Not enough has been done by nations to secure the safety of citizens from terror attacks
Ambassadors to the UN offices in Vienna are often compared to knights in steel armour, riding white steeds to battle against all the evils of the world.
The Vienna International Centre houses all the agencies of the United Nations, which are meant to fight global evils such as clandestine nuclear weapons, transnational crime, drug trafficking, corruption and, of course, terrorism.
Since these evils continue in spite of years of efforts, the envoys are also seen as Don Quixotes fighting windmills, while the real enemies of the people hide behind the UN verbiage and continue to threaten global security. All said and done, the UN is not a world government, just a group of nations, driven by nationalism and national interests.
Global security cooperation assumed a new meaning and content within months of my arrival in Vienna when “two steel birds fell from the sky on the Metropolis and the sky burned at forty-five degrees latitude,” as predicted in ambiguous and inscrutable phrases by the 16th century French writer Nostradamus.
After watching the collapse of the Twin Towers on live television, the US Ambassador to the UN said that what we just saw on television would make no difference to the world, but all of us knew that the world had changed beyond recognition.
The whole architecture of global security based on the strength of nuclear arsenals crumbled on 9/11. The most powerful nuclear weapon state was brought to its knees by a few men armed only with forks and knives.
The immediate reaction to 9/11 was a new determination to end terrorism.
A Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism, which India had presented in the UN General Assembly in 1992 was being discussed lackadaisically in the Legal Committee till then. But 9/11 shook them and it appeared that the Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism would be adopted in hours. Such was the pressure of public opinion around the world.
But even today, 18 years after 9/11, there is not even a definition of terrorism, not to speak of the Convention. The Security Council had to be content with quoting individual Conventions on different aspects of terrorism as no agreement was possible on a Comprehensive Convention.
The dilemma about global cooperation to fight terrorism relates to the old theory that some people’s terrorists are other people’s freedom fighters.
This did not change even after many countries declared after 9/11 that there were no good terrorists or bad terrorists. When India raised the issue of terrorism in Kashmir for twenty years, several countries argued that it was a ploy by India to embarrass Pakistan, which supported self-determination of the people of Kashmir.
The western world had believed that Palestinians alone were terrorists till they realised that the perpetrators of 9/11 actually came from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But even after waging a war on terror with the support of Pakistan, the US did not succeed in forging a consensus to combat global terrorism. Individual countries took firm action for homeland security, but other nations, including India continued to be under the onslaught of terrorism.
Everyone condemns terrorism, but there is no grand strategy to fight terrorism because of discrimination between different terrorist groups.
What remain are some bilateral working groups sharing information and sale of some sophisticated equipment of monitoring activities of certain groups to prevent them from staging major activities.
Stopping terrorist funding for terrorists recognised as such by the Security Council and preventing money laundering are some of the joint activities by like-minded countries.
When terrorism emerged in the form of the Islamic State consisting disgruntled elements after the killing of Saddam Hussein and it held its own territory in Iraq and Syria, the US, Russia and others focussed attention on it.
Though IS has lost much of its territory and its leader, Al Baghdadi has been eliminated, IS remains alive and may regroup itself in due course. The possibility of the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan cannot be ruled out. The decisive action against terrorist camps in Pakistan and the relentless Indian emphasis on terrorism as hindering development have received wide support.
The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime of 2000 was a major effort, even before 9/11, to coordinate action against international crime syndicates.
As the world economy has globalised, so has its illicit counterpart. Criminal groups have appropriated new technologies, adapted horizontal network structures that are difficult to trace and combat, and diversified their activities.
International trafficking in drugs, people, and illicit weapons, as well as cyber crime and money laundering have risen to unprecedented levels.
The Convention outlines many areas in which such activities could be controlled and many of its provisions were incorporated in the Convention Against Corruption negotiated in Vienna.
But efforts to combat transnational crimes remain caught within national borders. Existing international legal frameworks focus too little on combating corruption and do not effectively address the market that underpins transnational crime globally.
The current regime suffers from critical normative gaps, and lacks sensible strategies where norms exist. The UN Convention Against Transnational Crime is the central international framework governing crime, but it has not been implemented faithfully.
The primary global institutions responsible for coordinating multilateral anticrime efforts, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol, remain grossly underfunded.
The list of activities envisaged in the Conventions are quite comprehensive like improving data with a trust fund for independent research, drawing lessons from anti-terrorism efforts, bolstering anti–money laundering regulations, streamling US government anti-crime capacity building, supporting evidence-based drug policy and combating criminal impunity. But none of these have proved effective.
The negotiations on the Convention Against Corruption got distracted by the debates on good governance and the developed countries tried to impose good governance conditions on the developing countries.
This was rejected by the developing countries, but in effect, the World Bank conditions remain in place. The biggest fight was on the provision of “Return of Assets” accumulated overseas by dictators and corrupt politicians.
Many western countries argued that assets held by them can be returned only if it was proved that the money was illegally earned. We found some language acceptable to all, but the countries, which claim return of assets have the onus to prove that the money was illegally earned. But a beginning was made to acknowledge that these assets must return to their origins.
Drug trafficking is another global security threat that the UN tried to address, particularly because of its links with terrorism and maintenance of illegal regimes. But the medicinal use of narcotics and legalisation of narcotics use in certain communities have prevented effective international cooperation.
India itself is in the market as a large producer of opium, which is an essential component of pharmaceuticals. Destruction of crops and intensification of alternate cultivation of other crops have not significantly altered the cultivation, production and distribution of drugs.
The fight for the elimination of nuclear weapons was upstaged by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which initiated a regime of discrimination and the same principle was accepted in the case of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was created as a promotional Agency for nuclear power for peaceful purposes became a watchdog for implementation of the NPT.
But all said and done, the IAEA prevented uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons by its safeguards system. But the cases of Iran and North Korea have revealed the weaknesses of the system in preventing proliferation. The use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes has also suffered a setback after the Fukushima accident. The prospect of a nuclear renaissance to combat climate change receded after Fukushima.
Needless to say, the impact made by the 9/11 attacks has led to considerable awareness that global cooperation is necessary to ensure security.
At the same time, rise of nationalism, the decline of globalism, the refugee crisis and climate change have thrown up unconventional security threats, which are receiving greater attention.
The withdrawal of the Trump Administration from its global commitments and the emerging trade wars have also divided the world.
India has tried to cope with the new security challenges with a determination to build global cooperation in various ways.
External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar said in his recent Ramnath Goenka lecture: "When confronted by security challenges, India has also responded with a new grit. Its enthusiasm for shaping global conversations on climate change, terrorism, connectivity and maritime security is already having an impact.
The humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations undertaken in Yemen, Nepal, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Fiji and Mozambique are statements of capability as much as of responsibility."
A new security architecture must be shaped to prevent the kinds of shock that the world had to endure in the past.