Protection of Critical Infrastructure has become a priority issue for states, in reaction to the growing risks posed by terrorism. All governments recognize now that terrorism is an enduring threat which requires a sustained and coordinated response, and since 11 September 2001 most countries have developed national strategies to protect their critical infrastructure.
It is generally accepted that at the national level, if destroyed, degraded or rendered unavailable, critical infrastructure would significantly affect the social and economic wellbeing of a nation, or affect its ability to ensure national defense and security. Terrorist attacks against passenger trains in Madrid in 2004 and, more recently, those on the international airports in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016, contributed to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities states have and the impact of such attacks.
Critical infrastructure systems include banking and finance, telecommunications, emergency services, air, maritime and rail transportation, healthcare, food, energy and water supplies. Attacks on these systems can cause chaos in societies and disruption of public services. Usually, the supply of one component of critical infrastructure is dependent on the availability of other component. For instance, food supply is dependent on transport, telecommunications are dependent on electricity, and healthcare may be simultaneously dependent on electricity, water and emergency services. Therefore, critical infrastructure protection is indispensable for the functioning of social and political life of a country.
It is in this context that the UN Security Council held on 13 February 2017, at the initiative of Ukraine (which holds the monthly presidency of the Council), an open debate on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks. The Council also adopted a resolution (Romania was a co-sponsor) calling upon UN member states to explore ways to exchange information and to cooperate in the prevention, protection, mitigation, investigation, response and recovery in cases of such attacks.
Discussions focused on the tools countries have in place to improve safety and security of vulnerable critical infrastructure, how to improve the response and resilience to terrorist attacks and how to increase the public-private partnership because in many cases critical infrastructure is in private property. It was a good opportunity to evaluate how the United Nations can further contribute to countering terrorism through the implementation of UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
It was pointed out that vulnerability is increased by the rapid progress in information and communication technology that interlinks many of the critical infrastructure systems. Indeed, cyber-attacks against critical infrastructures are becoming increasingly prevalent, with surveys from the security sector indicating that they are expected to increase in scale, and to be more accurate and precise. As one participant to the Security Council debate said: “We are already under attack when we are unable to detect and stop the planning of attacks online, as well as the propaganda of terrorist groups on the Internet”.
The debate revealed the need for a closer coordination between states, international organizations, public and private sectors to secure and improve prevention, response, and recovery, as the consequences of attacks against critical infrastructure in a country may affect neighboring states. Sharing best national practices has become essential for an efficient prevention, and the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate has an important role in advising member states on the development of integrated counter-terrorism strategies.
Every country has the duty and the right to protect its territory and population against terrorists and extremists, and in 2011 Romania has adopted a National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure Protection. As the experience has proven that the most serious threats have a mixt nature, allowing the cyber-attacks to have a direct impact on physical infrastructures, in 2013 the Romanian government adopted the Cyber Security Strategy and the National Action Plan, a governance roadmap for cybersecurity.
Prevention is at the core of this approach. As a result, Romania has never been confronted with the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters and Romanian citizens or residents on our territory have never been recorded traveling to conflict zones with the goal to join terrorist organizations.
Terrorists try to disrupt our way of life and countering them also requests an efficient international legal framework. Here, the role of the UN may be crucial. International conventions to prevent terrorist attacks and protect the infrastructure already exist for civil aviation, maritime security and nuclear weapons. The adoption by the Security Council in 2016 of resolutions on the international judiciary cooperation and on the protection of medical personnel in armed conflicts, as well as the General Assembly resolution on the cooperation with the Interpol, are equally important tools.
Finally, it is the consolidation of peace, security, development and human rights that will most effectively deprive terrorism of its oxygen. As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres remarked at the World Government Summit in Dubai, on 13 February: “If you want prevention and sustaining of peace to prevail, we need to link peace and security with sustainable and inclusive development. And to make sure that the two, together with the improvement of the human rights situation in the world, guarantee that the root causes of conflict are addressed… There is no way we can fight terrorism if at the same time we don’t find the political solutions for the crises situations that today feed terrorism”.
- Ambassador Ion Jinga is the Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York.