Briefing to the UN Counter Terrorism Committee

by Ambassador Gábor Iklódy, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges in New York

  • 08 Sep. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Sep. 2011 15:56

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you today, and I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman for your kind invitation to brief this distinguished Committee.

10 years ago, about forty blocks from here, almost 3,000 people from over 90 countries died in the horrendous attacks on “9/11”.

“9/11” did more than remind us all of our own vulnerability.  Above all, these attacks challenged traditional notions of security.  A small group of terrorists had managed to launch a strategic strike against the world’s strongest military power.  They achieved this by using only civilian means, and yet the effect was almost as devastating as if they had used a small nuclear device. 

Today, ten years later – despite our resolve, despite an unprecedented level of international cooperation, and despite the death of Osama Bin Laden - terrorism is still very real and continues to pose a threat to our citizens, international peace and security.

Nigeria recently suffered a devastating terrorist attack on the Abuja UN offices; Norway has just experienced its biggest national tragedy since World War II through a lone wolf attack, not to mention the terrorist incidents in Mumbai, Moscow or, most recently, in New Delhi.  In short, our societies continue to suffer from terrorism, and many lives have been lost.

What does this mean for us?  To my mind, it means two things:

First, terrorist attacks will continue to happen.  Traditional notions of deterrence and defence provide no guaranteed protection. Our focus should consequently lie first and foremost on preventing terrorist attacks and on enhancing the resilience of our societies and critical infrastructure.

Second, if we want to protect ourselves against this threat effectively, we have to deepen international cooperation in order to fight terrorism together.

Allow me to say a few words on each of these two aspects.

With regard to the first point, enhancing prevention and resilience, we have to clearly understand  that terrorist attacks cannot be deterred by the threat of military retaliation, nor will large-scale military operations be the most appropriate response in most cases.

In contrast, we have seen that a large number of terrorist plots can be thwarted by international cooperation.  In the context of preventing attacks, sharing of information is of fundamental importance and NATO has over 60 years of experience in this area. We have recently established a joint civil-military Intelligence Unit to capitalise on this experience.  Another tool at our disposal is the NATO Intelligence Liaison Unit, which promotes information sharing between NATO members and their partner countries. Through this cooperation we can improve our situational awareness and can come to a better understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat. Prevention, of course, is more than information sharing.  It also includes, amongst other measures, investing in new technologies and scientific solutions, such as sensors to detect suicide bombers in public places. STANDEX, a scientific project for the development of Stand-Off Detection of Explosives, does exactly that and is a flagship project of the expanding NATO-Russia counter-terrorism cooperation. Similarly, we conduct capacity-building initiatives, such as training and technical assistance, in regions where terrorists operate, recruit or hide. Such programmes contribute in a major way to our shared goal of preventing terrorism.
As for resilience, here I mean enhancing our capacities to withstand terrorist attacks. This ensures that the damage caused remains at a tolerable level and recovery is faster.  Investing in the protection of critical infrastructure and of other vulnerable targets, including high-visibility events is essential.  Through its Civil Emergency Action Plan, NATO supports national authorities of Allied and partner nations. The Alliance provides advice on how best to organise the protection of critical infrastructure and manage the consequences of  terrorist attacks more effectively.  NATO can also provide help through its civil emergency planning capabilities. Our “Rapid Reaction Teams” and “Advisory Support Teams” can assist countries that have come under terrorist attacks, including attacks with CBRN weapons. 

The fight against terrorism requires broad international cooperation. NATO’s new Strategic Concept adopted last November and NATO’s new partnership policy  launched earlier this year, place terrorism and other emerging security challenges  at the centre of the Alliance’s attention. Broad and enhanced partnership to combat terrorism is sought with an increasing number of countries and with other international organisations. First and foremost, the United Nations. All of us, whether at national or Alliance level, look to the United Nations for leadership and for a framework for collective action. In the fight against terrorism, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions such as UNSCR 1373 constitute the framework.

In addition to the important partnership with the UN, NATO has increased its contacts with other international, regional and sub-regional organisations in the fight against terrorism, such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the International Civil Aviation Organization. For the international community to be effective, cohesion, coordination and unity of purpose are of utmost importance.

NATO is mainly known for its unique military capabilities and large scale crisis management operations. But NATO is a lot more than that.

NATO is a political-military organisation. In addition to being a powerful political platform, it has developed a range of tools and mechanisms that can effectively complement, reinforce and actively support the UN’s work in addressing a variety of challenges, including terrorism in a holistic way.

NATO provides a forum for transatlantic political dialogue and consultations on counter-terrorism for its 28 Allies and increasingly for its partner nations. Today, the Alliance has more than 50 partner nations from around the world.  With our partners, we consult and share information, assist with capacity building and joint capability development in areas such as counter-IED or harbour protection. All in all, NATO offers more than 1,600 activites under its partnership programmes, including training courses, exercises and seminars in the fight against terrorism. 

Another example of practical cooperation with a large variety of partners is a NATO table top exercise on the “Protection of Critical Energy Infrastructure against Terrorist Threats” this coming November. This event focuses on the comprehensive exchange of information on procedures and best practices. In addition to Allies and partner nations, a number of relevant international organizations, including the United Nations Secretariat, have also been invited to participate.

A particularly important partner for NATO is Russia.  Within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, NATO and Russia are working closely together in countering terrorism.  Last April, our Foreign Ministers adopted an updated NRC Action Plan on Terrorism outlining practical cooperation activities to enhance our ability to prevent, fight and manage the consequences of terrorism. The Action Plan complements efforts underway in the United Nations .  

NATO’s operational strengths in the field of counter-terrorism also need to be mentioned in this forum.

In Afghanistan, 28 NATO nations, and currently 21 partner nations make up the United Nations mandated International Security Assistance Force. This more than 130,000 strong force is working closely with UNAMA and the Government of Afghanistan to help build a stable, secure and democratic state.  I should specify that ISAF is not a counter-terrorism operation. However ISAF’s contribution to building an Afghanistan that will cease to be a safe haven for terrorists is undeniable. In Iraq, the NATO Training Mission contributes to strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi national forces to deal with threats to their country’s security, including from terrorism. In the Mediterranean, Operation Active Endeavour helps deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorism through a combination of maritime patrolling and escorting, as well as compliant boarding. 

NATO has also frequently provided its AWACS to support Allied countries when hosting high visibility events which could potentially be targeted by terrorists. Examples of events that have been supported are the Athens Olympic Games, the 2006 FIFA World Cup and meetings of Heads of State and Government.

NATO’s political efforts and crisis management operations are underpinned by a constant drive to improve our own abilities. NATO’s Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work focuses on the development of advanced technologies to support counter-terrorism efforts. It covers areas, such as enhancing capabilities to detect and protect against CBRN agents and weapons; and developing non-lethal technologies that minimise the risk of collateral damage.

Mr Chairman, 

To reflect the high importance that the Alliance attaches to emerging security challenges, in August 2010, a new division was created in NATO’s International Staff. This coordinates NATO’s approach to terrorism and supports Allies in their efforts to develop coherent policies to respond to this and other cross-cutting threats, such as cyber attacks, energy threats and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Emerging Security Challenges Division stands ready to enhance its cooperation with the UN Counter-Terrorism-Committee. The aim of my visit today is to hear your views on this and further explore possibilities for concrete, practical cooperation measures. Let me highlight three potential areas.

First, reciprocal briefings and cross-participation in each others’ events, for instance the UN CTC Special Meetings or NATO’s exercises, such as the November table-top exercise I mentioned earlier. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate our invitation to the Chairman of the Counter-Terrorism Committee to NATO to continue this important dialogue.

Second, in the areas of capacity-building, training and education and technical assistance we should identify possible synergies.

And third, as NATO’s approach to terrorism evolves, we would welcome your ideas as we shape our policy.  Your visit Mr Chairman would certainly contribute to this.

Mr Chairman,

Ten years ago, when the World Trade Centre collapsed, Henry Kissinger succinctly stated the task that lay ahead: we had to turn tragedy into opportunity.  We cannot bring back those who perished on that fateful September morning.  But we can and should learn the lessons of “9/11”, and translate them into a new cooperative approach to security. We need to create synergies and share ideas so that we can at least say that we have taken to heart Kissinger’s advice:  We have turned tragedy into opportunity. And we have done it together.

Thank you.