Brown wants to send civilian force to war zones

The government will publish a “national risk register” to help local authorities and businesses prepare for potential disasters, and promote a civil protection network of local volunteers. A national security forum combining up to 30 private sector experts and academics will advise the existing ministerial national security committee.

The 60-page national security strategy document published by the Cabinet Office described the threats facing Britain as more diffuse than during the cold war. “There is a much broader set of risks and threats,” Robert Hannigan, Brown’s chief security adviser, said.

Threats to Britain’s security range from climate change to cyber attacks to extremism among the young, the document said. Officials said the emphasis on protecting the UK should be as much on local initiatives as on government measures. They gave as an example schools and universities reporting on “radicalisers”, comparing it with child protection initiatives.

“Our new approach to security also means improved local resilience against emergencies, building and strengthening local capacity to respond effectively in a range of circumstances from floods to possible terrorism incidents,” Brown told MPs. “Not the old cold war idea of civil defence but a new form of civil protection that combines expert preparedness … with greater local engagement of individuals and families.”

Asked if the civil protection network would be similar to second world war ARP (air raid precautions) wardens, who patrolled the streets, a government spokesman said: “It’s a variation of that.” The network was also likened to a kind of neighbourhood watch scheme.

The document stressed the need to link national authorities with local ones and also the growing interdependence of Britain and the rest of the world.

In his statement to the Commons, the prime minister dwelt on the need to promote civil authority rather than military force.

The 1,000-strong “UK civilian standby capacity” would be set up to help failing states and rebuild countries emerging from conflict, he told MPs. At home, he referred to extra resources the government had given to MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and anti-terrorist police. Abroad, he announced more help for peacekeepers in Africa, including Somalia.

The prime minister also announced plans, drawn up by Des Browne, the defence secretary, for a bonus of £15,000 for armed forces personnel who had served for eight years.

He also said £20m had been set aside to help them on to the housing ladder. The measures would be financed through the defence budget.

Brown also held out the promise of greater openness, by giving a bigger role to parliament’s intelligence and scrutiny committee. But it remains unclear if the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ would give evidence to the committee in public.

Brown said Britain would promote nuclear disarmament but the document called for the Trident nuclear weapons system to be retained.

There has been little enthusiasm for the document, which was due to be published at the end of last year, in Whitehall where departments are reluctant to share responsibilities or projects.

Ian Kearns, of the IPPR thinktank, which has published its own national security strategy, described the government’s document as “weaker on policy substance and weaker still on necessary changes to the machinery of government”.

Security threats

· No state threatens the UK directly

· There is a high probability of a flu pandemic. It could cause 50,000 to 750,000 fatalities in the UK

· Climate change is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and therefore to national security

· Societies are growing increasignly dependent on electronic information and communications systems vulnerable to cyber attack

· Global energy demand will be more than 50% higher in 2030 than today

Richard Norton-Taylor