Few people make the case against excessive security and defence expenditure quite as well as Simon Jenkins.

Here he is describing the British government’s new National Security Strategy (A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty):

“…one of the most bizarre documents to emerge from the ectoplasm of the MoD. It was a paranoid’s manifesto, a Matrix movie horror. Admittedly, the authors had a tough job. There is no Wehrmacht hovering across the Channel, no Napoleonic Grande Armée massing at Calais and no megaton missile with itchy communist fingers pointing at Britain. So how on earth were they to justify £45bn? They decided, in their tidy way, to group various so-called threats into three tiers of seriousness.

The first tier contains four threats, like a Russian doll. Number one, presumably the greatest, is “attacks on British cyberspace by states and cyber-criminals”. The second is international terrorism. The third is a “military crisis” between other states, one that “draws in” Britain. The last is “a major accident or natural hazard that requires a national response,” such as coastal flooding or flu.

The second tier of threats comprise “an attack from another state using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons”. Next come “instability, insurgency or civil war overseas,” that affect us by somehow “creating an environment that terrorists can exploit to threaten Britain”. In other words terrorism again. Next is a big rise in organised crime. Next is “severe disruption to satellite-based information, possibly deliberate from another state”. This is a repeat of the cyberspace threat.

Lastly we have the third tier of threats, the least serious. The first is “a large-scale conventional military attack on Britain” by an unspecified other state. The second, somewhat desperately, is terrorism again, the third is crime again. The authors clearly ran out of threats, but had to fill their threat quota. We are also threatened by immigrants and smugglers “trying to cross the UK border”. We are “threatened” by an accident at a nuclear site; by a conventional attack on a Nato ally, and by an attack on a British colony. Finally, we face a curious bundle of threats: fuel shortages, price instability, and “a short- to medium-term disruption to international supplies or resources”.

You may note that almost none of the above is a threat. They are crimes and catastrophes or, in the case of being “drawn in” to a foreign conflict, a matter of political choice. Many things on the list may make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but few are remotely to do with the security of the state. They are incoherent and repetitive and rather desperate, like a madman with a sandwich board crying, “They are coming to get you; the end is nigh!”

Yet this list was the basis for last month’s strategic defence review with its £45bn price tag. A set of threats that are almost entirely non-military is to be met by submarines carrying nuclear missiles, two new aircraft carriers and dozens of jet fighters.”

You can read the full-text of the article, which appeared recently in the Guardian, here. The UK National Security Strategy should be read in conjunction with Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The Civil Contingencies 2010 conference was held in London earlier this week. It featured “20 expert speakers” and “numerous carefully selected suppliers” in the business of preparing for “major disruptions”. The discussion ranged from “the current flu pandemic to severe weather, widespread flooding, the risks posed by a changing climate and malicious threats”.

The event promised “a crucial opportunity for delegates to connect with speakers, policy setters and key drivers of the government agenda”, with the exhibition area offering “unrivalled opportunities to network with over 25 suppliers, service providers and stakeholders”.

Civil Contingencies 2010 - Tackling tomorrow's threats

The Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Union) is to discuss “Faked pandemics: a threat to health” at the next plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), to be held in Strasbourg from 25 to 29 January.

The PACE Social Affairs Committee has proposed the holding of an urgent debate on this subject. If the Assembly agrees when it adopts its agenda on the opening day, the debate is likely to be held on the morning of Thursday 28 January. The committee will be holding a closed hearing on the same subject on Tuesday 26 January at 8.30 am, attended by representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European pharmaceutical industry and experts on the subject.

See also: EU to probe pharma over “false pandemic” (PharmaTimes).

Despite a waning of the initial hysteria and expert studies suggesting that the H1N1 pandemic may not be as bad as feared, security consultants like SRA continue to argue that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s a taste of their latest warning (dated November 2009):

– An estimated 25 percent of businesses never reopen in the wake of a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

– The H1N1 virus poses a serious risk to the United Kingdom’s economy and it could reduce the Gross Domestic Product of the U.K. by as much as 3 percent

– estimates indicate that up to 15 percent of European workers will be absent from the workplace at the pandemic’s peak. These estimates may be conservative

As SRA explains: “Public health professionals look at pandemic flu and see a public health emergency. Critical infrastructure protection professionals look at pandemic flu and see the potential for economic calamity”. To which we might add: security consultants and pharmaceutical companies see the opportunity for a big profit. While we’re very glad that health professionals have taken the outbreak seriously, is anyone else uncomfortable about the EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control‘s embrace of Donald Rumsfeldesque rhetoric in its May 2009 report “Influenza Pandemics: Known Facts and Known Unknowns“?