This week’s security news has been dominated by the response to North Korea launching a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday morning (UK time). North Korean officials acknowledged that the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile test was intentionally launched over Japan leaving leader Kim Jong Un “very satisfied”.
A Pentagon statement from Washington D.C. confirmed that the missile “overflew the territory of northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean”, approximately 500 miles east of the country’s coastline.
In a more measured tone to recent statements on North Korea, US President Donald Trump initially said in response to the test that “all options are on the table”. He later clarified that “talking isn’t the answer”, only to be contradicted by the US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, who said the US was “never out of diplomatic solutions”. In an emergency session on Tuesday, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the “outrageous actions” of North Korea, but declined to propose fresh sanctions on the regime.
Theresa May refused to rule out military action against North Korea in the event that the state continues to fire missiles, in what the UK Prime Minister referred to as “illegal, significant acts of provocation.” May made her comments from Kyoto, Japan, where she met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the North Korean issue and renewed relations between the UK and Japan. On Thursday, May was due to announce the signing of a joint declaration on defence between the two countries in an address to Japan’s national security council.
Police Federation chief quits before vote of no confidence
The Chairman of the Police Federation, Steve White, formally announced his resignation on Wednesday after three years at the head of the staff association representing 120,000 police officers. The Times reported that his decision was influenced by the scheduling of a no confidence vote next week, which Met Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh said had broad support.
White’s tenure was dominated by internal divisions, largely related to austerity measures affecting police pay and pensions. The Guardian reports that the Police Federation has been under government pressure to reform following a series of controversies surrounding its internal management and spending. In a speech to delegates in 2014, then Home Secretary Theresa May said in response to allegations of institutional bullying and misspending, “the Federation was created by an act of parliament and it can be reformed by an act of parliament.”
White denied that his decision to leave has been influenced by the impending vote of no confidence, saying he is “proud of what we have been able to achieve” during his tenure, including “new financial governance, improved engagement with government and the strengthening of relationships with stakeholders.” Ken Marsh, whose Metropolitan Police Federation has considered breaking away from the national federation, strongly disputed White’s legacy as a ‘reformer’. Meanwhile, Sara Thornton, Chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, called White “a dedicated advocate for rank-and-file police officers”.
Elections to replace White will take place in November before he departs at the end of the year, and are likely to feature candidates debating the appropriate nature and pace of organisational reform.
Terror attacks killing fewer Britons than in 1980s
The Daily Telegraph has released an analysis of terror attacks this week, which shows that recent atrocities have killed far fewer people than attacks in the 1980s. According to figures from the Global Terrorism Database, 126 people have been killed in the UK in terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2017, compared to 1,094 deaths in the 15-year period before that. The worst year for terrorism-related deaths in the UK was 1988, when 372 were killed, the majority of whom were victims of the Lockerbie disaster. The nation with the most terrorism-related deaths in the UK since 1970 is Northern Ireland where thousands of British and Irish people died during the Troubles.
The report argues that official data on terrorist incidents and deaths shows that Europe “is one of the safest areas in the world for terrorist-related incidents.” In 2015, the majority of deaths were in the Middle East and North Africa (17,752), with 577 deaths in Europe that year.
While the analysis does not reflect the loss of many families across the UK and Europe following terror attacks over recent years, it does highlight the continued work, dedication and effectiveness of British security services and their European counterparts. Earlier this year, a senior Whitehall source revealed that security services had foiled five attacks in the two months after the attack at Westminster.
The data also offers some perspective in the midst of increased public reporting of terrorism tip-offs and heightened fears about the terrorist threat in the UK. Last year a YouGov poll found that the perceived threat of terrorism has tripled over the past decade, and the official threat level is currently reported as “severe”.
It should, however, be noted that police and security services face continued challenges in identifying and preventing so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks or those of small groups. These threats show no sign of abating, necessitating a continuing armed policing presence.
RAF supports NATO as Barnier warns of security threat
The UK Government is deploying two RAF Typhoon fighter-jets to the of Estonia to support NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence Mission. The Mirror reports that strengthening of Britain’s military force in Estonia has taken place to help deter Russian aggression in the region. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said, “The UK is stepping up its commitment to NATO, nowhere more clearly than in the Baltic… in the face of any potential threats.” Fallon added the UK is “standing shoulder to shoulder” with its allies to “demonstrate our unwavering commitment to the security of Europe.” Earlier this year troops from the 5th Battalion The Rifles and around 300 Army vehicles joined French and Danish forces in the country. Other countries have sent troops to Latvia, Poland and Lithuania as part of NATO’s Forward Presence Mission.
The UK’s focus on NATO and aligning defence strategy in Europe has increased since the British people voted to leave the EU last year. While the UK government has traditionally opposed EU defence cooperation, Eurosceptic MPs are no longer offering warnings about the potential for an EU army, and the UK Government has given the green light to major defence development initiatives in Brussels.
Security issues are expected to form a major part of Brexit negotiations, at least once the UK agrees its ‘exit bill’, with both Theresa May and – more recently – EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier, warning of the consequences of not striking a deal on security and defence. This week, Barnier said that Britain’s leaving the EU would have “very practical consequences” but that the security of the remaining 27 states “is our immediate priority”. In the Article 50 letter to trigger the UK’s exit, Theresa May invoked the issue of security 11 times in four pages, saying, “a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
While the capabilities of the British security services have been touted by some Brexit advocates as a bargaining chip for Theresa May in negotiations with the EU, it is difficult to see any scenario in with the UK and European Union member states do not continue to collaborate closely.
Afghanistan war crimes case stumbles with lack of witnesses
The Sun has reported that a war crimes investigation into the alleged abuse of Afghan civilians by British troops is faltering due to a lack of witnesses willing to come forward. Legal firm Leigh Day has acted for 81 Afghan clients who claim to be victims of abuse, with the investigation running since 2014, but the Sun’s Defence Editor is reporting that only one witness is willing to provide evidence to support such claims.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence announced that approximately 90 per cent of the 675 cases relating to alleged abuse of civilians in Afghanistan were being abandoned. This decision came on the same day as the Commons Defence subcommittee’s report into the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) actions strongly criticised the investigation’s “deeply disturbing” treatment of retired troops. Leigh Day and three of its solicitors were cleared from charges of professional misconduct for their role in the Iraq inquiry at a tribunal in June.
The DPF has previously met with David Willetts, The Sun’s defence editor, and will be reconnecting with him to provide updates on the challenges facing the MDP.