Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:01 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:01 | SYDNEY

Terrorism and swine flu


Sam Roggeveen


30 April 2009 16:59

Since inter-disciplinary work is all the rage today on The Interpreter, I thought I'd have a stab at it myself.

I got a phone call this morning from a contributor to this blog who was dissatisfied with the short post I wrote yesterday about Prime Minister Rudd's Afghanistan troop announcement. If I thought sending troops to Afghanistan was the wrong way to tackle the terrorist threat, he asked, what's the right way?

My answer was that there was too much emphasis on preventing terrorist acts and too little on improving societal resilience against attacks. Long-time readers will be familiar with this resilience theme; you can scan those posts for details and further links.

But it occurred to me while listening to some radio news coverage today of the swine flu problem that there is a parallel in how we respond to these two threats. In both cases, although we are aware of a broad problem that needs to be dealt with, we know very little about how, where and when specific threats will emerge. So it pays to build systems and procedures that can respond quickly to outbreaks anywhere and can contain damage, rather than putting too much effort into preventing outbreaks from one specific geographical area.

Yesterday I described the Afghanistan mission as an 'inefficient' response to terrorism — it's good for the Afghans, but it may not be doing much good for us. Similarly, Mexico would no doubt benefit enormously if Western countries sent in a huge nation-building force on a decade-long mission to build sewers, generate awareness about hygiene and otherwise improve public health. It might even end the threat of swine flu from Mexico for good.

But this would nevertheless be an extemely expensive and narrowly targeted response to a problem that could potentially pop up anywhere in the world.

UPDATE: This makes the point pretty well. Substitute references to swine flu with 'terrorism' and you get the idea.