By Miller J. Wilson
With the outbreak of the H1N1 virus spreading throughout the globe and threatening to become a pandemic virus one must wonder what the effects will be on the security of nations around the world. An Associated Press report projects an estimated of 90 million ill and 2 million deaths in the US and some British experts claim 120 million deaths world-wide should H1N1 turn into a pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
However, the potential cost in health is limited compared to the potential threats to National Security and economy.
One of the biggest threats that a H1N1 pandemic creates is the devastation to the economy. According to Julian Jessop of Capital Economics, the World Bank predicts a global pandemic could cause a loss of over 3 trillion dollars or 4.8% of the world’s GDP due in part to losing 30% of the workforce because of illness . Having this happen when economies around the world are already on the brink of collapse from the credit and housing crises could cause even the most stable economies to collapse. But one does not have to wait for this worst case scenario to see the damage to the economy as stocks fall, countries ban pork products, and currency loses value. This damage to the already battered economies of the world could thrust the world into a depression that is impossible to avoid.
With the collapse of economies and increased numbers of cases comes another threat to national security and that is riots. As governments try to gain a handle on the outbreaks it is inevitable that some will try to impose forced quarantines as China did during the 2003 SARS crises, which in turn led to riots. But even without forced quarantines the chance for riots is increased as refugees from less developed nations, real or imagined, flood the most developed nations and citizens become frustrated that their governments do nothing.
This can already be seen in the U.S. as proponents for border closings are already demanding. Compounding this problem will be the increased fear and frustration caused by an increase in the number of confirmed cases and deaths in an area that naturally leads to mass hysteria and anger at the central government that seems unable or unwilling to help out as we witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, a pandemic would weaken the defense capabilities of the states most affected and would be a great opportunity for another state to attack either using conventional or cyber warfare. With viruses in the electrical grid placed by Russian and Chinese hackers and Chinese microchips installed in the military aircraft, the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to this. In addition to outside threats is the threat of militants within a country staging rebellions or coups. This is especially true for countries with weak central governments that already have problems with militants, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the end we will have to wait to see where this current H1N1 crisis takes us as it could wind up doing nothing, as the swine flu scare of 1976 was, or slowing during the summer only to return with catastrophic devastation as the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic did. The one thing that we do know is that we had better address all of the security concerns now while there is time instead of waiting until it is too late.
Miller J. Wilson is currently an AMU student working on his BA in Intelligence Operations. In addition he is a volunteer for his local Medical Reserve Corps and Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT).