The relevance of NATO for our national security is being questioned....
War has a new meaning. It used to be about armies fighting in pitched battles, with weapons of increasing sophistication. It meant millions of people being killed or wounded.
More than 1.5 million Britons were killed in the two 20th century world wars. Of course there are still wars like that today, currently civil wars in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan South, the Central African Republic, to name but a few. But there are other wars today that do not involve pitched battles but are still a serious threat to our lives.
Last week we were remembering the London Bridge attack in which three Islamists killed 8 members of the public and wounded 48 others. Also in 2017 there was Khalid Masood’s rampage on Westminster Bridge, killing 5 and injuring 250 before he stabbed a policeman in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. That was followed by the Manchester Arena bombing that killed 22 and injured 139. A fourth incident, at Finsbury Park, was an attack on Muslim worshippers which injured 11 and killed one of them.
These incidents were the ones that succeeded. The Security Services prevented 9 other attacks before they happened. They are said currently to have 500 live counter-terrorist investigations in progress. They arrested 412 people in 2017, 135 of them were charged and sent to trial. There are currently 224 terrorist prisoners in UK prisons, 86 of whom are Islamists. These statistics should not surprise us because at least 800 Britons went to fight with ISIS in Syria and at least half of them have returned to this country as ISIS lost its bases in Syria and Iraq. Some may have come home disillusioned but other may want to continue their fighting here.
Islamist terrorists are not the only threats to our peace and security. The attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, using a deadly Russian nerve agent made us aware of another threat that will not be so easy to prevent. A paper by Bob Seely MP, written for the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, reports that Russia uses at least 50 weapons in what he calls hybrid or covert warfare. “In this new kind of conflict, hackers, trolls, assassins, politically connected business executives, spin doctors, paid-for protestors and street thugs are often more useful than conventional tools of warfare, such as planes, tanks and artillery. Nevertheless, all have their place in this full spectrum of warfare.”
These tools of subversion have allegedly been used to influence the 2017 American Presidential election and our own 2016 referendum about membership of the European Union. Our Security Services are aware of regular cyber-attacks on our military and civilian communications. Seely argues that Russia has deployed these tactics to divide and demoralise the West, “to counter the imbalance between itself and NATO, which it recognises is a formidable opponent.”
Sadly, there are other, shameful threats from members of the public making death threats against MPs with whom they disagree. The murder of Jo Cox in 2016 was the worst but this week another MP has been given armed protection from threats that have been taken seriously.
How should we respond to these threats? First, we should take them seriously. Our nation is not the only one that is no longer faithful to God’s will and Word. Ignoring these threats is like Israel in the time of Jeremiah who warned “Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace”. (6:14) Ezekiel made the same point (13:10-16). That said we remember that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and “the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). In that assurance the one thing we can do is to pray regularly for those who have to deal with these threats.