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.

Ebola, epidemic, uncertaintyIn 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 SARSH5N1 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.

Read the 2 October scan →

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.

Published by Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the President/CEO of The Red Team Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for international relations, national and international security issues. Her current focus is on the war in Ukraine, international order and the rise of China, the overstepping of planetary boundaries and international relations, the methodology of SF&W, radicalisation as well as new tech and security.

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  1. Ebola seems to be a scalating threat that has piled up over several other crisis that is spreading throughout the world.Ukraine,Middle Eastern rising tension,ISIS,Eurpe’s stagnating economy,and the United States weak and often mis-managed international performance.Ebola has killed some 3000 in West Africa and once spread to Nigeria could eventually pose a threat to Africa’s largest economy and fourth OPEC producer.There are now conformed information that Ebola has now arrived in the US.This could have a devastating impact on the ailing American economy.International response to all types of crisis has diminished.For instance any of such crisis could sky-rock world crude oil prices.Global good governence should perhaps be credited for maintaining relative calm.Half a century ago any of the above-mentioned crisis could errupt into a major conflict.
    Having said that I believe that the spread of of Ebola could have a long-lasting impact once combined with other major conflicts that have engolffed the so called global village village.We owe this to Dr.Lavoix who thougtfully and with courage brought up the topic.

    1. Thank you Fereydoun!!! I share your analysis and concern, all the more so that now – and quite unsurprisingly – Ebola has reached the Eurasian land mass. I just cannot understand why simple – if unpleasant – quarantine measures are not taken nor why the knowledge we have on Ebola transmission (contagion through infected surfaces and materials) is not considered. The shortsightedness of the various governments, officials and state administrations is appalling.
      Actually, we may wonder if it is not linked to the phenomenon you underlined, that most crises now do not generate strong responses… Could the reason be a generalized apathy and will to see the past system continuing for ever? The positive impact would be what you describe, the negative one would be being put of touch with the reality of threats and dangers… Until reality becomes too strong and obvious to be denied? I cannot resist quoting again Churchill here: “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

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