Security policy is a ministerial muddle

Today’s news is that the government regards cyber attacks as one of the greatest threats to the UK’s security. This conjures up the bizarre image of Liam Fox launching a Trident missile against a 16-year-old computer hacker just outside London.

Whatever resources would be useful for tackling cyber attacks, they are unlikely to include nuclear weapons, Eurofighters or aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which will be published tomorrow (19 October), is likely to miss this point and instead perpetuate the government’s outdated obsession with twentieth-century approaches to security.

The SDSR has been conducted by the Ministry of Defence within parameters so narrow that they even rule out considering the future of the Trident nuclear weapons system. It will not ask the wider questions considered by the National Security Strategy published today, meaning that it will effectively contradict it.

The strategy lists four possibilities in Tier 1 of the threats to the UK. They include hostile computer attacks, acts of international terrorism, a natural hazard such as a flu pandemic and an international military crisis between states that draws in the UK. Of these, only one appears to require a conventional armed force.

An attack on the UK by another state is ranked only in Tier 3. This is presumably the sort of attack that Trident is intended to deter.

Tier 3 also includes the risk of an accident at a nuclear power station. Ministers keep assuring us that this is very unlikely. Yet they are prepared to spend somewhere between twenty billion and ninety-four billion pounds on renewing Trident – for the sake of an eventuality that they have just rated as equally unlikely.

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