Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals…
Editorial – Epidemic, pandemic and uncertainty – Besides the increasingly likely and logical spread of the Islamist threat to Libya – after India as seen over the last weeks, the still very unstable situation in Ukraine and its international corollaries, from tension within the EU to tension with Russia, or to energy security risks, to name only a few threats we face, the spread of the Ebola epidemic to the American continent confronts us not only with a major danger but also with the difficulty of “decision-taking” in conditions of high uncertainty.
Indeed various logics and interests conflict, each taking advantage of the uncertainty to try to prevail.
In the case of Ebola, we have the deadly epidemic that is spreading in Western Africa, and now is reaching America, as it could have reached – or is actually already doing so – other continents. The security of citizens and of the various countries concerned would demand that borders be better monitored, with adequate measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Yet, such surveillance is obviously complicated but also expensive to set up. Thus the later it is set up – if ever – the better, all the more so that we do not actually know if or when the epidemic may spread. Uncertainty at work.
Furthermore, as reported by Andrew England and Javier Blas for the Financial Times “Ebola stigma hits wider African economies“. Thus the economic risk to some countries, as also recalled in one of the articles of The Weekly, is considered as a major factor in dealing with an epidemic and related risk of pandemic. Indeed, imagine some borders are closed, the cost to trade and business in general for those countries and for interests dealing with them would be very high. If ever the epidemic stops (as we saw in previous years with the SARS, H5N1 and A(H1N1) – WHO), then governments will be criticized and the quarantined countries will suffer to overcome the economic impact. Yet, if the epidemic is not stopped and is transformed in a pandemic, then the cost will be much higher, to say the least and to say nothing of the global and total disruption that would be most likely. We all have in mind the impact of the fourteenth century Great Plague in Europe, called the Black Death. All countries would be hit. Uncertainty, again, is at work, as well as the way we currently prioritize short-term economy and wealth above everything else.
The way out of this highly dangerous dilemma, is a better and more systematically used approach to tackling uncertainty, i.e. strategic foresight and warning or risk management (see Lavoix, When risk management meets SF&W), considering all elements and impacts as well as likelihood and timelines, in a realistic and courageous way.
Note also that an interesting – and easy – way to better understand what pandemics are is to use gaming, thus transforming it in serious gaming. Try Pandemics 2 where you play the role of a virus and “its your job to infect everyone in the world with your disease.” Note also that this game is a first step to use Red Teaming (taking the point of view of the enemy, see more on the excellent Red Team Journal website) in the case of epidemics and pandemics, and thus to improve our strategies.
The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.
The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.
If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.
Featured image: Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles by Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.