Archive for the ‘Caution’ Category

WikiLeaks: China Hiding Military Build Up

January 7, 2011 2 comments

AUSTRALIA’S intelligence agencies believe China is hiding the extent of a huge military build-up that goes beyond national defence and poses a serious threat to regional stability.

A strategic assessment by the agencies found China’s military spending for 2006 was $90 billion – double the $45 billion announced publicly by Beijing.

Australia’s peak intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, as well as the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Defence and Foreign Affairs departments concluded that China was building a military capability well beyond its priorities of self-defence and preventing Taiwan’s independence.

”China’s longer-term agenda is to develop ‘comprehensive national power’, including a strong military, that is in keeping with its view of itself as a great power,” says a copy of the secret assessment provided by Foreign Affairs officials to the US embassy in Canberra.

”We agree that the trend of China’s military modernisation is beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan. Arguably China already poses a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region and will present an even more formidable challenge as its modernisation continues.”

Details of the 2006 intelligence assessment are contained in a US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to the Herald.

The Australian document goes on to warn that the pace of China’s military build-up and ”the opacity of Beijing’s intentions and programs” was ”already altering the balance of power in Asia and could be a destabilising influence”.

”There is the potential for possible misconceptions which could lead to a serious miscalculation or crisis,” it says.

The Australian intelligence agencies suggest China could overestimate its own capabilities with a significant risk of strategic miscalculation and instability.

”The nature of the [People’s Liberation Army] and the regime means that transparency will continue to be viewed as a potential vulnerability. This contributes to the likelihood of strategic misperceptions,” the document says.

”The rapid improvements in PLA capabilities, coupled with a lack of operational experience and faith in asymmetric strategies, could lead to China overestimating its military capability. These factors, coupled with rising nationalism, heightened expectations of China’s status, China’s historical predilection for strategic deception, difficulties with Japan, and the Taiwan issue mean that miscalculations and minor events could quickly escalate.”

Although successive Australian governments have called on China to be more transparent about its military spending, ministers and diplomats have studiously avoided public reference to the scale of the discrepancy between Beijing’s published figures and the likely reality behind the scenes.

The Australian estimate of a 2006 military budget of $US70 billion ($90 billion at the September 2006 exchange rate), has not been revealed previously – though it is consistent with academic and published US government estimates of China’s growing military spending.

The secret Australian assessment is also much sharper than the language later employed in the Rudd government’s 2009 Defence white paper, which said China was on the way to becoming Asia’s strongest military power ”by a considerable margin” and warned that the pace and scope of its growth could give its neighbours cause for concern if not properly explained.

The Rudd government publicly played down reports of a hostile Chinese reaction to the white paper when it was published, but secretly briefed the US that Beijing had threatened that Australia would ”suffer the consequences” if references to China’s growing military capabilities were not watered down.

The Defence Chief, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, and the then defence minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, insisted that China had no problem with the white paper. But other leaked US embassy cables report that the then deputy secretary for Defence, Mike Pezzullo, briefed US diplomats that he had been ”dressed down” by Chinese officials who had a ”look of cold fury” at the references to China in the white paper.

In the September 2006 briefing of the US embassy, Foreign Affairs officials advised that Australia hoped to use its defence relationship with China to promote increased transparency in that country’s military development plans.

”We remain focused on deepening the Australia-China defence relationship in areas such as peacekeeping, counter-terrorism and junior leadership exchanges, while remaining cautious to avoid practical co-operation that might help the PLA to fill capability gaps,” the Australian paper presented to the embassy concluded.

The Royal Australian Navy and the Chinese navy held their first joint exercise involving firing of live ammunition in September last year.

Last month the Defence Department secretary, Ian Watt, and Air Chief Marshal Houston attended the 13th annual Australia-China Defence Strategic Dialogue, which was hosted in China by General Chen Bingde, the chief of the PLA General Staff.

Dr Watt said that the dialogue was ”an integral component of Australia’s defence engagement with China, and provided the opportunity to have frank and open conversations and to exchange views on areas of common interest”.

Dr Watt and Air Chief Marshal Houston also met the vice-president and deputy chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said: ”We committed to continuing to develop our military relationship and practical cooperation together.”

Ten Riskiest Places to live In America

January 3, 2011 Comments off

Ten Riskiest Places to live In America


IN Prudent Places USA — 3rd EDITION

The University of Chicago Press will soon release Mark Monmonier’s new
book, Cartographies of Danger, which looks at how well America maps its natural
and technological hazards as well as social hazards like crime and disease. We
asked Mark to give us a list of the country’s ten most hazardous places. Here is
his top ten (or is that bottom ten?) list:

Hazards of different types affecting areas of varying size are not easily
compared. Even so, the research experience makes it easy to identify ten typical
risky places–areas to which I would be reluctant to move.

1.Almost any place in California, for various reasons: In addition to earthquakes, wildfire, landslides, the state has volcanically active areas in the north, around Mt. Shasta and other major volcanoes, as well as in the east, where the Long Valley Caldera shows signs of renewed activity. Even beyond its infamous seismic zones, California’s shoreline is vulnerable to tsunamis (seismic sea waves) from submarine earthquakes throughout the Pacific. More recent additions to this smorgasbord of hazards are smog, freeway snipers, urban riots, oil spills, and (looking ahead a few decades) severe water shortages.
2.Located only 70 miles from Mt. Rainier and Glacier Peak, which the U.S. Geological Survey considers active volcanoes,Seattle, Washington is also vulnerable to severe earthquakes. Unlike Californians, long aware of the risk, Washingtonians have only recently begun to plan for a seismic disaster.
3.Coastal Alaska and Hawaii are especially susceptible to tsunamis, huge waves whipped up by submarine earthquakes in the Ring of Fire encircling the Pacific Ocean. Alaska’s Pacific coast is seismically active, and the Hawaiian Islands can generate their own tsunamis: deposits on Lanai suggest past run-ups as high as three thousand feet, and geophysicists fear a similar disaster were the southeast side of the Big Island (the island named Hawaii) to slide suddenly into the sea.
4.Tropical hurricanes pose a less catastrophic but more frequent danger to the Atlantic Coast, particularly to North Carlina’s Outer Banks, a long, thin barrier island, from which evacuation is difficult. Since the seventeenth century, infrequent but fierce storms have carved new inlets, filled old channels, and move the shoreline westward at a rate of 3 to 5 feet per year. Moreover, if forecasts of a 250-foot rise in sea level because of global warming prove correct, current settlements on the Outer Banks could be wiped out in the next century or so.
5.Inadequate building codes, shoddy construction, low elevation, and level terrain make areas south of Miami especially vulnerable to high winds and flooding from storms like Hurricane Andrew, which caused over 20 billion dollars damage there in August 1992. Adding to the region’s misery is metropolitan Miami’s crime rate, one of the highest in the nation.
6.The Louisiana coast is also vulnerable to multiple hazards: winds and storm surge from tropical hurricanes, unnaturally high levees along the lower Mississippi River, and air and groundwater pollution from poorly regulated chemical industries concentrated along the state’s Gulf Coast. Cancer mortality is extraordinarily high here as well.
7. The floodplains of the Mississippi and other main-stem rivers, which drain vast areas, are vulnerable to prolonged high water caused by persistent weather systems. The costly floods of summer 1993 demonstrated the shortsightedness of flood forecast models based on limited hydrologic data. Humans play a dangerous game of hydrologic roulette by building homes, factories, and sewage-treatment plants in low-lying areas along rivers.
8. Any floodplain, large or small, anywhere in the country.Think about it: What does the word mean, and how did the floodplain get there? Although most victims evacuate in time, a picturesque parcel where “a river runs through it” carries the threat of sodden heirlooms and undermined foundations. In arid areas, where thunderstorms are infrequent, flash floods kill around two hundred unsuspecting campers and hikers in a typical year. Along rivers large and small, the Federal Flood Insurance program uses maps to set rates, spread the risk, and encourage local governments to plan evacuations and control land use.
9.Because warm weather is attractive to affluent retirees and house-breakers, property crime is especially high in the south, where a warm climate favors year-round burglary. And urban areas with many young males, newly arrived or unemployed, are notorious for violent crime.Growing southern cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles,  Phoenix, El Paso, and Miami, are thus especially hazardous, although risk varies greatly with neighborhood and time of day.
10.The neighborhoods of nuclear plants are risky areas of a different sort. Although catastrophic radiological accidents are rare and highly unlikely, the 1986 Chernobyl event had frightening consequences. More worrisome than the poor design and mismanagement underlying the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the specter of terrorism: a nuclear facility is an enormously attractive target for organized terrorists able to breach security with a vehicle bomb.  Over four million people live within the ten-mile emergency planning zones (EPZs) around America’s atomic power plants, and Chernobyl indicated clearly that radiological accidents can have a lethal reach much longer than ten miles.  Equally daunting is the variation in emergency preparedness among EPZs.

Our country has many more hazardous environments: some mapped well,
others poorly or not at all. As “Cartographies of Danger” demonstrates, hazard-
zone maps are a relatively new cartographic product as well as a good indication
of how well we understand hazards and manage risk. In the book I also point out
why a comprehensive atlas of hazards is not yet possible and why place-rating
guides that focus largely on crime present a distorted picture of danger.

Mark Monmonier is a professor of geography at Syracuse University’s
Maxwel School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is author of numerous books
on cartography, including How to Lie with Maps (1991, 2nd ed. 1996) and
Drawing the Line: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy (1995).

by Mark Monmonier