Night Watch

North Korea: Tension has notched up again.

The Russian and British Foreign Ministries and the US State Department reported that on 5 April the North Korean Foreign Ministry distributed a diplomatic circular to all resident embassies in Pyongyang and non-governmental organizations that the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the event of conflict from 10 April. The North Korean government asked foreign embassies whether they were considering evacuating staff.

This week South Korean workers employed in factories in the North were also told to leave by April 10, according to South Korean press.

British reaction. The British Foreign Office said it "has no immediate plans to withdraw our embassy in Pyongyang. We are considering next steps, including a change to our travel advice."

Earlier, a spokesperson said: "The DPRK (The Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has responsibilities under the Vienna convention to protect diplomatic missions, and we believe they have taken this step as part of their continuing rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them."

Russian reaction.  "This is true; on 5 April a representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry suggested that Russia and other diplomatic missions in Pyongyang consider evacuating their staff from North Korea owing to the deteriorating situation on the Korean Peninsula. Russia noted this information and, for the time being, we are considering the issue," Denis Samsonov, public relations officer at the Russian embassy, said.

At the same time, Samsonov said that "nothing extraordinary is happening, the embassy is operating normally".

"I can assure you that the situation in Pyongyang is absolutely calm. Visually, no tension is observed. Moreover, today is a public holiday in Pyongyang and nothing extraordinary is in sight," he added.

US reaction. Sweden protects and represents US interests in Pyongyang. The US State Department spokesperson said, "We have been in touch with the Swedes, our protecting power in the DPRK, because obviously if they were to change their status, we would have to inform American citizens in the DPRK. At this point, we have no reason to believe that they will make any changes."

Comment: The US State Department spokesperson had no information about the number of US nationals in North Korea. They are either in prison or working with humanitarian aid organizations. There has been no comment from the Chinese, Indian or other non-European embassies about the note. UN Secretary General Ban reportedly is studying it.

The note is strange because it is not directive, but it allows only five days for departures. There are not enough scheduled flights between Pyongyang and Beijing to evacuate the foreign diplomats and staff in five days. 

Expulsion of foreign diplomats is another classic warning indicator of war. North Korea has evacuated its embassies on multiple occasions, especially during the buildup to wars in the Middle East. Thus, North Korean officials know the significance of this action.

The ambiguity in the language of the circular appears deliberately designed to foster doubt and disbelief. It appears to be working. An expulsion order, in contrast, would leave no doubt that North Korea's intention would be to take action that risked general war.

Ignoring the ambiguity and the various reports of normality in Pyongyang and elsewhere, cumulatively, since February North Korea has made war preparations and tested and rehearsed its civilian and military war plans. It is on a path that has prepared the nation for war and indicates its intention is to take military action that risks general war.

The departures from the process tracked in past crises and the apparent inconsistency and lack of uniformity in behavior may best be judged as part of the deception plan. Street scenes in Pyongyang are normal and planting has begun. They indicate an attack is not imminent.

On the other hand they do not contradict the North's statements that it intends to settle all accounts. Everyday behavior can change in a week, now that the leadership has rehearsed the national mobilization plan and the soldiers are trained. After a stand down to rest and recover from the final phase of the Winter Training Cycle which ended on 31 March, the Korean People's Army, as a force, will reach its point of maximum readiness after 10 April.

Deception is a mandatory part of every North Korean military action and has been used throughout the past two months. Deception was used during the nuclear test and the satellite launch. Deception is being used now at Kaesong and elsewhere to persuade reporters that the North's intentions are more benign than the North's own statements say they are. Doubt and confusion degrade vigilance and lengthen response time.

The irony is the North Korean leadership has notified the Allies of every step in the process; posted the three-day war plan on the internet; informed the US and South Korea governments that they intend to attack and announced the date the final attack plan was approved. Now they are clearing out foreigners.

They are hiding their intentions in plain sight by using media and visual reports to reinforce biases that this is the same old thing; that they are bluffing. There are many familiar pieces, but the cumulative progression is new.

To repeat, cumulatively, the North Koreans incrementally have executed and tested their national war preparation plan since February. Uneven implementation appears to be part of the deception plan and a concession to civilian requirements when tight discipline is not yet needed.

No source in the public domain has reported that war preparations have ended or that the leadership has ordered a stand down from full combat readiness. 

NightWatch judges that North Korea intends to take military actions that will risk general war, but will be short of the start of general war. However, North Korea will be prepared for escalation to general war instantly.

Thus far the public statements and other evidence indicate the military actions are likely to include missile launches against US bases, such as Guam, and a shooting incident against South Korean forces, such as those on the islands off the west coast. The North Koreans told the embassies that this can occur any time after 10 April. The Allies must assume they mean it.

Two missiles. Today South Korean authorities told the press that two long range ballistic missiles arrived by train at the east coast site. They were loaded onto mobile transporter-launch vehicles and have been driven to hidden launch facilities. The report appears to be a re-evaluation of earlier information. The total thus far is two missiles

End of NightWatch ###

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