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Experts highlight transatlantic terror threat

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More international cooperation is needed to combat the global threat of terrorism, according to a meeting of security experts in Geneva.

This content was published on October 8, 2004 - 11:41

The two-day gathering of policymakers and business leaders wrapped up on Friday with calls for improved collaboration between the private and public sectors.

Cybercrime, biological weapons and crisis management were just a few of the topics addressed at the meeting.

Organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), the event set out to compare European and American protection strategies and come up with concrete recommendations for improving national security on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Terrorism is a global threat and we have to look to the future and ask the right questions today, even if we don’t know the answers yet,” said Gérard Stoudmann, the centre’s director and conference chairman.

“This forum provides a good opportunity to examine how the European and American approaches differ, where they are compatible and how we can best work together in the future,” he told swissinfo.

Terrorism

Stoudmann’s comments were echoed by Clark Ervin, the inspector-general of US Homeland Security, who said an “unshakeable global alliance” was needed to defeat terrorism.

“The attacks of September 11 changed everything in the twinkling of an eye for America,” said Ervin.

“Since that horrific day, homeland security has become a preoccupation for us... and the threat of attacks on the homeland has come to pervade our national consciousness.

“Forums like this one are critical to the exchange of information and ideas across borders, which is indispensable in the fight against terrorists,” he added.

Another main aim of the conference was to examine ways of bolstering collaboration between institutions and industry.

Data protection

Data protection and information technology were cited as key areas of potential partnership by John Thompson, the chairman and CEO of the California-based Symantec Corporation.

“I would argue that we are at a very critical juncture in our strategies around the world to protect our digital assets,” said Thompson, who also serves as a member of the US National Infrastructure Advisory Committee.

“It’s important that we act now in order to do a better job of protecting some of the more vital assets that we own and cherish,” he added.

According to Stoudmann, Europe is lagging behind the US when it comes to fostering public-private partnerships, especially in the field of communication.

Cooperation

“The US is more advanced and the culture of cooperation is something that needs to be developed in Europe,” Stoudmann told swissinfo.

“Communication, transport and IT are all privatised, so these companies are natural partners for homeland security,” he added.

Stoudmann also pointed out that despite the calls for strengthened alliances, transatlantic security efforts were generally more advanced than the public thought.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and beyond the headlines,” he said.

“Security is an issue of convergence rather than confrontation between Europe and the US, even though they sometimes take different political approaches.”

Threats

But Stoudmann warned that many countries, including Switzerland, needed to be better prepared to respond to the changing nature of terrorist threats.

“Switzerland is not sleeping, but there is a lot of awareness that needs to be raised on all levels and we have a long way to go,” he said.

“Of course, we’re not on top of the list in terms of potential targets, but it would be wrong to believe that the Swiss political and economic infrastructures are not threatened.”

“In the future, terrorists may find that crippling financial markets, wreaking havoc on the stock market or throwing the air control system into chaos is more damaging than blowing up a car… so we have to be prepared and we have to think the unthinkable.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

The “Homeland Security Forum” was organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a Swiss-backed think tank and training foundation.

More than 200 government officials, academics and private sector leaders from the US, Europe and beyond took part.

The GCSP offers training to diplomats, military officers and civil servants in international security policy.

It has 32 member countries and works to promote dialogue on security-related issues.

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