To paraphrase US President Richard M. Nixon, finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver; finishing second in security risks oblivion.
I have returned to my alma mater, University College, Oxford, to present a copy of my new book – The Oxford Handbook of War. Olympic-mania is already apparent in this country from the moment one steps off the plane at Heathrow Airport until the moment (with relief) one climbs back on again. In my short stay here in Oxford, several stories have broken in the British press that demonstrate not only that the London Olympics are vulnerable to terrorist attack but that the security of Britain itself is now at risk from a dangerously unconnected and disconnected British government. Put simply, British security policy is about as ‘un-joined up’ (in the terrible jargon of Whitehall) as it is possible to be.
National security policy is comprised of six elements: effective control over national borders; effective management of immigration; the prevention of extremism and its export; the legal protection and punishment of citizens and others; and (credible) defense. The sixth and most important element of security policy is that the people trust the system and believe government is acting efficiently in their best interests. The British Government is failing in all six areas.
Let me take you through a week in the life of security failure.
On 20 February, Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Theresa May ordered the splitting up of the UK Border Agency after hundreds of thousands of people were let into the country without appropriate checks. This is some five months prior to the Olympics. Specifically, some 500,000 nationals from the European Economic Area travelling on Eurostar services from France were not checked against security warning lists. Secure ID checks were suspended at London Heathrow Airport some 463 times between June 2010 and November 2011. Between January and June 2011 a system for reading a biometric chip was deactivated 14,812 occasions at various British ports.
On 21 February Janes Defense Weekly reported that China would spend $120 billion on defense this year climbing to $238 billion by 2015, a rise of 18.75%. This is in addition to the 256% increase in China’s defense spending since 2005. The same day President Putin announced that Russia would spend $775 billion by 2020, including the deployment of 400 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. The two sets of increases are clearly linked. Meanwhile Britain is cutting its defense budget by a nominal 8% between 2010 and 2015 (in fact the cuts go far deeper) and is likely to cut further. Clearly the balance of power both in Europe and the wider world is shifting dangerously but government is impervious to this.
On 23 February, the Office for National Statistics reported that in the year up to June 2011 some 593,000 people entered Britain with net migration to Britain rising by 250,000. Immigrants from Africa and the Indian sub-Continent totaled 170,000. The massive majority are of course perfectly decent people seeking a better life and who make a real contribution to society, although the sheer pace and scale of immigration is imposing huge pressures on British society. Equally, many come from the most conservative regions of the Islamic world, such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia. This makes a mockery of government claims that British troops are fighting and dying in a corner of an Afghan field to keep radical Islam away from Britain. It is entering via the front door.
On 23 February, Prime Minister Cameron hosted the London Somalia Conference designed to kick-start serious international aid to a country that is now one of the epicenters of international terrorism. Nothing wrong with that, although it does seem strange that having failed in Afghanistan Britain is now so keen to fail in Somalia. Once again, British taxpayers’ money is being ‘invested’ in another failed state with no particular strategy in sight. It may have something to do with the fact that there are 50 ‘British’ members of Somali Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab, the greatest number from any foreign country. It would make more sense for the government to focus properly on home-grown threats. The government’s PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy is in tatters mainly because of problems in the Home Office (Interior Ministry). This weakening of effort is reinforced by the 11.3 percent cuts to the security services which have taken place since 2010.
On 24 February, 65 year old British citizen Christopher Tappin was taken by two US Marshals from England to America to face trial under an extradition treaty that is so blatantly loaded in favor of the US as to render England little more than a colony. Indeed, whilst the US population is some five times greater than that of Britain, the US has successfully carted off some 75 British citizens against only 40 US citizens being sent the other way. This is due to the much higher burden of evidence demanded by American courts.
The sheer scale of the complacency at the top of government was revealed to me this week in evidence apparently given by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin to the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration. Letwin was responding to a report to which I had contributed which highlighted the need for a real national strategy to foster high-level unity of effort and purpose in British security. Sadly, his testimony was worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister” fame at his dissembling worst. Letwin rejected both the idea and language of a national strategy as something he did not recognize. He implicitly trashed both the National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defense and Security Review by suggesting that all Britain needed was vague ‘strategic aims’ and to ‘scan horizons’. It was as though Britain was still an imperial power of such influence and resources that hard choices and disciplined, cohesive government in pursuit of sound security policy – the very rationale for strategy – was not really at all necessary. This was not an exercise in the management of decline but the active encouragement of it. To Letwin’s mind it was OK for Britain to simply muddle along. It is the job of the Cabinet Office to ensure coherence across government. It has palpably failed.
Why is this happening? First, the culture of political correctness is now so pervasive amongst the Whitehall elite that the interests of all minorities, be they from within these islands or beyond, are placed above those of the majority English. Second, Britain has effectively lost control over much of its border to the EU and the European Court of Human Rights, which now effectively controls just who Britain can and cannot deport. Third, in the absence of strategy and leadership from Downing Street, a form of market competition has broken out between the key ministries for what little money and resources are available. The tail is most definitely wagging the dog. Sadly, it is competition reinforced by profound ideological divisions within and between key ministries as to how security should be pursued which effectively prevents a coherent and cohesive cross-government security policy.
Does all this matter? A very senior American colleague told me this week that the many contradictions in Britain’s security policy make Britain not simply a security risk but a risk to US security and that of allies and partners.
This is a security mess of Olympic proportions….and come this summer the Olympics will be in the front-line.
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.