x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Strong borders and the resolve behind security

UAE airports are stepping up air cargo inspections, and looking for new ways to screen passengers, including the possibility of full body scans.

An open-door trade policy helped create modern day Dubai, and laid one of the foundation stones of the country. Now, as the UAE charts its collective future, economic engagement must be balanced by improved security.

We learnt this lesson most recently in October. Government authorities, acting on a tip from Saudi intelligence, uncovered bombs shipped as cargo bound for the United States. The discovery of explosives originating in Yemen sent ripples through the global shipping industry.

In that case, Dubai helped to score a victory. As a transhipment hub, the incident also highlighted the UAE's vulnerability and the imperative to tighten security controls. These measures will be critical going forward, especially following the UAE's recent lifting of its ban on cargo flights from Yemen.

At the two-day border security summit organised by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma), which continues today, regional leaders and security experts have been discussing these emerging risks. "Arab countries have always had their political differences but there is one thing they agree on, and that's their internal security," said Riad Kahwaji, the CEO of Inegma.

Leaders here appear to be on the right track. As we report today, UAE airports are stepping up air cargo inspections, and looking for new ways to screen passengers, including the possibility of full body scans. These steps will not be without controversy; privacy advocates may question whether the sacrifices are worth the gains. Certainly, however, security has to be the paramount concern.

The solutions discussed at the summit are led by technology - from face-recognition software to scanners that can detect drugs and explosives. But relying exclusively on hard borders is not enough. Gulf partnerships need to curb dangerous activities at their source. Residents must remain vigilant to potential threats. And the UAE can help redefine what a protected border is, from securing maritime ports, airports and land crossings to cracking down further on money laundering, smuggling and illicit trade.

In the end, security will be a group project. "Intelligence sharing between agencies and between governments is absolutely essential," said Paul Burke, the managing director of the consulting firm Middle East Security. "It is only with cooperation that threats to our borders will be effectively detected."