Milipol conferences highlight security challenges

06 December 1996

Milipol 96 placed security in its global context with two conferences, entitled: Fight Against Drugs and Industrial Site Security. Addressing delegates, Interpol secretary general Raymond Kendall began the session with a call for a global strategy to deal with a global problem.

Recognising that more than half of Interpol's workload was taken up with activities related to drugs, Kendall warned that drug organisations and cartels were looking to move into the Gulf region as a major transit area. Kendall argued that the ending of the Cold War meant drugs was now the most important international issue. Speaking to MEED, he said: 'One of the reasons I'm here is that this region has not been affected by drugs in the same way as other parts of the world, so they are not in a situation where they have to catch up. But they can prevent the Gulf getting into the situation we in the West are in.'

He highlighted the fact that Qatar's Health Minister Abdulrahman al-Kawari had addressed Milipol delegates on the drugs issue as evidence that the problem there was still at the prevention stage. 'In most Western countries it is seen primarily as a police/security issue,' he said. Kendall also said Middle East countries needed to be warned of the potential problems if they did not take preventive action. 'In every case where drugs started off as an exportable commodity, it has leaked into the local population and become a local problem - look at Thailand,' he said.

Pakistan had no heroin addicts in 1979, but recently, the government had been making huge seizures of drugs, including two tonnes in a recent raid in Baluchistan. With Interpol consultant Ramachandra Sundralingam warning the conference that the Gulf region was fast emerging as a new transit point for drug trafficking between Asia and Europe, Kendall argued it was imperative that Middle East countries co-operate fully to combat the menace. 'Gulf states organise well amongst themselves and meet regularly, but too often the issue remains addressed only within state boundaries,' Kendall said.

Kendall's concerns were echoed by the visiting Iranian Minister of the Interior, Ali Mohammed Besharati, whose country lies adjacent to the main drug cultivating and trafficking regions Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said the current global war against drug abuse and trafficking appeared unsuccessful. 'Nevertheless, we consider the anti-narcotics campaign to be a universal and trans-national problem and we will endeavour to eradicate it. Our expectation of the international organisations is to share responsibility and help us to succeed in the campaign against international drug traffickers in the border areas, and to act as impenetrable barriers with the use of advanced technology,' he said.

UN drug control programme expert Peter Storr used the conference to emphasise the need for sub-regional co-operation to curb drug abuse, and said his organisation hoped to organise a Middle East drug demand reduction forum early in 1997. 'If we look at the Gulf region and the Near and Middle East, there are ample opportunities for sub-regional co-operation both in terms of exchange of technical expertise and programming of technical assistance,' said Storr. But he warned that the Gulf region's banking centres offered potential risks for growing economies: the magnitude of international movement of foreign exchange and investment opportunities could be used as a veil for money laundering purposes.

The final conference at Milipol centred on the need for strong security at industrial plants. In his opening address to the conference, Mohammed Saleh al-Sada, director of security at Qatar General Petroleum Company (QGPC), said industrial plants like the new liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations and other petroleum plants were the key to Qatar's strong economic base and that security must therefore play a major role in the future development of the country. 'Industrial sites are a pillar of our national economy here, so this conference will be of interest not just to security experts but to everyone involved in the petrochemical industry,' he told delegates.

The session focused on the need for a new methodology of security. It was no longer about guard dogs surrounding fences, said the conference chairman, leading international security expert Yves Girard. It had spread into the realms of technology, computers and satellite communications. 'For years the world was used to thinking that a major attack on a strategic site could come only from one of the two major powers, or in a limited number of cases, from a regional power. Now, after cases of dispersion of deadly toxic gases in a crowded subway, sabotage of commercial airliners, destruction of major office complexes, there are at least two other models of potential attackers,' said Girard.

To counter this threat, the first ground rule was a need to respect the environment - the presence of a nearby population would increase the risks linked to a major security incident. Secondly, he argued that increasing border protection would not in itself solve security problems, citing the example of the pyramid armoured wall of Tuwaitha in Iraq which proved completely ineffective.

Indian Navy vice admiral KK Nayyar wrapped up the conference by warning that no society could completely eradicate security threats, which often depended on the degree of social disaffection. Qatar, in this respect, was at the bottom of the spectrum of any danger of attack. But he offered one piece of advice: 'What Qatar must make sure is that the unrest which exists in neighbouring countries does not spill over into your country,' he said.

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