On irregularity

We’ve had a bit of a beating in this little nation down-under in the last week or so…more speed wobbles than one might reasonably expect in a year…I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions how the UK phrase Countering Irregular Activity offers a more relevant construct for current and near-future periods of uncertainty and complexity than either the Marines’ Countering Irregular Threats or the overly-simplistic and over-used COIN. Who would have thought that in the space of a week we might experience four significant irregular and potentially destabilising events of such magnitude? It was only on Friday night that I was down at the local, discussing this item and observing that whether it would remain an issue into the next week would very much depend on what happened over the weekend – normally here, that means we either get or dish out a thumping on one sports field or another…

At around 4-30am on Saturday morning, our second largest city, Christchurch in the South Island was severely shaken by a 7.2 Richter earthquake centred some 30km west of the city. This area is not generally noted as a high-risk for earthquakes, more common problems being occasional seasonal snow, flooding and smog. As a result, people were not as physically nor psychologically prepared as they might have been in other areas. This is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded here and, although no lives were lost, the final repair bill will be in the billions and a number of heritage buildings will have to be demolished due to irreparable damage.

Deans Homestead (c) NZ Herald

This image is one of a series taken during an early scientific survey of the fault line area (the Youtube file of the overflight is linked through the image). To give an idea of the lateral and vertical ground movement during the main quake, the lateral shift in this image is around four metres, and vertically around 1.5 metres. Only a tenth of that degree of movement would be a nasty jolt! This image was sent to us as an example of some of the underlying issues that might have to be resolved in the wake of the quakes (after shocks up to 5.2 Richter are still rolling in, on top of the obvious tasks of rebuilding and reinforcing,  in terms of changes to boundaries and potentially ownership, to say nothing of the requirement to update every digital and hard copy map of the region. It’s resolving this little issues that may be the bigger long term problem…

Exploring new boundaries (c) geonet.org.nz 2010

While Canterbury was coming to grips with its devastated major city, the lower North Island braced itself against a series of floods that swept through a number of small towns, further stretching Civil Defence and infrastructure agencies that were already focussed on deploying aid south. We got lucky and the front that dumped all this rain hit everywhere BUT Canterbury sparing Christchurch from further damage from rising water levels.

The Mangatainoka river in flood, with the old Tui Brewery building in the background.

At 1-30pm on Saturday, a light aircraft conducting skydiving operations at Fox Glacier on the other side of the South Island, crashed on take-off killing all nine occupants: the pilot,  four divers-master;  and four tourists from Ireland, England, Germany and Australia. This is the worst air disaster in national history in decades, the worst being the 1963 DC-3 crash in the Kaimai Ranges that killed 23. Any other weekend, such a tragedy would bring to nation to a halt but against the backdrop of the Canterbury earthquake it didn’t even get to lead the 6 O’clock News.

Skydive aircrash kills nine (c) TVNZ 2010

Earlier last week, the Government announced a NZ$1.7billion bail-out for the crumbling South Canterbury Finance (SCF) empire…although some had protested that the Government’s approach was heavy-handed and had helped causer the problem.I think that the simple truth is that it has acted responsibly to prevent the loss of people’s saving due to the doddering of an aging business magnate. I recall not so long ago seeing SCF advertising 8-8.5% interest rates on 18 month investments. At the time, I (rather naively) thought this must be a sign of recovery for this company but of course it wasn’t…it was a last gasp grab for cash flow to bail it out of its current problem – by creating another one 18 months out…I have to admit only a small degree of sympathy for investors who fail to apply the ‘Is it too good to be true?’ rigor test to such proposals and who then get bailed out by the government. The national cost per capita of this bail-out is $372 each so South Canterbury, please note, i don’t expect to be buying too many beers next time I pass through…mine’ll be a Tui…!

The cost (c) TVNZ

And it goes on…there has been for some time, concern over how much of the country is being bought up by offshore investors and what the potential risks are if we opt for short-term gain without really considering long-term pain…a Chinese consortium has offered to buy a large number of dairy farms, ostensibly as part of a move to introduce high-quality dairy products to the Chinese domestic market. I had no idea that cows couldn’t grow in China or that our national output of dairy produce would be anymore than a drop in the milk bucket of China’s internal market’s…and I do wonder if anyone has actually wargamed what the impact might be on domestic dairy markets if the new owners (if approved by Government) perhaps decide to move cease dairy production on that land…already Fonterra milk product exports have linked domestic dairy prices to overseas prices with the result that the price of milk and cheese has effectively doubled – it IS actually cheaper to feed your children Coke than milk so watch for the destabilising effects of declining dental health on future Government health budgets – or will it just be easier and more pragmatic to swap out your natural teeth for some nice handmade wooden items?

Model Gaile Lok promotes Chinese dairy project in New Zealand (c) TVNZ 2010

My point in all of this is that we can not count on the destabilising cataysts we may face to be purely of man-made origin, or that they might be Militant in nature. What if our adversaries, or competitors, opt to employ the three other components of the DIME construct: Diplomatic, Informational and Economic, perhaps catching the wave of a natural disaster or two….?

And on the subject of considering endstates, Mr Wineera has written another commentary, speculating on the end state sought by our PRT in Afghanistan

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