Saturday, March 30, 2013

China and North Korea - Partners in WMD?

I recently posted on a report by the Congressional Research Service on China's relationship to the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in several nations around the globe including Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.  In this posting, I'll be looking at China's connection to North Korea (DPRK), an issue that is of particular interest in light of North Korea's latest foray into the nuclear age.  It is China's relationship with North Korea that is of particular interest because of its historical connection to the country during the Korean War.

1.) Non-nuclear Proliferation

It appears that the People's Republic of China (PRC) may have provided assistance to North Korea's space/satellite program as early as 1998 - 1999, however, confirmation of the connection with North Korea's medium range ballistic missile program was not possible even with the launching of the first Taepo Dong-1 missile in August 1998.  Nonetheless, China-based entities sold specialty steel, gyroscopes, accelerometers and precision grinding equipment to North Korea along with other missile-related equipment in 1999.

North Korea unsuccessfully attempted to launch a Taepo Dong-2 missile in April 2012, however, shortly thereafter, what appeared to be an ICBM was spotted on a 16-wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) that originated from China as shown in this picture:

The TEL was produced by a company that is part of the state-owned aerospace defense industry which produces materiel for China's People's Liberation Army.  A total of four of these TELs were shipped from Shanghai to North Korea in August 2011.

A United Nations panel has found that Chinese entities have been responsible for violating sanctions that were put in place in 2006 (United Nations Resolution 1695).  This resolution required all signatories to prevent the transfer of missile and missile-related goods and technologies to North Korea as stated here:

"The United Nations Security Council today condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent test-firing of a series of missiles, and demanded that the North-East Asian country suspend all ballistic missile related activity and reinstate its moratorium on missile launches.

Acting “under its special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1695 (2006), by the terms of which it also required all Member States to prevent the transfer of missile and missile-related items, materials, goods and technology to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s missile or weapons of mass destruction programmes, as well as procurement of such items and technology from that country.  It also addressed the transfer of financial resources in relation to those programmes.

China welcomed the resolution and China's U.N. representative stated that "China had always been committed to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula....".  He also urged the signatories to "...continue the diplomatic endeavours for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the normalization of relations between the countries concerned.""

Not surprisingly, North Korea rejected the resolution within forty-five minutes of its adoption.

2.) Nuclear Proliferation

As far back as October 2002, North Korea admitted to Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly that they had a secret program to enrich uranium and, by 2004, United States intelligence estimated that North Korea had a least 8 nuclear weapons.  At that time, it was questioned whether China's nuclear technology indirectly contributed to North Korea's nuclear program through Pakistan since China was the main supplier to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.  Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of Pakistan's Khan Research Laboratories, disclosed that he had transferred designs for uranium enrichment centrifuges to China and it was later confirmed that Khan sold Libya a nuclear bomb design that he had received from China, one that could be delivered on a missile.  In 2003, China granted overflight rights to several Iranian cargo planes that reportedly picked up wooden crates from North Korea that may have contained cruise missiles.

After North Korea's second nuclear test in 2009, the United Arab Emirates seized a ship that was transporting North Korean weapons to Iran after it had docked at two of China's major port cities where the shipment was transferred to another cargo ship.

In 2011, it was found that Iran and North Korea traded illicit missile technology that was shipped through China.  In May 2012, a Chinese-owned ship was stopped by South Korea; the shipment seized contained graphite cylinders that could be used in a missile program.  The cylinders were destined for Syria.  In late 2012, North Korea also agreed to supply Egypt with parts for Scud missiles that were shipped by air cargo through China.  At the same time, Chinese missile technicians were sent to Egypt to work with North Korean technicians.

Thus far, the evidence that China has directly supplied North Korea with nuclear weapons technology is not indisputable, but their complicity in the transportation of weapons and technology appears quite solid.

3.) Military Relationship between the DPRK and China’s PLA

Since the war of the early 1950s, the relationship between China and North Korea and the United States and its allies has been very complex.  China's People's Liberation Army would appear to have inside information about North Korea's missile and nuclear technology programs and it is unclear how much of this information the PLA is willing to share with the United States.  It is known that China and North Korea had high-level contact just before the missile tests of both 1998 and 2006.  The PLA refers to North Korea as a "buffer", keeping the United States and Republic of Korea forces below the 38th parallel, providing a zone of protection for China.  In fact, in July 2010, the PLA opposed the United States - Republic of Korea joint maritime exercises being held in the Yellow Sea, perhaps a bit too close for comfort.

China's relationship with North Korea is, at the very least, a complicating factor in diplomacy in the Korean Peninsula.  Many experts question whether China seeks North Korea's denuclearization with as much urgency as most of the rest of the world.  China appears to be most interested in a stable North Korea and shows a strong preference for maintaining the "status quo".  North Korea depends on China for 80 percent dependent of its energy and economic activity with North Korea importing 70 to 80 percent of its foreign goods from China.  China has shown a preference for using positive inducements to pressure North Korea, at odds with the United States and its allies that prefer the use of sanctions to pressure the DPRK.  Apparently, neither approach works.  

It is apparent that, while North Korea itself may not necessarily be a threat to world security, transfers of China's technology by North Korea to nations including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen are cause for concern.  International relations in the region are extremely complex, largely due to the impact of the Korean War.  Diplomacy in the Far East as a whole is also complicated by the United States' relationship with Taiwan and the erosion of China's long-standing claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.  This issue came to a head in the mid-1990s when China threatened Taiwan with missile exercises in South China Sea, necessitating the dispatching of U.S. aircraft carriers.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave....

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Guns in America - Protecting Our Schools...or not

After the shootings at schools, particularly Columbine, school boards and Departments of Education in both Canada and the United States have taken steps to ensure the safety of their students.  One procedure used is called "lockdown".  As a person that has been involved in the education system for many years, I have seen lockdown practices in action.  Classroom doors are locked, lights are turned off, curtains are closed, door windows are covered and students "hide" in the corners of their classrooms in an attempt to prevent a potentially violent offender from attacking them.

Back in 2010, Greg Crane, owner of Response Options, promoted his theory on how schools should protect students in a presentation to the Ohio School Boards Association entitled "Enhancing lockdown strategies".  The 2007 booklet intended for school staff members opens with the line "....We create second chances - Surviving the Active Shooter".

After citing statistics from several school shootings, here is a direct quote (errors included) from the booklet:

"Almost all of these victims died either acting passively, or while complying with bad guy's demands.  Yet in today's mainstream school safety procedures, we tell our staffs and students to stay behind the locked door until help arrives, and/or comply with demands and that's as far as the training goes.  But what if there is no locked door and compliance is just getting people shot?  What's the mainstream advice now?  Silence."

Mr. Crane's booklet then goes on to state that researchers estimate that between 100,000 and 250,000 guns come into United States schools every day and that there were 515 victims of life-threatening attacks in schools between 1992 and 2004.

Mr. Crane states that lockdowns do not work, largely because there are many targets that offer no resistance to a shooter because they are told to be "static" (i.e. cower in the corner of a classroom).

What solution does Mr. Crane offer?

He proposes the A.L.i.C.E. plan, an acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.  Let's take a closer look at the Counter part of the proposed solution as quoted from his booklet:

"The Bad Guy has come to your school with a plan: To hurt as many people as possible in the time afforded him.  He is under the belief that either everyone is going to do nothing to counter his plan, or they will do exactly as he instructs because today he is in-charge.  By engaging in ACTIONS, that do not fall into line with his expectations, we will cause hi to commit mental functions to this new dynamic he's facing.  This will cause hesitation, which equates to time."

What ACTIONS does Mr. Crane suggest?

"Our goal is to cause sensory overload on behalf of the Bad Guy.  We want him to see things he did not plan to see, hear things he did not plan to hear, and feel things he did not plan to feel.  The simple act of throwing any object at a person's face causes an instinctual reaction- protect the head.  Shooting is a physical skill.  It requires certain acts to done competently...Distractions are proven tactics used to gain the element of surprise or confuse the opponent, both good things for staff and students encountering an attack."

That's an interesting concept.  The classrooms that I have spent thousands of hours in are loaded with a plethora of "missiles" that could be used against a "Bad Guy"; pencils, erasers, crayons, smart board markers and erasers, staplers etcetera ad infinitum.

Ask yourself, if you were facing this in a confined space...

...would you be willing to defend yourself by distracting the shooter with classroom supplies?

Perhaps there is another solution that doesn't involve teachers and students having to defend themselves with pens and pencils.

Partisan Politics and Guns in America

A short time ago, I posted a brief summary of why gun owners own guns, data that was gleaned from a survey by the Pew Research Center.  I'd like to take a look at a bit more data from that same survey, in particular, how gun ownership varies by political affiliation.

It's not terribly shocking, but the survey shows that gun ownership rates vary by political party affiliation; 31 percent of Republicans state that they own a gun while only 16 percent of Democrats own a gun.   Attitudes about controlling gun ownership also vary across party lines and that divide is increasing; two decades ago, 45 percent of Republicans and only 25 percent of Democrats prioritized protecting gun ownership rights over controlling gun ownership, a partisan gap of 20 percentage points.  Today, 74 percent of Republicans and only 22 percent of Democrats prioritize protecting gun ownership rights over controlling gun ownership, a very wide partisan gap of 54 percentage points.

Now, let's look at how the two sides of the political spectrum view the possible consequences of stricter gun laws and how these viewpoints have changed over the past twenty years:

1.) Reduction in the Number of Mass Shootings: In 2013, 29 percent of Republicans felt that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of mass shooting deaths compared to 79 percent of Democrats, a difference of 50 percentage points.  There is no data from 1993 for this issue.

2.) Reduction in the Number of Accidental Gun Deaths: In 2013, 32 percent of Republicans felt that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of accidental gun deaths compared to 74 percent of Democrats, a difference of 42 percentage points.  In 1993, 61 percent of Republicans felt that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of accidental gun deaths compared to 76 percent of Democrats, a  historical difference of only 15 percentage points. 

3.) Increased Government Control: In 2013, 76 percent of Republicans felt that stricter gun laws would give the government too much power over average citizens compared to 38 percent of Democrats, a difference of 38 percentage points.  In 1993, 61 percent of Republicans felt that stricter gun laws would give the government too much power over average citizens compared to 42 percent of Democrats, again, a historical difference of only 15 percentage points.

4.) Firearm Confiscation: In 2013, 63 percent of Republicans felt that gun control measures will eventually lead to stricter laws which will take away guns from all citizens compared to 34 percent of Democrats, a difference of 29 percentage points.  In 1993, 54 percent of Republicans felt that gun control measures will eventually lead to stricter laws which will take away guns from all citizens compared to 41 percent of Democrats, a difference of only 13 percentage points.

Only one-third of Republicans think that stricter gun laws will keep guns out of the hands of criminals compared to 73 percent of Democrats, a very significant difference of 42 percentage points.

The regional differences in the gun debate are quite apparent as a result of geographic differences in political leanings.  When asked about prioritizing gun control or gun rights, according to the National Journal, the Northeastern states are 62 percent in favour of focusing on gun control, the Midwest prioritized gun rights over gun control by 47 percent to 46 percent, the West prioritized gun control over gun rights by 53 percent to 41 percent and 51 percent of respondents in the South prioritized gun rights over gun control.

As an aside, a January 2013 poll by the National Journal showed that the protection of the right to own guns (over the necessity to control gun ownership) is at levels that are well above those in the period between the late 1990s and mid-2000s as shown here:

Surprisingly, the percentage of Americans that feel that it is more important to control gun ownership is down from a high of 65 percent in May 1999 to its current level of 51 percent, hardly a ringing endorsement for changes to gun laws.

One firearm-related proposal that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on is a ban on bullets that explode or are designed to penetrate bullet-proof vests; 60 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats support a ban on this type of ammunition.  See, sometimes both sides can agree on at least a small part of any given issue.  Unfortunately, with both sides increasingly entrenched in their viewpoint as time passes, compromise on the big issues will be difficult to achieve.

Arctic Sea Ice Maximum - Winter 2013

Some mixed news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) provides us with a preliminary update on the Arctic sea ice conditions for the winter of 2013 and a foreshadowing of what the summer might bring to the Arctic.

Scientists at NSIDC estimate that the Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent on March 15, 2013, the date that marks the beginning of the 2013 ice melting season.  The maximum areal extent reached 5.84 million square miles or 15.13 million square kilometres, 283,000 square miles or 733,000 square kilometres below the 1979 to 2000 average areal extent.  This is the sixth lowest maximum sea ice extent since the satellite record began.  It also continues a streak of the 10 lowest maximums all of which have occurred in the last 10 years.

Here is a map and a graph showing the Arctic ice extent this winter and the areal extent over the past five winter seasons and the average for the period from 1979 to 2000:

This past winter, Arctic sea ice extent grew by a record 4.53 million square miles or 11.72 million square kilometres.  Before we pat ourselves on the back, here's what happened last summer:

On September 16, 2012, Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent of 1.32 million square miles or 3.41 million square kilometres, the lowest seasonal minimum sea ice extent in the satellite record which goes back to 1979.  This was 1.32 million square miles or 3.43 million square kilometres below the average between 1979 and 2000.  The larger than normal areal extent of open water forms a feedback into the environment; more open water means that there are larger transfers of heat from the open water areas to the atmosphere which keeps the entire Arctic ecosystem warmer than usual.  

Here is a similar graphic to the one shown above, showing the Arctic ice extent over the past five summer seasons and the average for the period between 1979 and 2000:

As I noted above, during the freezing season of 2012 - 2013, the areal extent of sea ice grew by a record amount, surpassing the old record by 5.5 percent.  Unfortunately, all of this ice is classified as "first-year ice".  Multi-year ice which has been through several freeze-thaw cycles contains much less brine and more air pockets than first year ice.  It is stiffer and is much more resistant to melting than first-year ice.  If first-year ice does not grow thick enough over the winter period, it will completely melt during the following summer.

Here is a video from NASA showing how the areal extent of multi-year Arctic sea ice has declined over the past three decades:

It will be interesting to see how next summer's Arctic ice situation measures up when compared to other years.  With a record low areal ice extent this winter and formation of vast areas of fragile first-year ice, the globe could once again find itself breaking last year's minimum Arctic ice extent record.