Security Council Open Debate: Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts: Critical Infrastructures
February 13, 2017
Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti (front right), Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General, addresses the Security Council open debate on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
The Security Council Open Debate entitled, “Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts: Critical Infrastructures” was convened by the Council’s current president, Ukraine, on 13 February 2017. The meeting allowed Member States and UN Entities to explore avenues to best mitigate the threats terrorist acts pose critical infrastructures including airports, nuclear plants, water supplies, and health facilities. The council unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 2341 (2017) to increase international coordination in preventing such attacks, reduce risks, and ensure criminal accountability measures at national levels. Much of the debate’s prevention focus centred around increased monitoring and securitisation of vulnerable assets, information sharing, and establishing transnational early warning and rapid response mechanisms. Though there was significant reference to the threats posed by illicit transfers of arms materiels and the need to securitise chemical and nuclear weapons stores, none of the representatives present recognised that the primary solution to these threats is full and total disarmament. Furthermore, the discussion was entirely gender-blind: Not a single speaker integrated a gender perspective into their statement.
A total of 54 statements were delivered at the debate. The meeting was introduced by briefers including the Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Criminal Police Force (INTERPOL), and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) among others. The data disseminated in these briefs reflected the evolving threats of modern international terrorism, which is facilitated by technological advancement and globalisation. The briefers noted the ripple effect capable of following terror attacks, through which otherwise contained events can yield a global impact. The representative of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Hamid Ali Rao, noted that weapons industries continues to grow in both size and complexity, demanding strict monitoring of supply chains and policies ensuring no trading can occur. Rao’s sentiments were echoed by the representatives of the INTERPOL, the FDD, Kazakhstan, the Holy See, and Japan.
The debate focus on collective responsibility and preventative security was augmented by reminders that attacks on critical infrastructures are far from hypothetical. Representatives of the OPCW, FDD, Romania, Italy, Russia, Iran and Kuwait emphasised that in crises such as those in Iraq and Syria, water supplies and dams continue to be targeted by extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, Da’esh). Other major themes throughout the debate included calls for information and best-practices sharing; training, technical and financial assistance; public and private sector collaboration; early warning and rapid response mechanisms; accountability for perpetrators; and focuses on monitoring and detection.
Of the 54 statements delivered, only 9 speakers referenced major global conflicts. The crises in Syria and Iraq took centre stage, particularly in regards to issues such as terrorist targeting the Mosul Dam, however the situations in Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Nigeria are also profoundly impact critical infrastructures. Given the burning of Libyan oil fields, restriction of Palestinian water supplies, growing famine in Yemen, hacking of Ukrainian power grids, destruction of schools and cultural centres in Nigeria’s Borno State, and the efforts of the DRC to recover from decades of resource-driven conflict, the representatives failed to consider the diverse global challenges at stake on this topic. Briefers and Member State representatives must consider the broad scope of global crises moving forward and explore nuanced and localised solutions rather than offering one-size fits all solutions.
This debate provided an opportunity for Member State Representatives to integrate the Women, Peace and Security Agenda on the issue of protecting critical infrastructures through the lens of disarmament, conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and participation. However this opportunity was, unfortunately, missed.
As with conventional conflict, women and girls face disproportionate and intersecting threats related to terrorism. The insecurity and militarism driven by violent masculinities too often result in sexual and gender based violence, displacement, loss of livelihood, and other rights violations at far higher levels than those experienced by men, because of women’s lowered status and socially constructed vulnerability. Increasingly, extremist organisations like Da’esh and Boko Haram take advantage of these vulnerabilities and directly victimise women and girls as part of their core strategy.
Whether by engaging women in conflict prevention, community building, and development efforts to mitigate the drivers of extremism, considering the significant knowledge and insight women possess regarding the sale and transfer of illicit arms, or simply including women and girls in efforts to protect the infrastructures whose loss will disproportionately impact them - the space for gender perspectives in critical infrastructure discussions is undeniable.
Though the securitisation of weapons materiels is crucial, the implications of focusing on securing arms rather than abolishing them may be considered a tacit approval of continued proliferation. It is worrying that during the debate the growth of chemical weapon industries were presented as a common reality rather than questioned for merit, and that multiple representatives spoke of ‘nuclear security’ when there can be no true security so long as nuclear weapons exist. In future, briefers and Member State representatives must call for total and immediate disarmament to generate genuine human security.
The absence of gender perspectives in Security Council dialogues relating to issues of security and disarmament, in part, indicates the incompatibility of conventional militarised security promoted by so many Member States with the protection, safety, and empowerment of women and girls. Nonetheless, to achieve true inclusive security, gender perspectives must become essential features of all dialogues.
The preponderant threats posed to women by extremism and the destruction of critical infrastructures require the institution of specific protections, including protective legal frameworks; access to justice, healthcare, and psychosocial services; gender-sensitive mission mandates and refuge; early warning and response procedures; and meaningful engagement in peace processes and reconstruction.
It is crucial that states consider gender when developing security policy, not solely for the impact of insecurity on the lives of women, but for the specific impact security policies have on women’s rights. State actors must adopt preventative measures to ensure that border security, surveillance, and other sector reforms do not negatively affect women’s human and socio-political rights (including privacy, economic opportunity, and freedom from violence), and develop reporting mechanisms on the implementation and impact of these measures.
The Meeting Record is available here.
States Represented at this meeting included:
Ukraine, Italy, Kazakhstan, Sweden, France, Senegal, Japan, Ethiopia, Uruguay, United States, Egypt, United Kingdom, China, Russian Federation, Bolivia, Estonia, Slovakia, Peru, Colombia, Iran, India, Israel, Romania, Belgium, Argentina, Turkey, Cuba, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kuwait, Venezuela (also on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Jordan, Algeria, Syria, Netherlands, Brazil, Afghanistan, Morocco, Poland, Canada, Malaysia, Australia, Latvia, Maldives and Haiti.
European Union, the Holy See, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy, Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General, International Maritime Organisation, International Criminal Police Force