Frank Field has written a perceptive article in the latest issue of The New Statesman. In it, he makes the case for taking a longer-term and wider perspective on the threats to national security that the UK faces. And let’s be clear those threats are more than just terrorism (and I acknowledge that that’s the case, even though a good chunk of my week is spent overseeing the work of the police in combatting terrorism). We also need to recognise that the focus of the Ministry of Defence has to be wider than the UK’s presence in Afghanistan, and that climate change is not the only long-term global issue.
As the sage of Birkenhead puts it:
“The threat now is not just one of terrorism. Since Labour came to power, the world’s population has grown by 930 million. By mid-century it could rise still further, from more than six billion to nine billion. The UN estimates that already 15.2 per cent of the world’s population goes hungry every day. In future, world security will face growing threats from disputes over control of and access to water and food supplies, and over the raw materials that China is so energetically engaged in cornering.”
World population growth – exacerbated massively by climate change – will put enormous strains on global food production over the next twenty or thirty years.
Demand for energy is likely to grow by 50% in the next 25 years and most of that energy will continue to be found from fossil fuels, but fuels extracted in increasingly extreme conditions and from those parts of the world with the most volatile and unstable political conditions. And as the sage puts it:
“In 2005, the Times carried a hair-raising report on where the continent gained its energy. Most lines led to the KGB. The article was not rude enough to mention the agency by name, but no one could doubt that the Russian secret service had western Europe by the throat and could at any time turn off the oxygen supply to European industry.
On 5 August, No 10 released a report on energy security by Malcolm Wicks, the Prime Minister’s special representative on international energy issues. It received disappointingly little coverage, but it contributes to the new politics of survival. It showed Britain is becoming ever more dependent on others.”
Within thirty years, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas of water-stress. Shortage of fresh water will become a major driver for further political instability. Indeed, water shortages will be coupled with environmental changes to cause a world-wide shortage of arable land – made worse by the intensification of agriculture. There is also likely to be huge pressure on world fish stocks. The combination of famine and the shortage of fresh water is likely to trigger mass migrations, often in areas affected by environmental change and/or armed conflict. It is naive to assume that the UK will be unaffected by any of this.
The control of supplies of oil, gas, minerals, water and food will be critical. It can be anticipated that nation states will take political and military steps to secure or safeguard such supplies. And those countries that can control those supplies will have political leverage over the rest.
I believe very strongly – as clearly does the sage of Birkenhead – that the UK Government has to start thinking much more strategically about these issues.
So is there any sign that these big strategic questions are going to be at the heart of political debate between now and the General Election?
Not much hope …..
Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring!