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Rethinking Security

Robert Hall and Carl Fox (1) argue that new, comprehensive and transnational strategies are required to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century.

The faces of terrorism: It is no longer possible to separate terrorism from money laundering or organised crime from drug trafficking ( © Reuters - 7Kb)

On the day that terrorists struck the heart of the United States, an exhibition of modern military equipment was opening in the United Kingdom. The timing of the two events was coincidental. Yet, taken together, they are symbolic of fundamental shifts in the world of international security. The first of these is that today's threats are of an entirely different nature and scale than hitherto. The second is that current responses to them appear increasingly inadequate. Weapons of war designed to counter dangers at the end of the last millennium will not be sufficient for the problems of the next. Yet beyond specific technologies, fresh thinking is required to cope with the new environment.

A new approach is critical because terrorism is just one of many, non-traditional security challenges. Examples include ethnic and religious conflict, drug trafficking, mass migration, environmental instability, corruption, money laundering, militant activism and information theft. Such threats - where conflict and crime often merge - respect no boundaries. All too often, there are no leaders or legions against which to focus attention or target a response. Moreover, the scale of these activities, both in terms of the multitudes caught up in them and the money diverted, is so great that it dwarfs the national economies of many countries. The threats can undermine national and international institutions, as well as bring ruin to employers and employees alike.

At the same time, legitimate organisations that operate without borders are also growing in power and influence and are therefore technically able to respond to the new environment. The currency speculators, the commodity traders, the multinational corporations and the internet service providers now have a profound effect on daily lives. Globalisation, coupled with the revolution in information technology, has given these private institutions the upper hand. Control is now directed more by way of financial markets than any precise geopolitical structures, and disruption is created by the same route. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that traditional state mechanisms based on ideas of frontiers and order - monarchies, police, establishments of power - appear under threat. More importantly, they seem constitutionally incapable of rising to the changing nature of the security challenges. As that inability becomes more apparent, disenchantment with the old system grows. And the cycle perpetuates itself to bitter effect.

To date, the remedy that has generally been prescribed in the face of these challenges is based on yet better intelligence- led activities by specific and official organisations, coupled with more cooperation and partnership between interested sectors. Recent events have given this approach added impetus. However, although there have been positive moves in these areas, they have not gone far enough or fast enough to meet the growing challenges. For instance, the law-enforcement agencies are at least a decade behind in acquiring and deploying the leading technologies available to new-age criminals, while intelligence-led policing seems to be capable of apprehending no more than ten per cent of the illegal drugs or illegal migrants coming into a country. As a result of such deficiencies, real power is now moving beyond the confines of the nation state and institutions like the G8 (the group of seven most industrialised countries and Russia) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The scale of the issues is making those organisations feel increasingly swamped, if not impotent.

A strategic approach

While local issues are likely to remain the bedrock of political actions and business success will always rest on being able to respond quickly to market changes, the importance of the bigger, strategic picture is often missed. This must change for two principal reasons. First, the pervasive and pernicious nature of the new security challenges is universal in effect. Transnational assaults have transnational victims. Second, many of the issues are interconnected. It is no longer possible to separate terrorism from money laundering or organised crime from drug trafficking. Similarly, it is impossible to "wage a war" against one to the exclusion of the other.

Migration is another example of the interrelationship of issues. Refugees and asylum seekers not only pose internal security concerns but may encourage xenophobia and conflict, as traditional work opportunities appear threatened. At the same time, mass movement may bring with it the possibility of infectious diseases affecting both people and livestock. Migration is also exacerbated by environmental instability arising from climate change. A one-metre rise in sea levels - and nearly one-third of a metre has occurred in the past century - will displace 300 million people worldwide and put half the cultivated land of countries like Bangladesh under salt water. Paradoxically, many countries spend many times more on physical immigration barriers than on funds to help eradicate the migratory causes or to counter the environmental pollution in the first place. Yet, our responses will go on being reactive and behind the curve - not preventive and ahead of the game - as long as we perpetuate parochial thinking, practise barrier techniques and pull out band-aid solutions.

The strategic thinking necessary to prevail in the face of these interrelated security challenges needs to be similarly interrelated and much more pluralistic. This begins with ever-closer cooperation between lawenforcement and national-security agencies. It also requires full cooperation from a range of other governmental departments, including the military, acting in concert with business. The attacks in the United States reinforce the call for an integrated approach involving diplomatic, military and economic elements. This holistic approach mirrors the nature and complexity of the problem, and other international security issues are not dissimilar. While cooperation between organisations will pay dividends in specific instances, that alone can only achieve so much. This is because of the scale and bureaucracy of the various agencies and institutions involved, their traditions and vested interests.

In attempting to create an effective strategic framework, the question of greater global governance must be addressed. This is not a popular subject in many quarters. Yet the longer politicians fail to address this question, the more powerless they will likely become, the more instability will result and the more painful the eventual transition will be. While there is naturally great suspicion of any supranational body, especially one that is non-elected, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a global strategy ultimately needs some form of global supervision. This is not the same as global government. In practical terms, it is a case of giving the resources, the structures and above all the authority to that global institution to get to grips with the problem effectively.

Whatever the ultimate level of authority granted or degree of cooperation agreed, any strategic approach demands a more top-down emphasis, with a large degree of acceptance and subordination by those lower down in the pursuit of the greater good. It requires a grand vision and a single plan, designed to meet a common objective with finite resources. Detailed implementation of such a plan may be tailored to circumstances and institutions but only within a common rubric. That plan must have authority and the people overseeing it the teeth with which to bite.

A top-down approach does not mean to say that input from the ground is irrelevant. On the contrary, information from the grass roots is vital to prevent planning in a vacuum. Yet those on the ground cannot hope to see the bigger picture because of the context in which they operate and may be unaware of more influential factors that are coming into play. Strategy should be a guide to what takes place - and, more importantly, to what is likely to take place. Moreover, as a result of limited resources, part of that guide should be a clear indication of the priorities that everyone must follow. Sadly, what often appears in strategic plans are straight lines of broad intent, extrapolating current developments with targets of 10, 20 or 30 per cent over the next 5, 10 or 15 years. Those targets are replicated by individuals at lower levels without real understanding of the grand vision.

One of the greatest challenges to implementing an effective strategy is to shift focus from short-term crises and annual performance criteria towards longer-term thinking on a higher plane and with a more rounded perspective. Short-term deficits may well have to be accepted in order to gain long-term benefits. While this is hard for shareholders to accept, it is not impossible for governments - even with five-year mandates - to implement. As with good driving, the key is to keep the eye on the road and not watch the pedals. It is also a case of anticipating wisely but being able to manoeuvre quickly in the face of surprises. Anticipation in politics relies on strategic awareness and planning, and this depends on better long-range intelligence.

Intelligent structures

Success also depends on having the right intelligence structures in place. To date, there has been a tendency to perpetuate intelligence entities that were created and developed to cope with traditional enemies. Formal boundaries between long-established empires remain solidly in force. Customs, the police, the intelligence agencies themselves, key government departments and the military, all have their own intelligence or analytical divisions and rely heavily on service-level or bilateral agreements to pass certain information as well as numerous meetings and committees to demonstrate coordination and consensus. This may work for most of the time, but it is not an adequate response to today's security environment.

A solution can best be achieved by going beyond coordination and consensus-building and imposing a controlling, centralising body on the decision-making process. In other words, it may be necessary to give executive power to a joint authority that could take the collective intelligence, determine the collective response and then direct the various departments to act in a specific and coordinated fashion. The way that subordinate departments responded would be individually determined as part of an agreed strategic approach. Various models have been proposed to help this process, but they have not been sufficiently broadbased to receive universal acclaim or market-driven to ensure relevance.

The idea of centralism is not one that traditionally managed, fiercely independent institutions like working with. Fears of centralism have already killed a proposal presented to the previous US Administration to amalgamate the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into one body to tackle the serious crime issues of the day. The idea of an EU intelligence agency, proposed by France and Germany in 1999, was also quickly rejected by others. At the same time, it is recognised that both Europol and Interpol do make valuable contributions in the fight against crime - hence recent efforts to strengthen Europol to fight terrorism. However, Europol is currently hindered by the extent and value of national contributions, broad legal parameters and limited resources. In spite of all the attempts in many areas, progress to centralise information gathering and operations has been either slow or nonexistent.

Intelligence vs evidence

As the nature of the threats becomes more diverse and universal, requiring an all-agency response, the central dilemma of intelligence versus evidence will appear at awkward moments. Certain types of threat seem to exploit the natural antipathy between law enforcement and national security. While the former is concerned with evidence collection and preservation, the latter is concerned with intelligence collection and analysis. As a result, lawenforcement agencies tend to be more open and mindful of civil liberties than their national-security counterparts.

All these jurisdictional niceties and divisions hinder the response to certain attacks, particularly where the perpetrator is unknown. To the policeman, a criminal inserting a computer virus is someone to be apprehended and data retrieved is evidence to be used in a court of law. But to the counter-terrorism expert, stopping the attack or mitigating its effects is the first concern with arrest a useful second. Unfortunately, in the cyber world, for example, one does not know which is the case until after the investigation has begun. Yet the speed of response could be critical in heading off disaster. These two, sometimes mutually exclusive, priorities can be resolved in only two ways. One is to create an organisation with the authority of a law-enforcement agency but the capabilities of both law-enforcement and national-security agencies combined. The other is a clear revision of authorities allowing functional barriers to be removed.

The intelligence failings which allowed the terrorist attacks on the United States to occur will no doubt lead to a significant shake up of both the law-enforcement and national-security departments in that country. With annual intelligence budgets of $30 billion and the economic price of failure on 11 September alone many times greater, the incentive for doing better in the future is enormous. The need for better human intelligence will surely be a key feature of any review. However, there is also a wealth of intelligence to be tapped in the open literature and from the private sector. Journalists and businessmen alike operate in many of the problem areas and have a wealth of background information to contribute, as they deal with the security issues on a daily basis. In tackling a global problem, burden sharing in the intelligence game is as valid as in other legitimate activities.

The private sector

It is clear that governments, in fighting the growing threats to security, realise that the involvement of the private sector is a vital ingredient. At the simplest level, this can be seen at ports where transport companies are presented with fines if adequate checks are not made on the movement of unauthorised personnel. Moves to insist that internet service providers collect historic data as an evidential aid are another.

LE&NS Global Forum

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson was the keynote speaker at the inaugural, annual Global Forum for Law Enforcement and National Security (LE&NS), which took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in June 2001. In a pre-recorded video address, Lord Robertson spoke of the increasingly blurred lines between military security and policing and urged both the adoption of innovative approaches to modern security challenges and increased government spending to be able to pay for them.

The LE&NS Global Forum was formed with three aims. These were: to be a vehicle for discussion and analysis of key issues affecting security during the next two decades; to act as a bridge between law-enforcement and national-security agencies from around the world in the pursuit of common goals against increasingly transnational threats; and to offer an opportunity for the public and private sectors to share ideas and propose joint solutions for addressing security challenges.

The inaugural LE&NS Global Forum made four key recommendations. These were: to raise awareness of modern threats; to highlight relevance of the strategic case; to invest in global institutions; and to develop cooperation, particularly in intelligence sharing, between the public and private sectors. The second LE&NS Global Forum takes place in London in June 2002 on the theme Security Governance to meet New Challenges - Creating Partnerships, Finding Solutions.

For further details, see http://www.lensforum.com

These steps towards partnership are understandable, but the impetus has so far been on expectations from government on business as part of good corporate governance. To date, there seems to have been little understanding of the needs of business. This is, however, beginning to change with the rapid development of electronic commerce, the need for information security and, since 11 September, the realisation that the impact of failure falls heavily on many economies.

Major businesses can offer a great deal as they operate beyond national boundaries, are relatively good at protecting their intellectual property and usually incorporate the latest technologies. They also have resources. Yet they need to be a proper part of a two-way flow of information and the strategic planning process. Automatic demands for information, some of which may be business sensitive, will not encourage participation. A distrust of sharing information with a law-enforcement community, which believes in the right to prosecute in all circumstances, will again fail to open doors where it matters.

When big business and government come together to discuss matters affecting national security and law and order, there can be a misappreciation of intent, particularly among activist groups. It is therefore important to reveal the full purpose of this relationship and to demonstrate the relevance between the fruits of the strategic exchange for local communities. Ultimately, action against the drug crops in Colombia or the people smugglers in Albania can have a greater effect than more policemen on the streets of provincial towns. It is surely the politicians' role to argue the case.

In order to meet the growing number of security challenges in the new millennium, a continuation of past policies and old practices will not suffice. The problems are simply too politically intractable, too thematically interrelated and too economically costly. Good intentions built around closer cooperation and sharing - particularly in the face of a major tragedy - will not be sufficient or sustainable over the long term. What is needed is an unrestricted, comprehensive and transnational strategy that focuses attention beyond the immediate and towards the horizon. Forecasting the future will always be fraught with pitfalls but that is not cause for ignoring discernible trends and developments in a rapidly changing world, any more than trying to adopt isolated policies in the hope that events will pass by.

It is a double tragedy that it has taken the events of 11 September to galvanise world efforts in tackling a problem that is not new but is symptomatic of the dangers of nonstate actors on the modern stage and the impotence of nation states to defend themselves adequately. The necessary shift in emphasis towards surveillance and stealth and away from tanks and trumpets will have significant implications, and not just for the traditional arms sector. International security has entered a new era.

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