NATO-Russia experts discuss protection of critical infrastructure
“The nature of new security challenges is such that NATO can only become successful if it builds partnerships wide and strong, both with other international actors and a variety of partner countries,” declared NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Gábor Iklódyat a conference on the protection of critical infrastructure. Organized under the NATO-Russia Council, the event took place at the Centre of Excellence on Defence against Terrorism in Ankara, Turkey, on 20 and 21 June.
Civilian and military experts from Russia and NATO countries came together to share lessons learned, best practices and strategies on various aspects of critical infrastructure protection.
While terrorist or cyber attacks are hard to deter or defend against, a number of terrorist plots have been thwarted or have had their impact diminuished thanks to consultation about best practices, international intelligence sharing and the smart use of detection technologies. For this reason, Ambassador Iklódy welcomed the conference in Ankara as an opportunity to “network” and to “gain new insight into the strategies that nations apply to protect their infrastructure”.
Discussions focused on six different aspects of critical infrastructure protection: the state of play in the civilian and military spheres, energy security, cyber security, transportation, technology, and managing the consequences of terrorist attacks. It was highlighted that, in addition to information exchange, areas of future cooperation could include promoting the exchange of technologies, techniques and means, as well as exploring opportunities for mutual assistance to mitigate the conseqences of terrorist attack and man-made disasters.
An important delegation from Russia – including representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – was among the 42 participants from 12 NATO-Russia Council (NRC) countries.
Focusing on prevention and resilience
Ambassador Iklódy underlined the importance of protecting critical infrastructure, including from cyber attack. “The systems and networks that make up the infrastructure of society are often taken for granted, yet disruption to just one of those systems can have dire consequences across other sectors and disrupt the wellbeing of our societies.”
“It is also impossible to protect all assets of critical infrastructure all the time. They therefore present clear vulnerabilities that various terrorist groups exploit,” he explained.
He went on to point out that effective protection against unconventional security challenges requires a major paradigm shift. “Rather than focusing on defence and deterrence, increasing emphasis must be laid on prevention and resilience […] i.e. preparing our societies, infrastructure, etc. to receive the blow but then to recover from it quickly,” he said.
Many conference participants agreed with this observation and the fact that the cyber threat to critical infrastructure seems to be ever increasing. There was also general agreement that risks to critical infrastructure need to be assessed in a dynamic way, taking into account the learning curve of terrorist organizations.
NRC cooperation against terrorism
The conference was organized under the NRC Action Plan on Terrorism, which serves to provide overall coordination and strategic direction of NRC cooperation in this area. First agreed in December 2004, the Action Plan was recently updated at the meeting of NRC foreign ministers in Berlin to expand the scope of cooperation.
NATO-Russia cooperation in the struggle against terrorism has taken the form of regular exchanges of information, in-depth consultation, joint threat assessments, civil emergency planning for terrorist attacks, high-level dialogue on the role of the military in combating terrorism and on the lessons learned from recent terrorist attacks, and scientific and technical cooperation. NATO Allies and Russia also cooperate in areas related to terrorism such as border control, non proliferation, airspace management, and nuclear safety.
Moreover, Russian ships have been deployed in support of Operation Active Endeavour (OAE), NATO’s maritime counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean, in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – and at the Lisbon Summit, Russia confirmed its interest in resuming operational support for the operation.
Work is also ongoing on a project which aims to develop technology that will enable the stand-off detection of explosive devices (the STANDEX project) in mass transport and possibly other public gathering places.