North Korea: Satellite imagery taken in September but only recently interpreted for public use indicates North Korea has performed at least two missile engine tests at its West coast launch complex. The two month-old images show changes at the rocket engine test stand at the Tongchang-dong Space Launch Center - also called the Sohae Satellite Launch Center-consistent with testing for liquid fueled engines, according to reports by several news services that quoted an analysis by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
Comment: The judgment of the University analysts is that the imagery shows North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles. In the absence of a modern air force and facing the most powerful military coalition in the history of the world, it is accurate to note that North Korea continues to develop missiles, even rely on them as a deterrent.
More to the point is that the North's missile development establishment continues work to try to learn what went wrong that caused the colossal and embarrassing failed missile launch last April, honoring Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday. The North Koreans always do follow-up tests to determine what went wrong, as do all research and development enterprises. What is more curious is why they repeatedly try to cut corners that more advanced countries took without advanced simulation programs. They are in a hurry, apparently stemming from unsound leadership practices, and thus they fail repeatedly … fortunately thus far.
France-Syria: For the record. France has become the first Western power to recognize Syria's opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The move was announced by President Francois Hollande at a televised news conference in Paris.
Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in the Qatari capital Doha on Sunday to form a broad coalition to overthrow President Assad's government.
Comment: The US and the UK also support the new, more inclusive leadership group without extending recognition. France's action provides it a fig leaf under international law for providing arms and other support to a group that still does not control any recognizable territory nor controls most of the fighting groups. A discrete population, definable territory and capability to defend itself are the most important customary criteria that support state recognition.
Probably more important, French action neatly and legally sidesteps the US preference for UN action and sanctions against Syria, which China and Russia steadfastly block in the Security Council. It also serves as a goad to other Western and Middle Eastern powers to get on with toppling Asad, assuming they are serious.
French leaders might judge that this move will put them at the head of the line of countries having influence with a new Arab government. However, the new Arab governments have not shown themselves prone to extend gratitude to countries that supported or at least tolerated strong man governments - like the Asads, Mubarak and Ben Ali --for decades.
Mali: Update. The African Union (AU) has backed a plan to send troops into Mali to clear the north of Islamist extremists. It endorsed the decision by West Africa's regional bloc, the 16 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on Sunday to send 3,300 troops to help Mali's government retake the region. The plans will now go before the UN Security Council for approval before the end of the year.
The ECOWAS plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali's south, followed by combat operations in the north, Malian army sources said. The soldiers would be provided mainly by Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso. France announced that it would not get militarily involved, specifying it would send no combat aircraft.
Comment: Without logistics and transportation support by NATO powers, this operation would not be feasible. The forward progress in developing a plan is proof that the African states understand they will have that support or they would not have announced a troop target figure. This kind of operation is in the wheel house of the US Africa Command.
The meaning of the French announcement apparently refers to combat forces, not support. Mali was part of French West Africa. The French will be part of the team.
End of NightWatch ###.
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