.

Administrative note: Feedback responses to help develop a more accurate sense of the Syrian fighting have been extraordinarily useful and plentiful. Thanks to all who responded. More to follow.

End of NightWatch ###

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