The security threat posed by radical Islam is of the “first order” and could lead to bio-terror attacks, Tony Blair has warned.
The former prime minister called on leaders from around the world – including China and Russia – to develop a common strategy to counter the menace to their societies.
“In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat; and, unchecked, it will come to us, even if centred far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated,” he said. “This is a global challenge and one that is getting worse.”
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute military think tank, marking 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on the US, Mr Blair said governments should prepare for the prospect of bio-terrorism by “non-state actors” and would be “unwise” to downgrade the threat posed by such groups.
“We should decide it as a matter of strategy, we shouldn’t blunder into it, because it’s a big decision. It means you reposition a lot of your analysis of the world.
“My view is that you can’t be sure, but it would be unwise to delegate it to a second order threat. I don’t see it diminishing.”
Mr Blair said: “Covid-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction; but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors.”
Mr Blair, who first committed British troops to Afghanistan in 2001, said that it was clear “radical Islam” had not declined as a force in that time.
He said its ideology, turning religion into political doctrine backed if necessary by armed struggle, inevitably brought it into conflict with open, culturally tolerant societies.
Likening it to revolutionary communism in the 20th century, he said that it remained the principal cause of destabilisation across the Middle East and Africa.
Mr Blair said while initial efforts to counter the threat would inevitably centre on Western nations, it was important to bring in Russia and China as well Muslim countries which opposed the extremists.
He said it represented a particular challenge to European nations given that it was now clear following the withdrawal from Afghanistan that the US had “a very limited appetite for military engagement”.
“Europe is already facing the fallout from Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East,” he added.
“And for these purposes Britain is part of Europe, like it or not.”
West ‘deeply averse’ to military causalities
Mr Blair said that a strategy based on responding to direct terrorist attacks through drone strikes and special forces had “limitations”.
While he said there would always be a need for “boots on the ground”, Western nations had become “deeply averse” to casualties among their own armed forces.
“This is not a problem of the armed forces themselves, who are brave and extraordinary people,” he said.
“But it is now an overwhelming political constraint to any commitment to Western boots on the ground, except for special forces.
“Yet the problem this gives rise to, is obvious: if the enemy we’re fighting knows that the more casualties they inflict, the more our political will erodes, then the incentive structure is plain.”