Night Watch

North Korea: Comment. The Daily NK contains two articles, based on reporting from contacts in North Korea, that describe the living and food availability conditions during the national mobilization exercises in progress.

They confirm that a partial mobilization of manpower has occurred since 11 March, unlike any in a long time. The only work teams still functioning are those devoted to goods for the armed forces. Production teams that make goods for civilians are participating in or are supporting the training.

Food allocations are based on production output by workers. Closure of a production line for military training terminates food allocations for the workers on that line. Mobilized workers are fed by the army but their families at home must fend for themselves or receive special allocations from the government or pilfered food from the army.

The contacts in North Korea report serious food shortages among the families of the mobilized workers, some of whom have threatened protests. In one major city on the China border, the government made a special allocation to avert a riot.

There are many hardships to living in North Korea, but food shortage is a category of hardship that has prompted public riots in the past that required troops to suppress. Government action to avert them by limited food allocations is an indication of the gravity of the internal situation. The leadership cannot afford to divert military resources to riot control when it is risking general war.

What the reports confirm is that the exercise is a high cost activity because no civilian trade goods are being produced and food is dedicated to the military first. The economic and social costs described in the articles indicate the exercise is more than just training. It is rehearsal and preparation for an action that risks a wider conflict.

The end of China's National People's Congress removes one powerful political constraint on North Korean decision making. The next two or three weeks require special vigilance because of the extent of the North Korean exertions already expended and because spring planting usually starts in April.

Pakistan: Update. At least two people were killed March 18 in a suspected suicide attack against a court and prison complex in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan.

Comment: This attack is an astonishing lapse of security. Attacks such as this almost always have insider cooperation. They may be expected to increase in the run up to elections when a caretaker government is in charge.

Syria: Jets and helicopters from the Syrian regime fired rockets into northern Lebanon for the first time. One report said four rockets were fired into Lebanon.

Comment: The press and official accounts are uncustomarily vague about the targets the Syrians attacked. The Syrian government has not commented.

Syrian restraint is more noteworthy than the few rockets fired at Syrian opposition refuges in northern Lebanon. When Syrian Sunnis rebels began to receive training in camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, they made those camps potential targets and virtually invited spillover from the conflict. 

Syria might risk widening the struggle if the government were desperate but that does not seem to be the case just yet. On the other hand, attacks on rebel supplies and supply lines in Jordan and Lebanon should be expected once western countries start providing arms aid. The western nations appear on the brink of escalating the fighting.

Mali: France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a 24-year-old soldier was killed and three of his comrades wounded when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb blast in the Ifoghas mountains.

The French corporal was "taking part in a search and destroy mission targeting terrorist weapons caches south of Tessalit" near the Algerian border, Le Drian said in a statement on Sunday. According to army sources, two of the wounded were in serious condition.

Comment: This is the fifth combat death the French have reported. The French have been operating in the Ifoghas mountains for more than two weeks and the fight goes on.

Mali-Germany: German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere met with Mali's interim President Traore on Monday in Bamako, as well as French General Francois Lecointre, who commands the French military mission in Mali.

This is the Minister's first visit to German soldiers and airmen who are supporting the French and African campaign in Mali. He arrived from Senegal, where he visited the German support contingent there.

Comment: Last month the German parliament approved the deployment of up to 330 German soldiers in two contingents. A logistic contingent of 150 personnel is in Dakar, Senegal, to support air operations. The remaining 180 personnel are to join the European Union Training Mission to rebuild the Malian army and provide medical and administrative support. No German combat troops have been sent to Mali or Senegal.

Cyprus: Comment. International press outlets have provided detailed reporting on the so-called tax Cypriot leaders have proposed imposing on bank deposits to help pay for an international bailout. Cyprus is the fifth European Union country to request a bailout. The issues are complex and not relevant to this brief discussion.

NightWatch sees three threats in the situation. First is the breakdown of public confidence in the government and public financial institutions. That is already manifest in the run on ATMs. Banks on Cyprus were closed on the 18th, but the run on the banks should continue when they open on the 19th. There will not be enough cash to service the customers. Civil disorders should be expected.

The breakdown in confidence feeds the second threat which is the breakdown in respect for law and order. Cyprus is one step away from widespread rioting and a serious breakdown in public order. Rioting is likely when ordinary citizens conclude that they are powerless to protect what they have earned and no amount of effort on their part ensures their property rights.

The third threat is that the fear of losing everything will spread to other countries.

End of NightWatch

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Night Watch

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