Night Watch

North Korea: Missiles. Satellite imagery showed that North Korea elevated a missile launcher in the eastern part of the country, a Japanese defense official said on 11 April, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency. The official said a satellite captured the image in the morning, and he added that the raised launcher could represent an effort at deception by North Korea.

 

Comment: The report did not mention whether a missile was on the launch rail or whether fuel trucks were present. A separate unconfirmed article, attributed to US intelligence officials, reported that one or more missiles were detected being fueled.

 

The two observations might be related. The missiles are more safely fueled in raised position. If the missile or missiles were fueled today, launch should occur within a week, preferably sooner, because the fuel is unstable and corrosive. Preparations still point to a launch in honor of Kim Il-sung's birthday on 15 April.

 

Practice and rehearsal. Aside from fueling, the equipment and the crews require testing and practice handling their vehicles and the missile air frames. Several South Korean anonymous official statements this week said North Korean missile crews have been driving their large multi-axle transporter-erector-launcher vehicles in the deployment area which is between the cities of Wonsan and Hamhung, about half way up the east coast from the DMZ.

 

If no fuel trucks were present, the elevated launch rail would fit with driving as local deception and as testing equipment to make sure it works and crews know where to go when final launch preparation orders are issued. The two are not exclusive of each other

 

As to the launch site, there is no direction to launch a long range missile from the middle of the east coast of North Korea without flying over or at Japan or South Korea.

 

Telemetry. TV Asahi reporter Koji Ono in Seoul reported that South Korean intelligence detected telemetry signals on 10 April.

 

"According to Ono, North Korean missiles are installed with a wireless telemetry system designed to record missile flight. Today, a large amount of radio waves have been observed to have come from North Korea. Ono said that North Korea has checked whether or not the telemetry system is working properly. He said this is a sign of an "imminent" missile launch. He said the information put the South Korea's presidential office on "high alert" on 10 April during the period of 1400 hours to about 1600 hours local time (0500-0700 GMT)."

 

Comment: Activation and testing of tracking radars and telemetry signals are reliable indicators of a launch soon. The signals yesterday probably were for calibration and proper functioning, as Ono reported.

 

The missile-related activities reported in open sources during the past week conform to past launch sequences for missile tests. This is not a wartime launch preparation pattern. North Korea has the ability to launch mobile missiles with very little risk of detection, using camouflage, concealment and decoys.

 

As for final stage indicators, the tracking radars and telemetry will operate continuously on the day of launch. A weather signal should be detected a few hours before actual launch.

 

Other missiles. Multiple news outlets have reported five missiles might be launched of different kinds, but those reports contain few details. North Korea has done that in the past, launching NoDong and multiple variations of Scud ballistic missiles in a demonstration of missile prowess. While a missile spread of that nature is possible, the only detailed reporting on missiles has concerned the two Musudan/BM-25s between Wonsan and Hamhung.

 

In the rear. The Korean Central News Agency(KCNA) reported that a national meeting took place at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang on Thursday, 11 April, to celebrate the first anniversaries of the dear respected Kim Jong Un's election to the top posts of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the state.

 

"He was elected first secretary of the WPK and first chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC) of the DPRK (North Korea) at the 4th Conference of the WPK and the 5th Session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK in April last year."

 

"North Korean students danced in Pyongyang on the anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's appointment to the top party post amidst tension in the international community over the country's nuclear threat. The North Korean youths, wearing suits and traditional dresses, danced together in the centre of the capital beneath a mosaic painting of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung."

 

Comment: The events in Pyongyang are intended to show defiance in the face of grave threat. KCNA interviewed one dancer who said precisely that.

 

(Administrative note: Long essay follows.)

 

Comments on the 11 April propaganda statement: North Korean media outlets broadcast Korean and English language versions of an Information bulletin from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a North Korean organization for dealing with South Korea.

 

The version quoted below is a translation of the Central Broadcasting Station in Korean. The other version is the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) official English text. The two versions are not identical, and some of the differences are noteworthy.

 

This is the statement that announced that war could break out at any time. That has been said repeatedly in the past month.

 

Summary. The main point of the statement was to denounce South Korean analyses that the North Koreans are engaging in brinksmanship, bluster and psychological warfare and their war threats cannot be taken seriously when civilian life is normal.

 

The calm reaction of the Allies to North Korean threats seems to confound the North Korean propagandists. A few excerpts are worth noting.

 

The new items are the sensational misrepresentations of conditions in South Korea plus the claim of achieving victories over the US.

 

"Panicked over our ultra-hardline measures to safeguard our dignity and sovereignty, the gang of puppets is lately talking absurd nonsense…"

 

(Note: several paragraphs are omitted that repeat the conclusions by South Korean analysts that have offended North Korea and which this statement purports to rebut.)

 

"…Now in South Korea, an extreme war phobia is taking hold, and there are commotions among people hoarding whatever food items, such as ramyo'n and bottled water, and daily necessities they can find, sending sales of these goods sharply rising."

 

Comment: This is not taking place, but North Korean spies and agents apparently were tasked to report back to Pyongyang the great impact the North's threats and limited actions are having on life in South Korea. Both versions make this claim.

 

"Meanwhile, a state of great chaos is unfolding as several countries are setting up measures to shelter and evacuate their nationals staying in South Korea, while foreign students, foreign companies, and foreign organizations are leaving the country. …"

 

Comment: This is another fabrication. If this is taking place in South Korea, no news outlets are reporting it. Both versions make this claim.

 

"…The red arrows of our merciless sacred war of retaliation are already drawn toward all strongholds where the US imperialist army of aggression is nestling, including US military bases in the US mainland and the Pacific Ocean. The mighty strike means of our revolutionary armed forces are on standby for launch, and precise target grid coordinates are programmed into warheads."

 

Comment: The red arrows are missiles, of course. The assertions seem precisely accurate and describe a normal condition for a country officially at war by its own action.

 

"Now, they are ready to be launched at the push of a button, and, once launched, they will turn the fortresses of the enemies into a sea of fire all over…"

 

Comment: The sea of fire metaphor is so shop-worn that it is a cliché and actually serves to reassure rather than raise vigilance. That's because the North has threatened to turn Seoul into a sea of fire so frequently with nothing happening that no one takes it seriously anymore. It is campy.

 

"…As for our peaceful domestic atmosphere they are talking about, do they know that the strong resolve of our army and people dictates that we continue production and construction till midnight tonight and the sound of students reading books resonate from schools even if war breaks tomorrow?

 

Comment: This is the explanation for normal life. Intelligence and commercial satellites should be able to verify that factories are lit up and operating until midnight. Usually few lights are on in cities at night. If that is the case, then the North is making serious general preparations for war, or replenishing ammunition and supplies used during winter training.

 

On the other hand, it also means North Korea has not mobilized the 5 million factory workers who form the army reserve. If the factories are working, the North is not prepared for war, even if they are making bullets.

 

"We have been winning one victory after another in our confrontation against the United States with the same mettle, and we are waging the war of all-out confrontation even now with a lofty faith in our final victory."

 

Comment: NightWatch added the bold because this statement claims the North is winning. The KCNA English language version of this paragraph does not make this claim.

 

"Furthermore, they should squarely realize that this is the era of great Marshal Kim Jong Un leading the world's most powerful country and the invincible sure-victory great Mt. Paektu state…."

 

Comment: NightWatch added the bold and retained this because it is what the Korean language version contained. That is not the language of the English version, which calls North Korea a powerful country.

 

"…If the United States and the puppet war fanatics are misjudging us and hoping for a lucky break, they cannot be more foolish than that. War is now a matter of time, and the only thing left is merciless reprisal. It will be no use to regret by that time, and none of the bastards will be able to survive to regret in the first place."

 

Comment: NightWatch added the highlight which is what the international media covered. The word "bastards" is not in the English version. The final paragraph of the KCNA English version makes almost no sense.

 

The North Korean narrative is that North Korea is a victim, not just of sanctions, but of military intimidation which it describes in the language of an actual military attack. The US is responsible for all of it and the history of North Korean troubles. Having fabricated this surreal world, North Korea is also able to fabricate victory and closure, at least for the domestic population.

 

This statement is the first to claim that the North is winning victories. It is always auspicious to "win" victories near the anniversary of Kim Il-sung. In this fantasy, successful missile launches that splash down harmlessly might be described as victory. Missiles that are shot down anywhere probably will be considered an attack on North Korea.

 

That judgment does not constitute a recommendation to not shoot because the North Korean leaders seem badly in need of a reality check. Still, if they are looking for a reason to escalate, that would seem to suffice.

 

Obviously, many things can go wrong with missile launches, but the North compounds the scenario with its repeated threat of a nuclear retaliation capability that it has never demonstrated. The leadership appears to have boxed itself into taking some kind of action that it can claim as nuclear. One risky scenario would be an actual air burst nuclear detonation over the Pacific.

 

China-North Korea: The following is the latest comment on North Korea from the daily Foreign Ministry press conference.

 

"Question from a reporter: How would the Chinese side react if the DPRK were to launch a missile again?"

 

"Answer from Hong Lei, the Ministry spokesman: The current situation on the Korean Peninsula has caused grave concern in the international community. There is a widespread expectation in the international community that peace and stability will be maintained on the Korean Peninsula. "

 

"We call on the parties concerned to earnestly follow the will of the people in the international community and to not take any actions that could further escalate the tensions. On the contrary, they should take action to push for a turnaround of the situation."

 

At the same time, they should act on the basis of long-term and overall interests, commit themselves to restarting the Six-Party Talks, enhance dialogue and engagement, advance the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula, and seek lasting peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia at large."

 

Comment: For those looking for signs of a Chinese tilt away from North Korea, the final paragraph only makes sense as recommendations directed towards North Korea. Were the leadership group around Kim Jong Un to follow this advice, it probably would be overthrown because of the national humiliation: loss of face.

 

North Korea-European Union: A setback for North Korea. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published the following note from EU members. NightWatch added the bold.

 

"EU Member States have today responded to the DPRK's question on assistance in case of conflict."

 

"The EU has taken note of the briefing given by Vice Minister Kung Sok Un to EU Member States' embassies on 5 April as well as the note transmitted by the Foreign Ministry on 9 April."

 

"The EU does not share the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) views on the current situation and does not recognize the nature of threat as described by the Vice Minister."

 

"The EU notes the DPRK's recognition of its legal obligations under Article 44 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The EU reminds the DPRK that it has continuing obligations under all circumstances to protect Diplomatic missions and EU citizens."

 

Comment: This is the first mention in open sources that the North sent a note to the EU asking about assistance in case of conflict plus sent a Vice Foreign Minister to give member state embassies a briefing. It is unclear from the EU reply whether the North asked for help or asked whether the EU would provide help to the US, but the wording suggests North Korea asked for help. If so, that is unprecedented.

 

In either case, the outreach to the EU should have been recognized as a diplomatic breakthrough because it would be the North's first request for anything from any state, with the possible exception of China.

 

That almost certainly has to be the handiwork of Kim Jong Un personally, having grown up in Switzerland. He is delusional if he seriously expected the EU to respond positively. Nevertheless, the EU response seems tone deaf and stuffy, missing an opportunity to start a dialogue with the North Koreans.

 

Egypt: Egyptian press reported that President Mursi met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for an hour and a half on Thursday evening. The army commanders expressed their dismay that political forces were attempting to distort the image of the Armed Forces. The Army is offended by findings that it used torture and murder during the 25 January 2011 "revolution."

 

The president reportedly denounced such attempts, and said they were an attempt to drive a wedge between the army and the presidency.

 

The sources added that the president agreed to SCAF's recommendation to grant promotions to Air Defense commander Major General Abd-al-Mun'im al-Tarras, Air Forces commander Major General Yunis al-Misri and Navy commander Major General Usama al-Guindi. They would each receive the rank of field marshal.

 

Comment: A fact-finding committee on abuse of power by the Army, despite its declaration of neutrality during the revolution, found the allegations were substantiated. The report was submitted to the president, but was leaked to the media and published by The Guardian on 10 April.

 

It looks like the armed forces leadership used the leaked report as leverage to force Mursi to side with the military leaders and promoting them beyond good practice. The Army met Mursi eye-to-eye and Mursi blinked. He dares not challenge and does not control the Army.

 

End of NightWatch

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