Published: 04 May 2015
“Think Global, Act Local – Reaching Out, Reaching Across, Reaching In”
Ambassador Ong Keng Yong,
Executive Deputy Chairman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,
Chairman, Mr Eddie Teo,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good morning, and welcome to the 9th Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior National Security Officers, in short APPSNO. Each year, this programme brings together officials from around the world to network and share perspectives on key national security developments.
Think global, act local
2. We live in a world where local and global developments are intrinsically linked. Businesses are increasingly creating products or services intended for the global market, but customized to suit local tastes and cultures. In regional security, we also need to think global and act local. Things can go from small to big, from far to near, or the reverse, in a very short time. We therefore need to be keenly aware of global developments, understand what they mean for the local context, and act accordingly.
Their problem there today, Our problem here tomorrow
3. Rapid advances in technology have enabled many things to travel very quickly around the globe, facilitating international trade in goods and services, but also infectious diseases, computer malware, and extremist ideologies. Low-cost transportation has shrunk time and space, making it easier and quicker for people to travel for leisure or work in different countries. But terrorists harbouring destructive intentions or people carrying infectious diseases can also cross physical borders, more easily than security authorities would like.
4. Cyberspace poses new dangers. US intelligence agencies listed cyber as the number one threat to the US for the third consecutive year, above terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. In 2014, nearly 1 million new malware threats were released each day.1 In February this year, a hacking ring was reported to have stolen up to $1 billion from more than 100 banks from 30 countries since the end of 2013.2 Such a scale of crime was not possible before.
5. The dangers in cyberspace go beyond financial, operational, and reputational losses. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) skillfully use social media to attract new recruits from all over the world, with carefully tailored messages and videos to appeal to specific target groups. For example, those of us in our region know that ISIS has specially prepared Bahasa Indonesia videos, targeted for recruiting in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is estimated that over 90,000 messages from some 46,000 Twitter accounts are sent by ISIS supporters each day.3
6. Due to the porosity of physical and virtual borders, the speed at which threats evolve, and the vast variety of threats, we need a robust partnership approach to address the national security challenges that we face now, and in the future.
Glocal measures: Reaching out, Reaching across, Reaching in
7. Mirroring the nature of global threats with local impact, our counter measures and strategies to tackle such threats must also be aligned with global circumstances, yet adapted to suit local conditions, and protect local people, values, and institutions. I would like to suggest three dimensions along which we can develop these measures – reaching out, reaching across, and reaching in.
8. First, we can reach out by looking at how threats and problems arise and are addressed in other parts of the world, to better anticipate and manage similar challenges at home. Whenever an incident occurs to someone else somewhere else, we should ask ourselves what it means for us, what we can learn from it, and how we can be better prepared for something similar.
9. Lone wolf attacks such as in Sydney and Paris remind us that threats may appear anytime within our borders. Both Australia and France were already on high security alert before the attacks, and their security agencies are well-resourced and well-trained. And yet, these attacks took place. For example, Australia had committed additional funding last year and strengthened its laws this year to help security agencies monitor individuals of interest and disrupt terrorist attacks.4 However, it remains a real challenge to detect self-radicalised lone wolf extremists on home soil. Their identities may not be easily uncovered, and they can hatch an attack and strike at any time, which makes early detection and prevention very challenging.
10. We can learn from countries near and far as they innovate and implement ways to do this. For example, Malaysia has set up a Jihad Concept Explanation Action Committee which brings together police, government, academia, media, and other partners to address misconceptions about jihad.5 The British Home Office looks out for vulnerable claimants at job centres who may become targets for radicalization.6
11. Besides dealing with the threats from a security perspective, rehabilitation is also an important area where countries can learn from one another. Singapore hosted the East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration last month, bringing together practitioners and scholars from various countries to share their best practices, which can be adapted to suit different local conditions.
12. Second, we can reach across, by cooperating and collaborating with others, whether governments, international organisations, the private sector, or academia. In open and international systems such as aviation and cyber space, we must work together to address threats, including pooling resources together and sharing research and intelligence where useful.
13. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has a Universal Security Audit Programme to continuously audit and improve aviation security of Member States. This programme hinges on the cooperation of each country to let ICAO audit its airports, and to subsequently implement ICAO’s recommendations. For example, the Republic of Cameroon has begun implementing improvements recommended by a comprehensive assessment by ICAO in 2014, carried out at the request of the Republic of Cameroon.7
15. In the cyber domain, the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation, or IGCI, which was officially opened in Singapore three weeks ago, has a focus on assisting member countries to tackle cybercrime. Even before the IGCI was officially opened, it coordinated a global operation on 9 April to take down the Simda botnet, which infected more than 770,000 computers worldwide. Simda was used by cyber criminals to remotely access computers, to steal personal details, including banking passwords, as well as to install and spread other malware.9 And I would like to thank Mr Ronald Noble, who is here today, for his vision and foresight in establishing the IGCI in Singapore.
16. Third, we must reach into our own countries to build social resilience, so that if an incident were to occur, we would be able to recover. While our security agencies do what we can to prevent risks from materializing, it is also important to build a society where people can pull together regardless of differences in culture or origin, and overcome adversity with solidarity.
17. The #illridewithyou movement arising from the Sydney siege last December was a heartwarming example of how a community effort brought people together and strengthened the social fabric, despite an extremist lone-wolf’s attempt to tear it apart. 150,000 tweets were sent with the #illridewithyou hashtag in just four hours.10
18. Here in Singapore, the Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circles, or IRCCs, build strong relations and trust among religious, ethnic, and community groups.11 The IRCCs help deepen Singaporeans’ understanding of different faiths and practices, through networking, talks, educational visits, and joint charity programmes to help the less fortunate.
19. Building social resilience is as much a national security measure, as training our security forces or exchanging intelligence. In fact, I would argue that this is the most important thing to do for long term peace and harmony. National security practitioners thus also need to develop expertise in social domains such as communications and understanding societal trends. And we can similarly learn from one another, as we each develop our own solutions best suited for our own countries and local communities.
20. I hope that this week’s programme will be enriching for all of you – not just learning from the speakers, but also among the programme participants. I’ve looked at the range of experience you have and that you bring with you, and there is a very rich range of knowledge and experience which will contribute to the learning of your fellow participants. I hope all of you will reach out, reach across, and reach in, as we work together to tackle common security challenges. I wish everyone a fruitful week ahead. Thank you very much.