February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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Counter-Terrorism: Protection of Critical Infrastructure

Expected Council Action

In February, Ukraine, as Council president, plans to hold an open debate on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is scheduled to chair the session. Briefers are expected to include a high-level Secretariat official and representatives of specialised international organisations and research institutes, including the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the International Maritime Organisation. The Council may adopt a resolution to promote greater cooperation in addressing the terrorist threat to critical infrastructure.


Protection of Critical Infrastructure has become a priority issue for Ukraine. In 2016, it developed a national strategy to protect critical infrastructure, and during the General Assembly’s high-level week in September, President Petro Poroshenko called for the Council’s action in response to growing threats. Against the backdrop of several terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure over the past year—including international airports in Brussels and Istanbul—the objective of the open debate is to raise awareness about vulnerabilities and the impact of such attacks, while promoting discussion of preventive measures.

Critical infrastructure systems include banking and finance; telecommunications; emergency services; air, maritime and rail transportation; and energy and water supplies. Attacks on these systems can cause chaos in societies, along with loss of civilian life, destruction of property and disruption of public services. There may also be environmental consequences that can extend beyond the targeted state, affecting neighbouring countries. States are made more vulnerable to this threat given developments in information and communication technology (ICT) that interlinks many of these systems. International conventions to prevent terrorist attacks have addressed the protection of infrastructure in treaties related to civil aviation, maritime security and nuclear weapons.

The UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) has considered the issue through its Working Group on Protection of Critical Infrastructure including Vulnerable Targets, Internet and Tourism Security. The Working Group, however, has not been very active since the end of 2013. The Counter-Terrorism Executive Committee Directorate (CTED) also discussed the issue of protecting critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks with member states in 2013, with the focus on prevention and emergency response plans and cooperation among law enforcement agencies, and organised an open briefing of the Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee on this issue. CTED further raised the issue during 2014-2015 while conducting regional seminars.

On 21 November 2016, Ukraine organised an Arria-formula meeting on this theme, held with a view to begin discussion of the issue among members ahead of its Council presidency. The session included a discussion with three panellists—Sergiy Semochko, head of the Department for Counterintelligence and Protection of the National Economy of the Security Service of Ukraine; Frank Westfall, Regional Director of the Office of Infrastructure Protection of the US Department of Homeland Security; and Scott Aaronson, Executive Director for Security and Business Continuity of the Edison Electric Institute, an association of US investor-owned electric companies. Members spoke about some of their national efforts to respond to vulnerabilities and expressed support for continuing the discussion in the Council.

Among specific issues that are likely to be considered during the debate are how to enhance the security of infrastructure and public areas; to improve responsiveness and resilience to terrorist attacks against critical infrastructure, in particular ICTs; and to strengthen public-private partnerships. The debate may involve considering mechanisms for the exchange of best practices, and discuss how UN specialised agencies and other international and regional organisations can contribute to improving efforts to counter the terrorist threat to critical infrastructure.

Ukraine informed Council members of its plan to have a resolution on this issue last November and seems to have since consulted further with the P5. Negotiations among Council members on the text started in the latter part of January.

The resolution which Ukraine is considering may seek to encourage member states to enhance preparedness and develop strategies to reduce the risk of attacks, and call for more cooperation between states and with the private sector. It might aim to address gaps in the existing legal architecture to criminalise terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure. It may also prescribe activities for CTED, such as including risks to critical infrastructure in its assessments during national visits or providing the Council with a follow-up report, while encouraging CTITF to revive its Working Group on this issue. A Council resolution is more likely to focus on the physical protection of infrastructure rather than on the related cyber-security challenges, on which there is less consensus among member states.

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General Assembly Documents
8 September 2006 A/RES/60/288 This is the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy from which the mandate of the CTITF Working Group on Protection of Critical Infrastructure including Vulnerable Targets, Internet and Tourism Security is drawn.

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