Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The following review was prepared for an academic journal who now tell me it will be out sometime in late 2009...!

Paul Wilkinson (ed) (2007) Homeland Security in the UK: Future Preparedness for Terrorist Attack Since 9/11. Abingdon: Routledge. 417pp, £22.99, 978 0 415 38375 2

Analysing terrorist threats and the adequacy of the UK’s response is to walk a tightrope of exaggeration on one side and underplaying the reality of the threat on the other. Wilkinson’s book faces the unenviable task of analysing the UK’s balancing act while providing a balanced analysis itself. In doing so it examines a number of issues.

First, it provides an assessment of the groups posing a threat to the UK. Along with chapters on international terrorist groups there are chapters reminding us of the numerous Northern Ireland and animal rights groups that continue to pose a threat. But it is groups like Al-Qaeda that command the most attention; groups and movements that as the book highlights the UK complacently overlooked in the past. Such is the level of the threat that as the book notes (p51) by 2003 there were an estimated 100 suicide bombers resident in the UK. Figures such as this are presented in a calm and analytical way and not in such a way as to simply alarm.

Second, the book discusses the various means of attack that these groups either seek or have at their disposal. Here the dangers of nuclear, biological or cyber terrorism are not over-hyped. But so too are the authors careful not to downplay methods with the most catastrophic of consequences.

Third, the book addresses the ability of the UK to cope with the full range of threats and whether the UK is sufficiently keeping one step ahead. Central to this is the theme of joined up government, or more accurately: governance. For as the book shows, tackling these threats extends across areas from maritime or aviation security through to immigration and cyber-security.

Every chapter is very well referenced and a good introduction and conclusion top and tail the book. There are, however, three areas where the book slips. First, the book doesn’t mention threats such as that which the British government recently identified as the single biggest threat to the UK’s security: infectious diseases. While of course the book is about terrorist threats, there is a lack of discussion about how the UK prepares for a wider mixture of threats; an approach the recently published UK National Security Strategy attempted. Second, the sheer number of acronyms used makes the book an alphabet soup, frustrating even for those familiar with the area. A list at the back of the book would have been extremely welcome. Finally, while the book is a study of the UK it doesn’t consider sufficiently the UK’s links with the EU, the USA or other allies and how sufficient these links are.

Tim Oliver
London School of Economics and Political Science