Counter-terrorism experts eye Korea's border control practices

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Counter-terrorism experts eye Korea's border control practices

Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (Unoct), speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Seoul on Friday. [ESTHER CHUNG]

Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (Unoct), speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Seoul on Friday. [ESTHER CHUNG]

Korea kept an open and secure border throughout the pandemic, a feat that was not easy for many other countries to pull off, and it’s something counter-terrorism experts are eyeing worldwide, said Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (Unoct) during his visit to Seoul on Friday.
 
“The Republic of Korea managed to keep its borders open during the Covid-19 crisis, whilst many countries closed their borders,” said Khan on Friday, speaking with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Seoul. “It even had to absorb additional maritime traffic from other ports that closed in the region due to the pandemic [and] demonstrated how under these challenging circumstances [it could still] maintain effective border controls.”
 
Khan and his team from the Unoct discussed Korea’s best practices on border security, which include the nation’s airport and seaport systems, with their counterparts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headed by Chang Wook-jin, director general of international relations at the ministry on Friday.
 
“It is necessary to take tailored measures [...] taking difficult situations posed to each country with consideration,” Chang said while opening the meeting with Khan, which was joined virtually by Brian Finlay, president and CEO of the Stimson Center and Damien Thuriaux, head of Immigration and Border Management Division the IOM.  
 
“Each UN member state has [sustained] various repercussions and damages in coping with the pandemic,” Chang said. “Under these circumstances, UN members require an excellent reference to show them how to operate border security management effectively. For this I sincerely hope that our government’s tactics could be used and utilized as a good reference.”
 
Khan’s visit to Seoul from Tuesday to Friday, the first from the director of the Unoct, was highlighted by meetings with his counterparts and officials at the National Counter-Terrorism Center, Korea Immigration Service, Korea National Police Agency and Korea Coast Guard, as well as authorities of Incheon International Airport.
 
The Unoct makes recommendations to the UN secretary general and the UN body on how best to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and how best to prevent and combat terrorism, whilst ensuring that all measures “respect human rights for all.”
 
Korea’s practices on port control and border security are to be shared among experts at the Unoct, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Customs Organization in their meetings this week.
 
To hear more about the UN’s latest assessments on counter-terrorism efforts of Korea, as well as recent developments on the collective efforts against terrorism, and emerging threats on global security in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic in this era, the Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Director Khan in Seoul. The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
 
We understand this is your first trip since the onset of the pandemic. Which of Korea’s practices on counterterrorism are being especially noted by the UN?
The Republic of Korea (ROK) managed to keep its borders open during the Covid-19 crisis, whilst many countries closed their borders [...] and this is extremely important to maintain effective border security, because in many other countries, the closure of borders led to the abandonment of border posts and a compromise, potentially, of their security.

[Korea’s example shows] how member states in a crisis situation like Covid need to effectively respond, on the one hand maintaining effective border controls but at the same time, be able to respond to a serious crisis like Covid. These are best practices that will be of great value to many countries around the world, on how to develop effective border strategies, particularly in regards to effective counter-terrorism measures.  
 
 
South Korea shares a border with the North, whose cyber terror activities continue to pose a threat. What are your recommendations for South Korea in countering terrorism waged in cyber space?
We have a global program to strengthen the cyber security capacities of the different member states of the United Nations, and I am pleased to report that cyber security is a high priority of the Republic of Korea and it is best reflected that just during the course of my visit here, the ROK announced that it is going to contribute $100,000 to our global cyber security program. This demonstrates the high priority that the ROK gives to strengthening global cooperation on a very major and dynamic threat — the cyber security threat.
 
 
Has the UN detected a particular change in terrorism groups’ strategies since the onset of the pandemic?
The fact is that terrorists have not gone to sleep during the pandemic [and] are looking to exploit new opportunities as a result of the crisis. Just as the rest of the world has gone virtual, terrorist groups are looking to see how they can have an impact in the virtual sphere.

We have also seen how a virus like Covid can paralyze the world. We have to remain vigilant for threats of biological, chemical and even nuclear terrorism down the road. Our office on counterterrorism is coordinating the work of 43 UN and non-UN agencies to develop comprehensive multilateral international support in addressing some of these evolving threats – particularly in the post-Covid-19 time.
 
 
Lone-wolf attacks have made headlines lately, including attacks in Norway and New Zealand. It is very difficult to predict an individual’s motive or when he or she will act with intentions to inflict terror on society. What kinds of solutions does the Unoct propose to prevent these acts of terrorism by individuals?
We have to go beyond countering terrorism [...] to address the underlying conditions that drive individuals to be radicalized. There are major efforts [at the UN] on developing effective counter narratives. Terrorist groups are targeting young people — most terrorists are under the age of 30 — as they are particularly susceptible to narratives. Sometimes these people are mentally disturbed, sometimes these are people who are looking for some sort of recognition. But nothing can justify any kind of terrorist attacks.

But ultimately, the battle on terrorism can only be one in the hearts and minds of individuals. That is why we are also working with organizations such as Unesco to really engage with the youth as a positive asset [...] so that they can feel they can fully participate [...] and are fully involved in the lives of their societies, communities and nations.  
 
This year was the 20th year since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. How do you assess the past 20 years of counter-terrorism efforts worldwide?
The world has moved in a concerted way [...] in building very strong international cooperation and multilateral partnerships [to combat terrorism]. Because terrorism is an increasingly transnational threat, no one country can protect itself, it requires a robust multilateralism of cooperation. The UN has been in the lead, and this visit to Korea has demonstrated that Korea is making important contributions to strengthening the multilateral cooperation to defeat terrorism worldwide.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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