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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Innovative online forum sees security experts tackle pressing issues of the day

The Debate Security Plus, hosted and moderated by Friends of Europe and the Abu Dhabi-based counter-extremism think tank Hedayah, saw the meeting of security minds from across the globe over a 48-hour period

From conflict and mass migration to cyber-security, nuclear threats and asymmetric warfare, a 48-hour online forum involving security experts from across the globe tackled a number of pressing issues facing the world today.

The Debate Security Plus, hosted and moderated by Friends of Europe and the Abu Dhabi-based counter-extremism think tank Hedayah, held a number of discussions in the hope of finding solutions to global security problems last week.

Conflict and poverty were high on the agenda as they are among the main drivers behind mass displacement, with more than 65 million people estimated to be forcibly displaced worldwide last year.

“The Syrian crisis as well as other crises in Africa, Asia, with the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh, South and Central America, are some of them,” said Monique Pariat, European Commission director general for humanitarian aid and civil protection. “No numbers will do justice to the acuteness and scale of today’s humanitarian needs. Whole countries and regions are stuck in a state of protracted crises and fragility. Forced displacement is a grim reality now lasting an average of 17 years.”

She said better coordination among aid-providers, including the EU, US, Gulf and Canada, was needed. “Building the resilience of vulnerable populations requires decisive global action at many levels,” Ms Pariat said. “The Gulf provides humanitarian relief, in particular in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that some countries in the Middle East, like Jordan and Lebanon, are bearing the burden of hosting a large number of Syrian refugees. A quarter of the Lebanese population is composed of Syrian refugees.”

Fabrice Leggeri, executive director at Frontex, said Europe would remain under migratory pressure for economic and demographic reasons. “There will always be people looking for a better life, those escaping conflicts and people in need of international protection,” he said. “Border control is only one element of effective migration management, which has to be complemented by development in countries of origin and hopefully peace processes in conflict zones.”

On nuclear matters, experts said it was important that the Middle East was a region free from nuclear weapons.

Read more: Cyberspace is as vital and contentious as geostrategic waters

“Some regions are clearly more fraught with conflict and tensions than others,” said Paul Carroll, senior adviser at N Square. “South Asia is often cited as the place that keeps security experts up at night, with two nuclear-armed nations bordering each other and with unclear security around their arsenals. One can imagine nations in the Middle East developing nuclear arsenals and similar dynamics – unstable governments, elements of radicalism, long-standing tensions – even hatred – and shared borders.”

Adding a nuclear weapons element to an already volatile region was like throwing gas on a fire, he added.

“I would like to see Israel begin to alter its policy on nuclear weapons, begin to admit its possession and also work to stabilise or at least better convey its intentions.”

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, said the essential first step was to build trust among countries. “The Middle East is a region that has not witnessed nuclear tests,” he said. “We should focus on making the existing non-testing norm legally binding in the region. This would foster trust and establish confidence between states.”

The future of cyber-security was also discussed during the forum and officials said it was a potential area of confrontation.

“The security environment today is characterised by complexity and unpredictability,” said General Denis Mercier, supreme allied commander - transformation at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

“We must integrate cyber issues from the very first step of our capability development process, in every operational domain. Cyber is a domain in which we will have to assume an acceptable risk to make progress – quite similarly to the early stages of aviation, a century ago.”

Solange Ghernaouti, director at the Swiss Cybersecurity Advisory and Research Group, said cyberspace was a common environment that must be shared and regulated. “The internet has global coverage and cyber attacks do not stop at national borders,” she said. “Regional or bilateral agreements are insufficient. Cyberspace requires effective coordination, cooperation and legislation at the local level, while being compatible at the international level.”

Given the number and intensity of cyber attacks, she said it is important for the world to specify unacceptable practices and determine international standards. “Cyber attacks against human life, peace, national security or the stability of states would be punishable under international law, even if they were not reprehensible at a national level,” she said.

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