Securing our Future: A Decade of Counter-terrorism Strategies

Terrorism did not begin on 11 September 2001, but that terrible day did change the world. The attacks on the United States that claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people showed us that terrorism had morphed into a global phenomenon that could cause massive pain and destruction anywhere. The magnitude of the attacks meant that no one could stand on the sidelines anymore. The fight had become global because the impact of terrorism was being felt everywhere.

The human values we share and work to uphold are derided by terrorists. The promotion of peace, equality, tolerance, and dignity for all are universal values that transcend our national differences. They are the glue that binds us together. United as nations and people of the world, we must come together to protect our common humanity.
The global framework against terrorism
The United Nations was engaged with the issue of terrorism long before that calamitous September morning ten years ago. For decades, the Organization has brought the international community together to condemn terrorist acts and developed the international legal framework to enable states to fight the threat collectively. Sixteen international treaties have been negotiated at the United Nations and related forums that address issues as diverse as the hijacking of planes, the taking of hostages, the financing of terrorism, the marking of explosives, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Additionally, in response to deadly attacks in East Africa and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the Security Council, in 1999, decided to impose sanctions on the Taliban and, later, on Al-Qaeda. The Council created a list of individuals and entities associated with these organizations that are subject to a travel ban, assets freeze, and arms embargo.

Shortly after 11 September 2001, the Security Council took even more forthright action, based on its realization that terrorism would continue to pose a serious threat to international peace and security in the new millennium. It adopted a far-reaching resolution charting the way forward in the fight against terrorism. That resolution requires all UN Member States, separately and collectively, to deny terrorists safe haven and financial support and to cooperate in bringing them to justice.

Subsequent Security Council resolutions paid increasing attention to taking preventive measures noting, for example, that extremists were using the Internet to recruit people and incite terrorist acts. The Council began to consistently emphasize the need for counter-terrorism measures to be in line with states' international legal obligations, including human rights law. It also considered it vital to ensure that non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, would not have access to weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, in 2006, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, in which it stressed the importance of addressing the issues that can give rise to terrorism. These include unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims, discrimination, violations of human rights, and lack of good governance.
A comprehensive response to terrorism
In the past decade, we at the United Nations have built on previous experience and are helping states adapt to an evolving threat that often involves new technologies. Although I believe we are heading in the right direction, much progress still needs to be made at the national, regional, and international levels.

Individual countries have made big strides, but success is measured in relative terms and major disparities persist. While some countries can spend billions of dollars on countering terrorism, others struggle to put in place even the basic measures needed to protect their borders and bring terrorists to justice. When a large proportion of a country's population lives in poverty, it is no surprise that they put scarce resources into development rather than counter-terrorism. We understand that, and often suggest approaches that have the dual benefit of protecting the country's economic and developmental interests while enhancing its security.

Frankly, preventing terrorist attacks is a challenge for everyone, even for countries that are richly endowed with resources and skilled personnel. For most nations, realistically, the implementation of the long list of measures envisaged by the Security Council resolutions and the Global Strategy is going to be patchy at best. The task is daunting: securing borders, tightening financial controls, strengthening the role of the police, improving criminal justice systems, and providing mutual legal assistance to other countries trying to convict terrorists in their courts. This is a step-by-step process that might begin with Governments ratifying the relevant conventions and adopting stronger terrorism-related laws. However, they cannot stop there.

The devil is often in the details when dealing with an issue as complex as this one. Take, for example, airport security. In many airports, security is tighter than ever, often to the annoyance of travelers who feel they are subjected to overly intrusive measures. The 9/11 terrorists, the "shoe bomber," and the "underwear bomber" all prompted reviews of security procedures that resulted in new approaches. As we introduce the latest ones and train staff on their use, we must always be aware that Al-Qaeda and other groups are probably working on new methods of evasion. All this relies on information and technology, both often in short supply in parts of the world where it can take weeks to repair a broken X-ray machine.

Countless men and women are on the beat every day all over the world, determined to prevent terrorists and other criminals from carrying out their plans. Think of border guards patrolling long and remote frontiers in inhospitable terrain, police officers following leads that span multiple countries, prosecutors combing through endless piles of evidence. Knowing that proper training, better equipment, and access to more information would help them immeasurably, we work towards bringing these tools to them.

When a country's defences are breached and a terrorist attack succeeds, we are immediately reminded of the real cost of this scourge, notably human pain, loss, and suffering. The images of the latest bombed vehicle or building flickering on our television screens may fade in our memories, but the pain of survivors, families of victims, and affected communities does not go away so easily. These people must not be forgotten, and we in the United Nations should continue to advocate for their interests and dignity. Their stories speak loudly for humanity and justice, and are an important part of countering terrorist propaganda.

It is clear that Governments alone cannot deal with this challenge. Countries with truly effective counter-terrorism strategies recognize the value of involving local communities, the private sector, the media, and other groups in society. They also encourage the exchange of intelligence, information, and expertise between national agencies and across borders. The broader the response, the more effective it is likely to be.
The road ahead
Over the past ten years, we have seen states try a variety of approaches to reduce the chance of terrorists succeeding. The United Nations has provided guidance and support in their endeavors, focusing on areas where we have a comparative advantage.

As a leader in the global fight against terrorism, our Organization will continue to press Governments to adopt comprehensive national strategies that balance hard-end security measures with social, economic, and community-driven policies that are grounded in the rule of law. The truth is that measures that try to take shortcuts or are not respectful of international human rights norms can actually undermine the collective effort by bolstering resentment in parts of the community and providing grist for terrorist groups' propaganda mills.

In the coming years, we will do more to help countries improve their internal coordination and their cooperation with neighbours. But breaking down institutional barriers and building trust between competing agencies as well as across borders takes time. The regional and global events we organize aim to facilitate those processes, giving professionals an opportunity to meet face to face and brainstorm on good practices. Once back home, they can implement the lessons learned and call on their international network for support.

We work with bilateral and multilateral agencies that can share their expertise with countries in need of technical assistance. Services available include drafting national laws, training prosecutors and judges, and linking national databases to border posts. The United Nations can also offer support with, for example, education programmes aimed at building tolerance in communities and development projects directed at improving governance.

Our bird's eye view has allowed us to follow counter-terrorism developments across the globe, learning along the way what works and what does not. And when I consider what we have already achieved, I am optimistic about what we can accomplish together as nations and people of the world over the next decade. Working as one, we can significantly reduce the number of attacks and victims and, hopefully, one day eliminate the terrorist threat completely.