High-level Bahrain Security Forum identifies a multilateral approach to countering terrorism

Key areas of co-operation identified for international, regional and national practitioners and policymakers.

25 February 2009 - The Royal United Services Institute today concluded a high-level regional forum on security and counter-terrorism in Manama, Bahrain. The two-day Bahrain Security Forum and Exhibition brought together leading policymakers from around the world who were joined by key practitioners with expertise in a range of fields essential to maintaining global security.

Opened by Bahrain’s Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, the Forum heard from Interpol president Boon Hul Khoo, Jawad al Bulani, Iraq’s Chief of Public Security, the former Secretary of US Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

The forum identified key areas of co-operation for international and regional actors who were called upon to act with national governments and affect change at a local policing level.

A frank discourse on Gulf security

Regional security remained at the top of the agenda for many officials. This was articulated by Abdul-Rahman Al-Attiyah, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) who warned of Iran’s intimidating posture as it claims sovereignty over islands held by neighbouring Gulf countries.

'Despite the positive position of the GCC toward Iran, that position is met many times by Iranian officials through a stance that swings unjustifiably between unfriendly and aggressive'.

'To redress these hostile declarations and irresponsible policies of Iran (it needs) to take clear positions at the highest level of leadership in Iran coupled with procedures to respect sovereignty (of other countries)' he said.

Setting common standards for border control

Bahrain’s Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa pressed the case for effective border controls in the Gulf region and beyond. He argued that a common approach would deny terrorists sanctuary and the opportunity to launch attacks from third party countries. 'Border control is not the only answer to terrorism', he said at the forum’s plenary on 24 February, 'but it is the first shield in the fight against the problem and we believe that this concept needs to be strengthened.'

'We have to apply common rules of fairness and we have to consider the stability and security interests of all our neighbours. We depend on all countries for co-operation. But we also demand equal co-operation from others. We cannot have one government considering terrorists as political refugees or dissidents on the basis of criteria which is not mutually agreed.'

The common approach required clear objectives, 'coupled with a mix of political and economic measures, effective intelligence sharing and aggressive policing, including the use of the military where necessary'.

Drawing from his own experience in countering the threat, the former US Secretary for Homeland Secretary underlined Sheikh Rashid’s call for developing a range of tools that will facilitate a multilateral approach. Secretary Michael Chertoff espoused the notion of a ‘pragmatic doctrine’ that has evolved to meet twenty-first century threats.

He observed that homeland security was not a ‘binary choice’ between military and policing, but rather required governments to recognise that circumstances prescribe different modes of reaction. In outlining the US strategy for maintaining US homeland security, Mr Chertoff listed the three operational pillars of modern terror as 'financing, communication and travel', all of which needed to be scaled globally.

Crossing the East-West divide to combat terrorism

In his opening remarks, Shaikh Rashid also set the mood of the Forum by stressing the global nature of the counter-terrorist threat, transcending countries, faiths and civilisations. 'Terrorism in Europe, for instance, has existed for years and for decades it involved others apart from believers in Islam' he said. 'Religious problems often led to violence and politics were often mixed with religion. The phenomenon is known and the answer is equally known - to reject those who call it a clash of civilisations and to embrace the majority of all religious believers who do not engage in and are not tempted by violence.'

This sentiment was echoed and extended by the London Metropolitan Police’s former Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, who argued that terrorists deserved no label other than that of a criminal. 'These are criminals and we should call them criminals and not dignify them with the name of soldiers which Siddique Khan (one of the 7/7 bombers) and others claim to be. They are not. They are murderers and to call them anything else leads us away from solutions rather than towards solutions: in particular, it serves further to alienate communities who are already under pressure.'

Sir Ian also observed how the ‘war on terror’ will increasingly be seen to be a limited and distracting approach to a problem whose solution needs to be worked out, in significant part, by ordinary policemen and women, working with the communities they serve.

Maintaining international law enforcement in the midst of global financial crisis

The President of Interpol, Mr Boon Hul-Khoo, warned of the threat to effective international policing as a result of severe budget cutbacks in the midst of global financial crisis. 'Putting too much emphasis on international policing could be seen as indulgent or unnecessary. But the reality of today’s security landscape means that no one agency, government or region can operate in a vacuum. Now more than ever we must devote greater, not fewer, resources to keeping our citizens and countries safe. Criminals and terrorists are nothing if not opportunistic and we will all pay the consequences if we let our guard down.'

He added that even though criminals and terrorist exploit a globalised landscape, there remains a still-dominant reflex within the law enforcement community to investigate at the national level first.

Other officials claimed that the financial crisis could affect terrorist networks as well. Richard Barrett, coordinator of the United Nations Al-Qa'ida and Taliban Monitoring Team, observed that even though 'it does not take a great deal of money to carry out a single act of terrorism, even a fairly devastating act…the infrastructure that supports large and ongoing networks is costly'. He said that the global credit crunch was likely to have an impact on Al Qaeda operations as much as banks and financial institutions.

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