Just over four years ago, on 23 November 2015, the Conservative Government published its near-100 page long ‘National Security Strategy’ (NSS) and ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.’ (NSDR) (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/478933/52309_Cm_9161_NSS_SD_Review_web_only.pdf)
The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, asserted, inter alia, in his personal foreword:
“We will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us, coordinated through the National Security Council, to deliver a ‘full-spectrum approach’… Britain’s safety and security depends not just on our own efforts, but on working hand in glove with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all, from terrorism to climate change…. History teaches us that no government can predict the future. We have no way of knowing precisely what course events will take over the next five years: we must expect the unexpected. But we can make sure that we have the versatility and the means to respond to new risks and threats to our security as they arise.”
The report states on page10:
“We have organised delivery of our National Security Strategy through three high-level, enduring and mutually supporting National Security Objectives. These embody an integrated, whole-of-government approach, supported by greater innovation and efficiency.”
Paragraph 3.3 on page 15 lists the “Four particular challenges are likely to drive UK security priorities for the coming decade. They have both immediate and longer-term implications:
i. The increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability.
ii. The resurgence of state-based threats; and intensifying wider state competition.
iii. The impact of technology, especially cyber threats; and wider technological developments.
iv. The erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.
No mention of a virus-based threat. Then, on page 17, it finally states:
“The emergence and spread of microbes with the potential to cause pandemics and the rise of drug resistance, including Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), are significant concerns. They will require greater and more coordinated action at local, national, regional and global levels. No single nation can act alone on such transnational threats.”
“The UK has taken a leadership role, building international partnerships to tackle AMR and other risks to global health security.”
It has been noticeable over the past here weeks the UK has been an outrider in Europe in taking its own strategy, clearly unco-cordinated with our neighbours in the developing the counter-Covid19 policy.
The main response of the Conservative Government to its perceived security threats has been to invest vast sums of scarce taxpayers’ money military hardware, including in a Trident nuclear WMD system - probably £205,000,000,000 (£205 billion) over tits projected sixty year operational lifetime - with no possibility any prime minister could possibly use it without committing national suicide.
The National Security Strategy also claimed:
“We have detailed, robust and comprehensive plans in place and the necessary capacity to deal with infectious diseases, including pandemic influenza and respiratory diseases. As a result of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we have further refined the measures we take to safeguard public health.”
It added briefly at page 68, asserting:
Para: 5.138 “We have established a £20 million UK Vaccines Network to bring together the best expertise from academia, philanthropic organisations and industry for developing and trialling new vaccines for infectious diseases. We will invest further in the UK Vaccines Network up to 2020.”
5.139 “We will also invest in new, large-scale research and development to combat the world’s deadliest diseases. These include diseases with epidemic potential….”
It promised to publish a national bio-security strategy in 2016. This finally was issued – as a 48 page paper - in late July 2018. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/biological-security-strategy)
It opens with the following prophetic and chilling words from the then Security minister, Ben Wallace, now Defence Secretary:
“Significant outbreaks of disease are among the highest impact risks faced by any society – threatening lives and causing disruption to public services and the economy. This is true whether such outbreaks occur naturally, such as pandemic influenza or emerging infectious diseases, or in the less likely event of a disease being caused by an accidental release from scientific or industrial facilities, or as the result of a deliberate biological attack.”
Empty words followed if recent experience is anything to go by, when Wallace asserted:
….“we are exposed to these risks, both at home and overseas, but it also gives us the opportunity to work with international partners to tackle such threats at source.”
Wallace concluded :
We cannot predict all the ways in which this risk landscape will evolve in the future, but it is by breaking down barriers, working in a co-ordinated way across and beyond Government, and thinking globally that we will be best prepared to meet the threat of significant disease outbreaks (however they occur).”
But ministers and their advisors have made a complete pig’s ear of the response, promoting very narrow overly natural science reaction that ignores the wider societal dimensions of the problem, and exclude inputs from social scientists including geographers, sociologists, social psychologists and social anthropologists - each expert specialism an anathema to Conservative politicians
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel, for whom the Coronavirus crisis has - temporarily - saved her political skin, quietly released a policy statement to Parliament on 17 March on ‘Counter State Based Threats (’https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-03-17/HCWS165/ ) in which she asserts:
“We face sustained and hostile activity which is deliberate and targeted and intended to threaten our national security. Together with our allies, we are taking steps to safeguard our open and democratic societies and promote the international rules-based system that underpins our stability, security and prosperity.”
But no mention of viral attacks! Has she opened her eyes or ears in the past three weeks? To where has joined-up Government disappeared?