Terror threats: Private sector, public 'must play their part'

Terror threats: Private sector, public 'must play their part'
File photo of The Luqmanul Hakiem Islamic School in Johor which was a training facility for the JI’s next-generation leadership. Mr Barry Desker says countries in the region initially struggled in dealing with the JI threat in the early 1990s

When dealing with the threats of today - such as terrorism, cyber warfare and epidemics - government efforts alone are not enough, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said yesterday.

The private sector and general public must play their part, he added, while governments also need to talk to one another.

Speaking at the opening of the eighth annual Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior National Security Officers yesterday, Mr Iswaran said today's threats have three things in common - they cross borders, can develop quickly, and are difficult to resolve.

"It is not enough for a government or a nation to manage these threats alone," he said.

"We have to work with others, collaborating within and beyond our borders, to prevent these risks from materialising, and in the event that they do, to respond, recover and adapt effectively."

The public, for example, can be vigilant against them and come together in a time of crisis to help rebuild the country. The private sector also has to work with the government to strengthen critical infrastructure that may be privately owned, said Mr Iswaran.

Mr Barry Desker, dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies which is organising the five-day event, called for "a mindset shift" and an acknowledgment by stakeholders that today's complicated threats cannot be eliminated totally, but "managed and maintained at acceptable levels".

Using the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror network as an example, he recalled how countries in the region initially struggled in dealing with the threat in the early 1990s.

"JI (operatives) actually moved seamlessly across borders - Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, southern Thailand, southern Philippines," said Mr Desker.

"Governments reacted in a very national-oriented perspective: highlighting the role of sovereignty, of territorial integrity, independence. It took some time for governments to take a broader view, and to recognise that cross- border collaboration was essential if they were going to manage this threat successfully."

The Singapore Government also realised that in order to fight extremism, it needed the help of the wider community, such as progressive and independent Islamic scholars, said terrorism expert Kumar Ramakrishna, who heads the Centre of Excellence for National Security here.

The concept of resilience - that national security has to evolve beyond traditional military capability - is the theme of this year's event, held at the Singapore Resort & Spa Sentosa.

More than 80 senior national security practitioners, policymakers and academics from 26 countries will exchange ideas through panels and lectures.

This article was published on April 8 in The Straits Times.

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