The Prospect of a ‘No Hazards’ 2008? A retrospective of things to come.

From attempted mass-casualty terrorist attacks, to cyber attacks, flooding to foot and mouth and bluetongue outbreaks, 2007 was an ‘all-hazards’ year for the UK.

By Dr Tobias Feakin, Director, National Security and Resilience Department

Politically we have seen a change in leadership for the country, Blair exiting ‘stage right’ in May after an overly long encore and Brown entering ‘stage left’ to be confronted with simultaneous bombing attempts in London and Glasgow, and the most extensive flooding in the UK for fifty years. However, alongside the changes in political leadership there has been continuity in the continuing obsession to 'overhaul’ legislative powers which govern the counter-terrorist landscape. The most contentious of these issues is proving to be the suggested extension of the detention without trial period from twenty-eight days to fifty-six days. This very same issue, which marked the first defeat in Parliament of the Blair Government, was resurrected and the debate became obsessed with the numbers of days rather than a substantive discussion of the issues that are driving the perceived requirement here in the UK. This will obviously be pursued into the New Year, and we shall wait to see the outcome of this protracted and controversial piece of proposed legislation.

Springtime gave birth to new Government Departments. The amalgamation of the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC), and the National Security Advice Centre (NSAC) to form the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), was the first of the major ‘re-births’, and was launched in February 2007. The CPNI has provided both information and advice on issues pertaining to physical and cyber security for business and other areas of Government across the national infrastructure for almost a year now. Alongside the formation of this new body, a more distinct definition of what Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) meant to Government was provided, which illustrated that the Government is thinking in a more ‘joined-up’ manner and attempting to give a more purposeful direction to its work across both public and private sectors [1.].  Reviewing the work that the CPNI has been conducting, assessing security challenges that have arisen for the CNI, and private sector responses will be central to RUSI’s work during 2008 (Please click here for further information).

In May, the public were presented with the splitting of the Home Office into two departments, the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) which would lead on delivering the Government’s CONTEST (Counter-Terrorism) strategy, and the Ministry of Justice which took responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing. This, it was presumed, would provide clarity and direction to the Government’s efforts in combating terrorism, which in essence is a sensible idea, but the clarity of the vision that obviously existed at the higher levels of Government leadership at the time was not transferred to those whom it affected, as civil servants found out about the changes on the same day they were announced to the public.

As Brown considered his response to the summer’s unfolding security problems, he set about implementing thinking that had been ‘brewing’ since his tenure as Chancellor: a single security budget, which would be managed and directed by a national security mechanism. He announced his intention to develop and publish a National Security Strategy which would galvanise cross-departmental thinking with the PM at the helm. The first strategy was due to be published in the autumn of 2007 and this strategy, one suspects, will be the major topic of debate in the counter-terrorist arena for 2008 when it finally works its way out of the scribes’ hands and into the public domain. The strategy is eagerly awaited by all as it promises so much in illustrating a comprehensive Government approach to countering threats to national security.  A careful ‘management of expectations’ needs to take place throughout the security and policy sectors, however, as the ability of this first draft to deliver in all aspects is limited. Agreeing such an ‘all-embracing’ policy document, which will be both substantive and guiding through many Government departments will, and I suggest is, proving to be quite a complex and time-consuming task.

And so we begin 2008 with the interim report of The Pitt Review being released, which outlines some of the major flaws in the preparation for and response to the 2007 UK flooding events [2].  As heartening as it is to see a review being established so quickly, there are already news reports that many of the same areas affected in 2007 are under threat of flooding again. Are we in for another ‘all-hazards’ 2008? It would appear that flooding rates as one of our most acute national security issues, which impacts upon many thousands of UK citizens across the country. Examining the command and control issues that arose is a central topic of RUSI’s work. (Please click here for further information)

With the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, quoting a rise in the numbers of individuals who are being monitored as a direct threat to UK security to 2000 (opposed to the 1600 quoted by ex-DG Eliza Manningham-Buller in November 2006) and the statement that those being drawn into extremist thinking are becoming younger and younger, it would seem inevitable that terrorism will be staying at the top of the national security agenda for the coming year. RUSI’s work during 2008 will continue to explore the understanding of and responses to extremism and radicalisation in the UK, as well as stocktaking how effective the Government’s strategies for countering terrorism have been. (Please click here for further information)

So what does 2008 hold? Early signs are that we are heading for another ‘all-hazards’ year, with floods, bird flu and extremism already in the news. It appears that 2008 will continue to see the legislative questions being raised for resolution and a new Counter-Terrorism Bill is due to be introduced. It would seem that with so many issues left unresolved from last year, 2008 is proving to be as busy as 2007, so hold onto your hats - it’s going to be a stormy year ahead…


The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.


[1.] See Neil Ellis (2007) "What's in a name? Changing Critical National Infrastructure", RUSI Analysis June 2007 for more comprehensive discussion of the changing definitions of CNI.
[2] The Pitt Review - Learning Lessons from the 2007 floods

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