Gradually extending capacity: APEC's new counter-terrorism strategy

The APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group (CTWG) gathered in the framework of the 3rd Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM3) on August 18 to work on its new five-year strategy for 2018-2022. Looking back on a year fraught with harrowing terrorist activities in developed countries and the APEC region alike, the CTWG’s work is becoming ever more important to pose a unified front and effective counter-measures for the region.

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In 2017 so far, there has been 971 terrorist attacks claiming 5,561 fatalities (Source: storymaps.esri.com)
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According to a map generated by Esri Story Maps and PeaceTech Lab denoting terrorist attacks around the world, 971 attacks were committed in 2017 so far, claiming 5,561 fatalities. The international media was aflame over terrorist attacks in Manchester and Barcelona causing fatalities of 22 and 16.

Even closer to home, APEC has seen its fair share of violent terrorist clashes, especially in the Philippines, where Marawi became a site of a months-long protracted battle between the military and jihadists. The situation escalated to a level that the government was forced to declare martial law in the archipelago’s southernmost region. Moreover, there were several terrorist attacks in Thailand and Jakarta, thankfully far less successful with much fewer casualties.

The memory of these events sat heavily on the August 18 meeting of the APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group (CTWG) in Ho Chi Minh City. The meeting being part of the 3rd Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM 3), prepared for a significant task: to outline the APEC’s strategy for the next five years (2018-2022) and bring together and ever more progressive regional cooperation framework to combat the increasingly concerning threat of terrorism.

“The meeting was discussing and developing a new plan which will commence in 2018 and go up to 2022. Now the importance and significance of the plan itself is that it will map out and identify paradigms for APEC, for our working group to focus on an area of terrorism,” said James Nachipo of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, current chair of CTWG, to the Star Online.

“We are confident that the ultimate defeat of terrorism requires consolidation of global efforts united by a broad international coalition under the central coordinating role of the UN, in accordance with the UN Charter, on the basis of norms and principles of international law.

Accordingly, a major part of the new strategy will include APEC enhancing cooperation with major international bodies, including the UN and the Financial Action Task Force.

The creation of the Counter-Terrorism Working Group

The APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group (CTWG) was created to respond to the threat of terrorism and support APEC members to assess counter-terrorism strategies. As the APEC started off and keeps to being a primarily trade-oriented bloc, the organisation had to cover great distance to assert the mandates and capabilities to create a united front for counter-terrorism programmes.

While APEC leaders issued a Statement on Counter-Terrorism as early as in 2001 and created grounds for cooperation in a 2002 Statement on Fighting Terrorism and Promoting Growth, progress has been long in the making.

While the Counter-Terrorism Task Force was established in May 2003, with the task of monitoring progress and helping member economies build capacity in counter-terrorism, it was not until 2013 that the body was upgraded into a Working Group, gaining increased capacity and competences.

Significant policy progress on counter-terrorism waited until 2011, when APEC Ministers endorsed the Counter-Terrorism and Secure Trade Strategy, creating three pillars of cooperation: security, efficiency, and resilience.

Five years later, in 2016, the APEC Consolidated Counter-Terrorism and Secure Trade Strategy placed the onus of cooperation in immigration and border control, restricting the movements and preventing the spread of terrorism.

This year might have seen a shift in APEC’s preventative and stance, as the new 2018-2022 strategy promises to extend the fight to financing, potentially freezing bank accounts associated with terrorist financing as well as bring New Payment Systems under supervision.

APEC has started off as a predominantly trade-oriented pact, which later found traction with additional areas closely related to economic cooperation. While these added dimensions were tied in through direct and indirect linkages to regional international trade, they now include many of the areas of cooperation characteristic to regional and international organisations and unions: environmental protection and maritime conservation, power and energy, gender equality, and counter-terrorism.

True to its original nature, the APEC’s repertoire of tools and measures used to achieve its missions in these areas of cooperation resides largely in concerted institutionalised action and intergovernmental policies, taking the path of the regulator and law-maker, instead of pulling in support from the grass-roots level.

Current on-going and proposed initiatives for cooperation mostly aim to restrict the mobility of terrorist fighters and finances, containing and choking off terrorist cells and activities in the region, as well as helping member economies build resilience and capacity to prevent and mitigate potential attacks.

In this framework, APEC initiatives centre around four main pillars, including Secure Travel, Secure Finance, Secure Supply Chains, and Secure Infrastructure. Major initiatives include introducing the Trusted Traveller and Advance Passenger Information Systems (API) in member economies.

CTWG works in conjunction with the Business Mobility Group and the Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures to develop trusted traveller characteristics and best practices to implement the API system. By receiving passenger information in advance of travel, APEC economies could expedite the processing of legitimate travellers and focus on those requiring additional scrutiny, leading to a faster travelling experience as well as increased security.

Another major initiative is to block the funding channels of terrorist activities. The CTWG Secure Finance Workshop on Countering the Financing of Terrorism with New Payment Systems (NPS) was held in 2015 by the United States.

With the aim of extending the financial regulatory system to NPS (including payments through mobile phones, internet, and electronic value cards—many of which have yet to come under state supervision), CTWG started the fight to block the financing of terrorism, an initiative that will play a central role in the working group’s new 2018-2022 strategy.

"APEC members cooperate in areas such as blocking the source and flow of terrorist funding, and preventing suspects from crossing borders," said Nachipo.

"We are also aware of the potential online spread of ideas that may lead to radicalisation conductive to terrorism," he said. "These are matters that go beyond borders and can only be dealt with through seamless cooperation between regional neighbours, international bodies, allies, and trade partners."

Much to the tune of trade and economic cooperation, the APEC approaches the issue of terrorism through its effects on member economies. To gain legitimacy in pressing for a united front, the body highlights the indirect, but significant relation between economic growth and counter-terrorism initiatives. In particular, APEC recognises that terrorism destroys lives and property, discourages business activity, production, and investment.

"APEC Leaders recognise how vital it is to create a secure environment for economic activity. It is the Counter-Terrorism Working Group's mission to assist member economies in building their capacity to protect their supply chains, systems of travel, financial institutions, and infrastructure. We also want to strengthen their capacity to recover immediately from acts of terrorism, and to minimise the disruption to legitimate trade and travel."

James Nachipo, chair of CTWG

(Source: Travel Daily News)

Corresponding to these qualms, the newswire TravelDailyNews quoted the 2016 Global Terrorism Index by Institute for Economics and Peace as stating that the contribution of the tourism industry to the GDP is twice as large in economies that are not attacked by terrorists.

Similarly, the APEC Policy Support Unit linked tourism to poverty reduction, finding an inverse proportion. Accordingly, every 1 per cent increase in annual tourist arrivals reduces the number of poor people by 0.12 per cent. The relationship rides on the fact that the tourism industry features a large proportion of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), translating increasing tourist arrivals—and the accompanying increase in tourist spending—into increasing revenue for the sector and the myriad SMEs operating in it.

As a prime example of tying in issues previously considered exceeding the APEC mandate and extending cooperation by uncovering direct and indirect linkages to trade and economic interests, tourism, economic growth, and security (including counter-terrorism) are now interlinked in APEC discourse, generating further grounds for cooperation.

“The success of the tourism industry, and its benefits to business and growth, is strongly related to safety and security issues,” said Dionnisius Swasono, deputy director of Regional Cooperation of the Indonesian National Counterterrorism Agency. “Safety is now a top priority for travellers when choosing their destinations."

Swasono took the lead in organising a workshop last May in Bali aimed at strengthening tourism business resilience against the impacts of terrorism.

As cited by Travel Daily News, the workshop was a result of years of coordination between CTWG and the Tourism Working Group and saw the participation of more than a hundred government officials, security experts, and tourism industry leaders from APEC economies.

The workshop produced a comprehensive list of recommendations, including a to-do checklist for officials and businesses in anticipation, during, and after terror attacks. The next major workshop will deal with terrorist finance and is spearheaded by Chile.

By Tom Nguyen