If a shortage of truck drivers can cause nationwide disruption and inconvenience, just imagine the panic that might ensue if Britain's national infrastructure were to suffer a genuine catastrophic collapse.
Even though, as the Government keeps reminding us, there are ample supplies of fuel available, this has not stopped some people from indulging in anti-social behaviour , conduct associated more with failing states than the forecourts of British petrol stations.
The scale of this self-inflicted crisis means 150 or so military personnel have now been given emergency training so that they can help replenish stocks. Yet, as our military leaders know only too well, the Armed Forces could be required to play a far more critical role in the event of national disruption to our everyday lives being the result of action by an enemy state, as opposed to a massive overreaction on the part of the British public.
In the new era of warfare made possible by dramatic advances in technology, modern state-on-state conflicts are far more likely to be conducted by attacking an enemy's critical infrastructure than mounting a traditional battlefield assault. Knocking out a country's electricity and water supply, or crippling its financial services, could inflict infinitely more damage than a conventional military attack, and is much easier to undertake.
If a media report that simply raises the possibility of fuel supply shortages can provoke the scenes of panic-buying that have been witnessed throughout Britain this past week, it almost defies imagination how the public might react to real shortages caused by an enemy attack on our national infrastructure.
The prospect of widespread civil unrest being caused by such a calamitous event is certainly a consideration that is taken very seriously by security officials. For this reason there exists, deep in the bowels of the National Security Council's vaults in Whitehall, a detailed contingency plan that sets out precisely how the Government would act in such circumstances, with the deployment of troops on British streets to maintain order considered to be a serious possibility.
Launching attacks on national infrastructure to weaken an enemy's resistance is hardly a new concept.
In the 6th century AD the Goths blocked the aqueducts providing Rome's water supply in a bid to hasten the demise of the Roman Empire – it worked – while the main aim of the intensive bombing campaigns conducted during the Second World War was to weaken national resistance.
These days such campaigns are more likely to take the form of carefully targeted cyber attacks which, at the stroke of a computer key, can neutralise key infrastructure operations in a manner of minutes.
The cyber attack on America's leading pipeline operator , Colonial Pipeline, earlier this year, which closed down half of the US East Coast's fuel supply and briefly raised the prospect of serious shortages, exposed the vulnerability of America's energy infrastructure to hackers.
The culprits were identified as a group of Russian cybercriminals called DarkSide, and while the Biden administration absolved the Russian government of any blame, the prospect of an enemy state like Russia and China launching a similar attack against Britain's infrastructure is one that is taken very seriously at the highest levels of government.
One of the key conclusions reached by Downing Street's recently published Integrated Review was to call for the creation of an integrated national cyber command centre capable of tackling and disrupting attacks on critical national infrastructure. Concerns about the potential threat posed by hostile states were also behind the Government's belated decision to ban the Chinese Telecoms giant Huawei from building the country's 5G network.
Emerging threats to Britain's national infrastructure are not just confined to the realm of cyber.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced earlier this year that the Royal Navy is to build a new surveillance ship to protect critical undersea cables from attacks, warning that Russia had taken a "deep interest" in the cables, and that "the lights could go out" if critical infrastructure were lost. Space is another realm where hostile states are exploring ways to cripple their adversaries by destroying vital communications satellites.
These are just some examples of the rapid pace of change taking place in modern warfare, presenting an enormous challenge to the military as it seeks to adjust to the bewildering array of new threats the country faces.
Protecting Britain's critical infrastructure from hostile states will certainly be at the forefront of Boris Johnson's mind as he conducts the final interviews this week of senior military personnel seeking to become the next head of Britain's Armed Forces. The appointment of Britain's next Chief of the Defence Staff is due by the end of the week, with the successful contender likely to be the candidate who has the best plan for keeping the lights on.
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