Terrorism And Critical Infrastructure

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Thoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations – New York, published in Nine o’Clock on 2 February 2017

Protection of Critical Infrastructure has become a priority issue for states, in reaction to the growing risks posed by terrorism. All governments recognize now that terrorism is an enduring threat which requires a sustained and coordinated response, and since 11 September 2001 most countries have developed national strategies to protect their critical infrastructure.

It is generally accepted that at the national level, if destroyed, degraded or rendered unavailable, critical infrastructure would significantly affect the social and economic wellbeing of a nation, or affect its ability to ensure national defense and security. Terrorist attacks against passenger trains in Madrid in 2004 and, more recently, those on the international airports in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016, contributed to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities states have and the impact of such attacks.

Critical infrastructure systems include banking and finance, telecommunications, emergency services, air, maritime and rail transportation, healthcare, food, energy and water supplies. Attacks on these systems can cause chaos in societies and disruption of public services. Usually, the supply of one component of critical infrastructure is dependent on the availability of other component. For instance, food supply is dependent on transport, telecommunications are dependent on electricity, and healthcare may be simultaneously dependent on electricity, water and emergency services. Therefore, critical infrastructure protection is indispensable for the functioning of social and political life of a country.

It is in this context that the UN Security Council held on 13 February 2017, at the initiative of Ukraine (which holds the monthly presidency of the Council), an open debate on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks. The Council also adopted a resolution (Romania was a co-sponsor) calling upon UN member states to explore ways to exchange information and to cooperate in the prevention, protection, mitigation, investigation, response and recovery in cases of such attacks.

Discussions focused on the tools countries have in place to improve safety and security of vulnerable critical infrastructure, how to improve the response and resilience to terrorist attacks and how to increase the public-private partnership because in many cases critical infrastructure is in private property. It was a good opportunity to evaluate how the United Nations can further contribute to countering terrorism through the implementation of UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

It was pointed out that vulnerability is increased by the rapid progress in information and communication technology that interlinks many of the critical infrastructure systems. Indeed, cyber-attacks against critical infrastructures are becoming increasingly prevalent, with surveys from the security sector indicating that they are expected to increase in scale, and to be more accurate and precise. As one participant to the Security Council debate said: “We are already under attack when we are unable to detect and stop the planning of attacks online, as well as the propaganda of terrorist groups on the Internet”.

The debate revealed the need for a closer coordination between states, international organizations, public and private sectors to secure and improve prevention, response, and recovery, as the consequences of attacks against critical infrastructure in a country may affect neighboring states. Sharing best national practices has become essential for an efficient prevention, and the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate has an important role in advising member states on the development of integrated counter-terrorism strategies.

Every country has the duty and the right to protect its territory and population against terrorists and extremists, and in 2011 Romania has adopted a National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure Protection. As the experience has proven that the most serious threats have a mixt nature, allowing the cyber-attacks to have a direct impact on physical infrastructures, in 2013 the Romanian government adopted the Cyber Security Strategy and the National Action Plan, a governance roadmap for cybersecurity.

Prevention is at the core of this approach. As a result, Romania has never been confronted with the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters and Romanian citizens or residents on our territory have never been recorded traveling to conflict zones with the goal to join terrorist organizations.

Terrorists try to disrupt our way of life and countering them also requests an efficient international legal framework. Here, the role of the UN may be crucial. International conventions to prevent terrorist attacks and protect the infrastructure already exist for civil aviation, maritime security and nuclear weapons. The adoption by the Security Council in 2016 of resolutions on the international judiciary cooperation and on the protection of medical personnel in armed conflicts, as well as the General Assembly resolution on the cooperation with the Interpol, are equally important tools.

Finally, it is the consolidation of peace, security, development and human rights that will most effectively deprive terrorism of its oxygen. As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres remarked at the World Government Summit in Dubai, on 13 February: “If you want prevention and sustaining of peace to prevail, we need to link peace and security with sustainable and inclusive development. And to make sure that the two, together with the improvement of the human rights situation in the world, guarantee that the root causes of conflict are addressed… There is no way we can fight terrorism if at the same time we don’t find the political solutions for the crises situations that today feed terrorism”.

White Smoke Over The Security Council

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Thoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations – New York, posted in Nine o’Clock on 12 October 2016

Traditionally, when white smoke comes over the Vatican in St Peter’s Square, Rome, it is the sign that the College of Cardinals has elected a new Pope. The cardinals proceed to cast their votes by using paper ballots. After the vote, the ballots are burned and the smoke goes out into St. Peter’s Square through a special chimney in the Sistine Chapel. If there is a consensus on a new pontiff, the smoke is white. If no new Pope has been chosen, the smoke is black. Smoke is thus used to let the public know the outcome of the balloting.

The fifteen members of the Security Council who gather in close doors meetings to choose the UN Secretary General are not cardinals, but they decide on the future of the only global organization in the world, which comprises 193 countries. They use (colored) paper ballots to cast their vote, and the process itself is marked by the same secrecy as in Vatican. The ballots are not burned, so there is no real smoke coming over the UN Headquarters in New York, but in the current complicated international context the election of the next Secretary General may have a significance comparable to the election of a Pope.

Thirteen candidates – seven women and six men from three continents, entered the race to get the job of the next (the ninth) Secretary General of the United Nations: nine candidates from Eastern European Group (the only region that was not given yet a UN Secretary General), two from Latin American and Caribbean Group, and two from Western European and Others Group. Three candidates withdrew before the final selection took place.

After an unprecedented transparent procedure which included hearings of all candidates by the General Assembly, meetings with the ambassadors from the five regional groups and even a first ever Global Town Hall Meeting broadcasted life by Al Jazeera, the Security Council organized five informal (and secret) straw polls where the candidates were rated with “encourage”, “discourage” or “no opinion”. Antonio Guterres, former Portuguese Prime Minister (1995-2002) who also served for ten years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015), won categorically in all five, being the only candidate to always score 11 or 12 “encouragements”. The moment of truth came with the sixth straw poll on 5th October, when the P5 (the five Permanent Members) used colored ballots to signal their eventual vetoes. Mr. Guterres received 13 positive votes and two “no opinion”, with no veto from any of the P5.

At the end of the vote, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the President of the Security Council for the month of October, announced that: “after sixth straw polls we have a clear favorite and his name is Antonio Guterres”, while US Ambassador Samantha Power remarked: “In the end, there was just a candidate whose experience, vision, and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling”. I add that Mr. Guterres was also the only candidate who, during the hearings in the UN General Assembly, spoke without any written notes and, when answering questions posed by the audience, he switched from English to French or Spanish, responding in the language questions were asked.

On 6th October, the Security Council adopted by acclamation a resolution which “recommends to the General Assembly that Mr. Antonio Guterres be appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations for a term of office from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021”. Maybe the best synthesis of this text came from Matthew Rycroft, British Ambassador to the UN, who twitted: “Resolution only has 49 words in it, but the two most important ones are Antonio & Guterres”.

The vision Antonio Guterres has on the organization’s role has been presented to the General Assembly on 12 April 2016, when he said: “The UN is the institutional expression of the international community, the cornerstone of our international system and the key actor of effective multilateralism. It is the essential instrument of member States to confront common challenges, manage shared responsibilities and exercise collective action. The UN is uniquely placed to connect the dots to overcome these challenges. To succeed, it must further strengthen the nexus between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights policies – a holistic approach to the mutually-reinforcing linkages between its three pillars. Now that we know what, we must work on how. With the horizon of 2030 the focus is on action and the watchword is implementation, implementation, implementation.”

And he added: “The Secretary General must maintain unwavering commitment to transparency, accountability and oversight. Moreover, the SG must stand firmly for the reputation of the UN and its dedicated staff. Leading by example and imposing the highest ethical standards on everyone serving under the UN flag.”

Concrete results at high standards is a long term credo of Mr. Guterres. In his first speech as UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, on 17 June 2005, he announced: “What really matters is delivering protection and solutions to those who need it. UNHCR must be a pioneer in the international community. I am personally committed to a management system based on attaining measured results.”

Ten years later in New York, on 21 December 2015, in his last statement as High Commissioner, he said: “Many times we have early warning and then we do nothing. To address a complex phenomenon we need holistic views. There is no such thing as an easy solution or a one size fits all solution… The lessons of history show that peace cannot wait. The world needs a surge in diplomacy for peace.”

In a piece I published in Huffington Post on 21st April 2016 (“The Race for the Next UN Secretary General – First Round”), I argued that candidates for Secretary General should possess professional skills, political acceptance, and acceptability to public opinion. All the thirteen candidates shown commitment and determination to make the UN fit for purpose in the XXI century.

But the UN needs in its top job not only a knowledgeable person and a skilled manager. It also needs a visionary leader with moral authority, able to guide the organization through an extraordinary array of global challenges, in a time when there is no substitute for the United Nations legitimacy.

Antonio Guterres was the candidate who proved unwavering credentials for all these qualities. He will succeed to Ban Ki-moon, whose tenure comes to an end on 31st December 2016. After ten years as Secretary General, Mr. Ban’s legacy is about the power of relationship, engagement, dialogue before confrontation and humanity. In the document “Furthering the work of the United Nations”, recently released, he says: “Today, we are more connected than ever, better informed than ever, and have better tools than ever. The recipes for positive change are on the table; the ingredients for success are in our hands.” A reverence must also go to the current Deputy Secretary General, the exceptional diplomat Jan Eliasson.

On 13th October, the UN General Assembly will convene to appoint the candidate recommended by the Security Council. At that moment the race for the next Secretary General will come to its final round. As so inspired The New York Times titled a few days ago, the UN will have “a new voice for a complicated world.” Let’s wish the best of luck to Mr. Antonio Guterres. We all need his term to be successful.