Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 38: Challenges in United Nations counterterrorism coordination
For the last 65 years, United Nations personnel have offered high-profile, relatively soft terrorist targets. In September 1948, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, sent to the Middle East as a UN peace envoy, was assassinated by an Israeli terrorist group. In the 1990s, Al-Qaeda plotted to blow up UN headquarters in New York. In 2003, an Al-Qaeda offshoot blew up UN facilities in Baghdad killing another UN envoy to the Middle East, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 20 other UN staff. The decade since has seen terrorist attacks on UN targets in Afghanistan, Algeria, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia. The UN’s response to this rising operational threat has involved strengthening its internal security management capacities and hardening its otherwise soft targets. In taking these steps, the UN Organization encounters a series of interlocking coordination problems. First, there is a problem of operational coordination: how to ensure that the myriad UN departments, funds and agencies working in the field effectively coordinate their security activities – both with each other, and with states and other bodies? If, in the process, UN actors adopt a defensive security posture that draws them closer in the eyes of the communities among which they work to foreign states that terrorist groups target, is there not a danger that they may actually suffer from increased risk of terrorist attack? Next comes a related problem of coordination in programming.
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