The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution late last week highlighting the importance of international cooperation in protecting critical infrastructure from terror threats. Resolution 2341, which was passed unanimously by the 15-member body and emphasizes the need for multilateral partnerships and effective communication, comes in the wake of several major terrorist attacks around the globe.
The resolution stresses the importance of infrastructure for both the economic and physical security of a nation and, conversely, the relative vulnerability of such infrastructure to terrorism. It cites “the need to strengthen efforts to improve security and protection of particularly vulnerable targets” and places particular weight on the importance of information sharing between various stakeholders in the fight against transnational terror groups. The wide variety of critical infrastructure that any given nation relies on – economic, medical, telecom, transportation, energy, food and water, to name a few – creates an enormous number of potential targets for terror attacks. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has highlighted the terror threat to “hospitals, schools and aid convoys” in the past, while INTERPOL has noted a particular danger for “laboratories hosting dangerous pathogens.”
INTERPOL was in fact specifically highlighted by Resolution 2341 as a key player in the protection of infrastructure from terror threats. Jürgen Stock, Secretary-General of INTERPOL, noted that “one attack on a single point of failure could lead to the disruption or destruction of multiple vital systems in the country directly affected, and a ripple effect worldwide.” He also highlighted the threat posed by the use of both emerging technologies and conflict-zone tactics in terrorism, naming “simultaneous active shooter events, armored vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices or portable Unmanned Aerial Systems with explosive payloads” as new threats to critical infrastructure that now have to be taken into account when developing prevention and response protocols. The single most important component of this adaptation will be international and inter-organizational cooperation, which Stock dubbed a “force multiplier.”
INTERPOL was not the only group acknowledged by the UNSC as a relevant stakeholder in protecting vulnerable infrastructures from terrorism. Discussion of the resolution also included representatives from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the International Maritime Organizations, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Also involved is the UN World Tourism Organization, which has in the past worked to feature economic impacts on the tourism industry resulting from terrorist attacks on public infrastructure.
Resolution 2341 is passed in the context of a number of recent high-profile terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure, most notably those in Brussels and Istanbul. Both such attacks targeted airports, major aspects of any nation’s transportation base, and not only resulted in high civilian casualties, but also caused significant disruption to the wider international aviation network that extended far beyond the borders of the attacked nation. In the aftermath of both those and other similar instances of infrastructural terrorism, the UN underlined the importance of international partnerships and communication procedures to prevent future attacks and respond to those that do transpire.
Ultimately, the fight against terrorism (especially targeting critical or vulnerable infrastructures) is rooted in the capacity of countries and organizations to effectively communicate and work with one another to formulate preventative and responsive measures. As UNSC Resolution 2341 outlines, it is vital for member states “to share information… to prevent, protect, mitigate, investigate, respond to and recover from damage from terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure facilities, including through joint training, and use or establishment of relevant communication or emergency warning networks.” INTERPOL Secretary-General Jürgen Stock similarly points out that nations currently tend to learn how to prevent future attacks only after having been victims of one themselves, such that sharing experiences and responsive protocols internationally could prevent other nations from having to undergo the same tragedy in order to develop the appropriate policies. As Stock summarized, “in an interconnected world, we will not succeed in protecting national infrastructure in isolation.”