In March the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine conﬁrmed that a bird ﬂu pandemic could be ‘unprecedented in its scale, in its spread, and in the economic losses’. It might even exceed the estimated ﬁfty million human deaths from the 1919 Spanish inﬂuenza, but the international response so far is incoherent.
The potential death toll, though grim, is only one dimension of the threat of bird ﬂu. If the H5N1 virus crossed from birds to humans, the political, economic and social consequences could spill into all aspects of life. In a desperate attempt to be seen to be doing something, governments might well impose useless but highly disruptive quarantines, or close borders and airports for months. This would disrupt trade, travel, productivity and world stock markets. The disease would be likely to affect global security, reducing troop strength for all armed forces, UN peacekeeping operations and police.