Notes From the Margins…

It’s Raining Threats, Hallelujah

  • February 23, 2012
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Is it time to start scraping the moss off  those decommissioned nuclear bunkers left over from the Cold War,  or dig my own?   Should I stockpile food with a view to staying indoors for the next twenty years?  After all it’s bad enough, as William Hague warned last week, that the UK is within the range of the Iranian nuclear missiles which have yet to be built.

Then two days ago, on the eve of today’s international conference on Somalia, we learned from David Cameron that Somalis whose minds have been “poisoned by radicalism” represent a threat to the national security of the UK and that the threat is “growing”.

Yesterday, emergency services began a two-day exercise at the disused Aldwych underground station to prepare for the possibility of a terror attack during the Olympic Games.   And now, the Commons Defence Committee has published a report warning that the UK faces security threats from space, in the form of  a “space weather event” or a catastrophic attack from “rogue states or terrorists” equipped with “High Altitude Electro-Magnetic Pulse Weapons (HEMP)”.

According to the Committee such an attack could be carried out in two ways.  In one scenario a nuclear device could be detonated 500 miles above the earth’s surface in order to generate an electro-magnetic pulse that would knock out the national grid, telecommunications and other vital systems.

Or potential attackers could build a “crude” non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon “with the power to cause disruption over a more limited area”.    In case you’re wondering who might want to carry out such a dastardly act, the Committee has a few helpful pointers, according to the Daily Telegraph:

It warned that countries such as Iran – which is resisting international pressure to end its nuclear programme – and even eventually some “non-state actors” could acquire the technology to mount such an attack, in a scenario akin to the plot of the 1995 James Bond film ‘Golden Eye’.

That’s it, I’m out of here.  I mean, holy crap,  Golden Eye?  And if the evil ones are taking inspiration from James Bond then what else might they be planning?   What if Ahmadinajad and all those other ‘non-state actors’  drop nerve gas  from space in an attempt to wipe out humanity, as the psychotic Hugo Drax attempted to do in  Moonraker?

Suppose they learn how to harness solar power and build a ‘solar gun’, like Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun?   Then there are the possibilities for bacteriological warfare, such as the ‘virus omega’ developed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in order to blackmail the world.   After all, if you’re looking for threats, you couldn’t do much worse than the scenario that the SPECTRE leader outlines to Bond:

Total infertility! In plants and animals. Not just disease in a few herds, Mr. Bond. Or the loss of a single crop. But the destruction of a whole strain. Forever! Throughout an entire continent. If my demands are not met, I shall proceed with the systematic extinction of whole species of cereals and livestock all over the world!

Isn’t that just how ‘rogue states and non-state actors’ think?   Well actually, it isn’t, at least as far as we know.   But then, as Donald Rumsfeld once pointed out so eloquently, not knowing something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist since “there are things out there we do not know we don’t know”.

And to governments obsessed with national security, and intent on using national security as a pretext for permanent war and a permanent state of emergency,  no scenario is so remote or unlikely that it can’t be presented to the public in the most catastrophic  terms and included within the 21st century’s seemingly endless list of ‘developing threats’.

According to the Defence Committee, the Ministry of Defence “views the threat [of an HEMP attack] as potential rather than actual” even though “Currently no state has both the  intent  to threaten our vital interests and the  capability  to do so with nuclear weapons”.

The Committee nevertheless quotes from a 2009 US EMP Commission which found that

 some “rogue states”, including Iran and North Korea, are aware of the potential of such an attack. Iran, in particular, is reported to have been conducting what appear to be missile tests to simulate a nuclear EMP strike.

As a result the Committee asked the Israeli rocket scientist and founder of the Israel Missile Defence Association (IMDA) Avi Schnurr “if Iran had the capability to launch a weapon to an altitude of several tens of kilometres”.

Few people will be surprised that Schnurr replied that it did, and added that ” there was a serious risk that rogue states and nations, some of which already possessed the launch capacity, would acquire the necessary weapons”.

So that’s it then.   The threat is real, or at least it could be.   And the Committee therefore recommends that “the work of hardening UK infrastructure is begun now and carried out as a matter of urgency”  in order to develop resilience in the event of an HEMP attack.

This “hardening” is also to be accompanied by “counter-proliferation action to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons or ballistic missile capabilities’ and the continued maintenance of the  UK’s nuclear ‘deterrent capability”.

Therefore the committee sought assurance from the Ministry of Defence that “the Nuclear Firing Chain was secure”.  Fortunately, it is, since

As part of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent, the Nuclear Firing Chain is designed and maintained to assure the UK’s ability for retaliatory action should we be subject to a nuclear attack, and this has been the case since the days of the Cold War.

Phew.  So maybe I won’t board up my windows after all.  Because even though the threats keep ‘growing’ and ‘developing’, I now know that I am in safe hands, that my government is looking after me, and that even if North Korea and Iran do knock out the national grid, both countries will be wiped off the face of the earth.

Isn’t that what national security is all about?




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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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