Global think tank, Chatham House, warns that policymakers must take action immediately to mitigate the risk of severe disruption at certain ports, maritime straits, and inland transport routes, which could have devastating knock-on effects for global food security.
Source: Chokepoints and Vulnerabilities in Global Food Trade | Chatham House
One of the most important recommendations is to incorporate ‘choke-point analysis’ into mainstream risk analysis. Whilst this is a good recommendation, I worry that many governments are fire-fighting, ignoring strategy and risk analysis. A good example is Theresa May’s current ‘weak and wobbly’ UK government, which is fire-fighting on a daily basis – see related blog.
Let’s stay with the UK, as an example. Clearly, austerity measures have been ineffective, reducing the effectiveness of public services and value for money. This blog has repeatedly argued in favor of a strategic approach, based on radical reform – but the political masters have not had the stomach for the truth.
Because of UK history and recent cuts to the UK’s military capability, strategists will be particularly alarmed at the UK’s risk profile, both in imports via Dover and Felixstowe.
Here’s an open question:
What steps should the UK take to reduce risk of food shortage from choke-point events? Does this responsibility fall on DEFRA, and if so, what are the terms of reference?
Dr Alf in raising this issue opens the issue of defence versus our critical financial situation.
We have just 17 escort vessels for the whole of our overseas trade which is not enough it itself. Former Admiral Lord West says that this is not enough, so if we manage to increase exports then we will need more such vessels yet at present we have a military recruitment crisis and are doing nothing about it.
50% of our imports and exports go through Felixstowe, which is owned by the Chinese and these have to travel by one road, the A14 which becomes the A604 and is often gridlocked. A severe winter or terrorist bomb at the Port entrance would be enough to create a balance of payments crisis and bring the country to its knees.
Today we have logistics chains controlled by computers and we have seen that Chinese hackers, North Korean hackers and Russian hackers can penetrate and are sitting on all our major systems. The Chinese have 5 million cyber warriors attached to the People’s Liberation Army, the Russians have 2 million and GCHQ has less than 12000 and has effectively outsourced much of its capability to the NSA and 5 eyes countries and to private companies like Darktrace based in Cambridge.
What happened to the MP’s inboxes and to the NHS can be replicated to plunder bank accounts, shut down government departments and disrupt lorry movements so given that the UK imports 75% of its food and has only a 1% margin of power supply over demand a weather warfare attack would be enough to shut the country down.
Choke Points are not just shipping lanes and ports but include any distribution, logistics or point where money and goods have to move around.
Clearly the physical choke points and sea lanes need to be patrolled and that means more escort vessels, more submarines, more drones and the reintroduction of National Service for all school leavers coupled with a call up of all able bodied reservists and recently retired military personnel.
A single aircraft carrier doesn’t do the job, several more are needed plus hypersonic jets fitted with AI enabled robots rather than costly “Top Gun ” style pilots.
This will require money and that needs to come from fairly brutal reform of the public sector and more exports.