Countering cyber terrorism: Public-private partnership need of the hour

Undoubtedly, the United Nations (UN) has truly not been engaged completely to serve as a platform for counter terrorism dialogue. Even now, the nature of the UN structure and the sovereign will of nation-states are yet to converge practically for a pragmatic solution. Similarly, to counter online extremism and radicalisation, both UN and states should open the negotiating door to the private sector internet industries. The need of the hour is a greater cooperation and converging dialogues among all the stakeholders in international peace and security. Could International community go beyond definitional lines, which are hard to draw or agree broadly on harmful act of terror organisations? The pertinent issues for today are having a clear strategy to contain, to take humanitarian action and to learn from the experience.

In a retrospective, in a short span of time, UN had pressed for two major events to prevent the narratives of violent extremism. The Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism on April 7 and 8, 2016, jointly organised by Switzerland and the UN first of its kind to address the root cause of terrorism and violent extremism.

To address the threats and find out a comprehensive architecture the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lukketoft, organised a high-level Thematic Debate of the UN General Assembly focused on UN Peace and Security on May 10 and 11, 2016. The high-level debate was staged to identify key threats and engage in a strategic reflection about today’s challenges to international peace and security.

At the outset, they reaffirmed that ‘terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, the UNSC also requested its main counter-terrorism subsidiary body to present a proposal by April 30, 2017 for a comprehensive international framework on the matter’.

Narrowly, this debate had underlined two factors: role of private sector in non traditional security affairs and strong commitments to numb the crisis. However, the fact that remains to be seen is what would be the outcome of the aforesaid documents. On the contrary, considering the nature of technological advancements and providing a year to present the proposal is showing thin commitments on pressing issues.

With all regards to some significant anecdotal achievements of the UN during the Cold War still it remains a place for ‘unproductive dialogue’. Put it in other way, when it comes to the UN to address hard-line security issues, ‘realists say no; intuitionalists say yes’, to borrow J. Mearsheimer’s idea from ‘the false promise of International Institutions’. It also became evident when the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi addressed a gathering of India Diaspora in Brussels in April 2016. He underlined that the world body is not defining terrorism and handling the threat in an adequate fashion. On a similar note, the former Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, narrated that ‘the UN, often regarded as the ‘heart’ of the multilateral system, is fading towards obscurity being describe more of a NGO rather than a governing multilateral institution’ in his talk ‘Is the UN fit for its purpose at 70?’ at the Observer Research Foundation on December 5 2015.

In retrospect, the second decade of the twenty first century began with a very unequal diffusion of power resources. From this vantage point, three scenarios could be drawn — Scenario 1 — State v/s State; Scenario 2 — State v/s non-state actors (non-violent) and Individual; Scenario 3 — Violent non-state actor v/s state, individual and non-state actors. This is also reckoning the post Cold War security debate viz. national security v/s human security.

Swiftly, the significant changes in currents of geopolitics and rise of post-Westphalian threats and challenges have become a major concern for the policy makers, than the theoretical debates of IR. The post-Westphalian threats and challenges include violent non-state actors — terrorist, hackers, organised syndicates, drug cartels and challenges viz. pandemics and climate change.

There is nevertheless reason to worry. Could the UN manage multifaceted challenges of the time? One hand the old actors — the nation states; new actors — transnational corporation (specifically internet and telecommunication service providers); and modern barbarians have been threatening and impinging challenges to the very existence of the UN.

Deconstruction of J. Nye ‘Chessboard Model’ would be canvassed as – first layer is nation state (military power), second layer transnational corporations (economic power) and third layer is terror organisations. In this interconnected world order State should cooperate and co-opt with private sectors to numb the violent extremism.

This is why first time Steve Crown, Vice-President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft Corporation had addressed the world body pertaining to the terror issues. This led to the question where, when and how a comprehensive partnership between public and private sector will forge a common line to address the cyber terror issues.

The discourse of our time is the role of private sectors or big business in international security. This has been a much debated issues since 1990s and pertinent after 9/11 security affairs. In this new security paradigm private sector has a lot more to deliver for the peace and security.

However, it would make sense to factor in the fact that to stifle cyber terrorism, private sector has to be called in for doing so will heighten the prospects of countering the menace that is proliferating at a pace faster than ever. While addressing the world body Crown said that public-private partnerships are the appropriate response to cyber terrorism. It is a daunting challenge for both governments and internet industries.

Terrorists manipulate the internet platforms, yet there is no distinguished solution to the issues. All the scientific innovations including ICT could be used for either good or evil. The internet industry was built on the idea that communications could untie human latent qualities. However, the most of the internet giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have been engaging with strong intent cyber platforms were abused. For instance, there is greater degree of unity displayed in combating online child sex abuse than say terrorist exploitation of technology services.

However, Crown also underlined that ‘we need to admit what we do not know’. Ostensibly, we do not know that is the ‘definition and solution’ to it. The need is that all stakeholders should work together in a coordinated and transparent way.

There are few takeaways for India first India should endow with an equitable definition of terrorism. Second, New Delhi should engage with international and regional institutions to address the issues more pragmatically. Last, but not the least, India should learn from its past mistakes. After the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, big Indian business communities had shown greater concern for the lack of security architecture and cooperation between public and private sectors. Some open sources assessments have suggested that Indian private industries have been performing well in security and intelligence analysis.

Therefore, there is no harm in forging amicable partnerships to gain help in countering online radicalisation or left wing extremism or disaster management. Still there is a long way to go; PPP model, perhaps, can offer some solutions for virtual and real world. Having said that, what remains to be seen is when and how the clear intent to allocate authoritative values for comprehensive security will become a reality.

This commentary originally appeared in South Asia Monitor.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Jayadev Parida

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