Britain faces an unprecedented array of threats, from ambitious terrorist plots and cyber-spies stealing national secrets to diseases and flooding, the country’s first security strategy has concluded.Gordon Brown delivered a stark warning over the complexity and scale of the risks faced by Britain, saying that nowhere was safe from the impact of terrorism, war, instability, climate change, poverty, mass population movements and international crime.
Announcing a series of initiatives to boost national security, including recruiting the public to a new civil defence network to protect against natural disasters and terrorism, Mr Brown said the number of security staff would be increased to 4,000; extra regional intelligence offices would be set up; and a “national register of risks”, using previously secret information, would be made available to the public.
The review said there was a “high probability” of an influenza-style pandemic spreading rapidly round the world, claiming up to 750,000 lives in Britain.
It warned of the danger of a repeat of coastal floods similar to those in 1953, which could affect hundreds of thousands of homes, or of the flooding that hit the river Severn last year.
And it predicted that climate change would increase the frequency and severity of “extreme weather” hitting this country. The strategy added that these phenomena “threaten our normal way of life across significant areas of the country with little warning”.
The old certainties of life during the Cold War had been replaced, the Government said, by “increasingly complex and unpredictable” security challenges. Chief among these, it said, was terrorism, which presented a threat that was “qualitatively and quantitatively more serious than the terrorist threats we have faced in the past” and would continue to do so for many years. It said there was no current nuclear threat to Britain, but predicted it could re-emerge in future decades.
Far from being remote occurrences on the other side of the world, turmoil in parts of the developing world had an impact on Britain, the report warned, with terrorist plots being hatched on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and drug barons taking advantage of the instability in southern Afghanistan and west Africa.
The strategy forecast that climate change could not only lead to “humanitarian disaster”, but also to “instability, state failure or conflict”. With the global demand for energy expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2030, the Government also forecast the conflict over power supplies could have an impact around the world. The worldwide population explosion also increased the “risk of political instability, disorder, violent conflict and extremism”, the strategy warned.
Diplomatic efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons around the world would be stepped up. A national security forum bringing together experts in the field to advise ministers on dealing with emergencies would be set up.
Mr Brown said the strategy was designed to help Britain “always be vigilant, never leaving ourselves vulnerable” in the face of an “unstable and increasingly uncertain international security landscape”. He promised “improved local resilience against emergencies, building and strengthening local capacity to respond effectively in a range of circumstances from floods to possible terrorism incidents”.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, said Mr Brown’s announcement “sounded more like a list than a strategy”. He also accused the Government of allowing the perception to develop of Britain as a “terrorist breeding ground and a threat to others”.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the plans were more of an assessment of the threats to Britain rather than a strategy for tackling them. He called for Mr Brown to “draw red lines” between Britain and the US and look to Europe to help deal with security problems.
The threats to Britain
The UK faces a “serious and sustained threat from violent extremists”. Terrorists are willing to stage suicide attacks and aspire to use chemical, biological and radiological weapons.
Large nuclear arsenals remain and the ambitions of North Korea and Iran cause concern. No state is thought to have “the intent and the capability” to threaten Britain currently, but such a threat could re-emerge.
The upheavals in “failed and fragile” states reverberate around the world. The instability on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border directly affects Britain. Narcotics networks are established in southern Afghanistan.
Organised crime rings are becoming “more complex and professional”, with drug and gun smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration increasing worldwide.
The highest risk is from an influenza-type pandemic. An outbreak could claim 50,000 to 75,000 British lives. The danger from “extreme weather” will become more frequent and severe because of global warming.
Foreign spies from several countries are operating in Britain, trying to steal political, defence and commercial secrets. They are increasingly trying to hack into confidential computer programmes.
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Source: The Independent