Opening Address by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean at the 6th Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior National Security Officers (APPSNO)
Mr Eddie Teo,
Chairman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Board of Governors
Ambassador Barry Desker,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning and welcome to the 6th Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior National Security Officers, or APPSNO in short. Since its inception in 2007, APPSNO has been a key forum for officials from the Asia-Pacific to come together, network and exchange perspectives on the latest developments impacting national security. This year’s APPSNO carries on this useful tradition.
The Complex Global Risk Landscape
The theme for this year’s APPSNO – “Complexities: Interactions and Interdependencies for National Security” is a timely one. Over the past decade, globalisation and advances in technology have deepened systemic interdependencies, not all of which are obvious, and injected a high level of complexity into the global risk landscape. This has made tackling security risk issues more challenging.
Paradoxically, the attempt to reduce risk at the local level by providing redundancy and fail-soft modes via interconnections with a wider system can increase risk at the overall system level if one part of the interconnected system fails and threatens to bring the whole system down. The Eurozone crisis precipitated by the situation in Greece is one example. One might argue that Britain, which stayed outside the Eurozone, has been less affected, at least by this particular crisis.
Similarly, the risk to local power supply can be reduced by connecting to an electrical power grid. But joining a grid can also bring system-wide risks into the local system. The Northeast blackout of 2003 was a classic example. A voltage fluctuation in an Ohio transmission line caused a trip, and computerized safety systems in over 100 generating stations across Ontario and seven U.S. states that were inter-connected via the grid were knocked off-line like tumbling dominoes. The blackout affected an estimated 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight U.S. states.
The ubiquity of the Internet has driven inter-connectivity to new levels, and transformed the way in which we conduct business, personal relationships and even popular uprisings, as seen in the Arab Spring.
35 per cent of the world’s population is already online, up from just 8 per cent ten years ago. At the end of 2011, approximately 470 million smartphones had been sold worldwide, and the number is expected to double by 2015.
The networked and complex nature of the cyber-world allows cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage to take place from abroad, anonymised through multiple hop points in third countries, with no physical presence in the country where the target is located. Cyber-sabotage such as the Stuxnet virus in 2010 currently requires specialised resources and technical know-how. However, other forms of cyber-espionage and subversion could be undertaken by smaller groups such as companies and hackers against a country’s critical infrastructure or financial system.
Such attacks can be inadvertently facilitated by new ways of operating, which bring new kinds of vulnerability. For example, smart meters can allow electricity grid companies to monitor domestic electricity consumption. This information can be used to manage electricity supply more efficiently, saving money for the company and users, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The downside is that, once an information link is created between a user’s electricity meter and the grid, there is a theoretical risk of a user being able to hack into the grid via their meter and sabotage an area’s electricity supply. Connectivity also allows for amplification - attacks that would have been isolated incidents in the physical world can achieve cascading effects through connectivity.
Demographic and social changes will also have an impact on national security. By late last year, the world’s population had hit 7 billion, and is expected to grow to 9.3 billion by 2050. Already, half the world’s population is urban, and it is expected that 7 out of 10 people will be living in urban areas by 2050. There will be rising demand for clean water and food. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food production must increase by 70 percent, in order to feed this larger, more urban and better-off population. Food security – not just the production, but also the transportation, distribution and willingness to supply or withhold food exports – will continue to be a challenge. Furthermore, as food production requires water and energy, food security is interrelated to issues of water and energy security.
In some areas, population growth and migration, whether rural to urban within the same country or across boundaries, will outpace the development of stable governance. Poor infrastructure and lack of employment opportunities, combined with resource pressures, will also increase the risk of domestic and cross-border instability and conflict.
Climate change will also become increasingly important as a risk multiplier, exacerbating tensions around the world. This may be especially pertinent in developing countries, leading to additional stress on water and food supply, and habitability in already fragile states as well as increased migration within and between states. These will also threaten national stability and security.
Taken together, what this means is that the risk landscape will become increasingly complex and diverse, with no single dominant risk, but a series of interconnected ones which could coalesce into a major event. This in turn makes achieving security more difficult. We not only have to improve our ability to identify potential risks as quickly as possible, but also have to raise our game, and be adaptable in tackling those same risks in order to safeguard vital national interests.
Approaches to Address Complexity
How then can we tackle these complex risks?
First, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed. We have to develop anticipatory capabilities and policy interventions that go beyond the individual stakeholder, agency or even country. Instead, we need to consider the full range of perspectives from various stakeholders to better understand the causal factors and interconnections, so as to deal with them more effectively.
One example is fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia. Many countries, including Singapore, have participated in multi-national Combined Task Force 151, or NATO and European task forces, while others act independently. There is a voluntary contact and coordination mechanism for conducting patrols, escorts and convoying to detect, deter and disrupt piracy in the region. Yet, this sizable force is not sufficient to cover adequately the vast area of 1.1 million square miles, which is about the size of the ten largest European NATO countries put together, including all of France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Italy and the UK.
So shipowners also need to take precautionary measures for their own protection, for example, by keeping up-to-date with real-time information about pirate activities to better plan their routes and avoid areas of higher pirate activity. Some shipowners have also employed guards, including armed security teams, on board their ships.
But to address the root causes of the piracy, the international community will also have to work with local authorities ashore to strengthen governance and promote economic development in Somalia.
Second, our approach has to be adaptive. We need to constantly review and renew our strategies and responses, because the risks confronting us are dynamic, and new developments can easily render our solutions obsolete.
Singapore’s National Climate Change Strategy reflects such an approach. We are currently reviewing our existing measures to enhance our resilience towards climate change. For example, we have made plans to protect our coasts and to improve our drainage. Singapore’s coastal reclamation sites were previously required to be at a minimum level of 1.25 metres above the highest recorded tide levels. For new reclamation projects, this has now been raised by an additional 1 metre to safeguard against projected sea level rises by the year 2100.
We are as concerned about climate change causing a shortage of water as a result of longer dry spells, as we are about inundation by more intense storms. To increase the resilience of Singapore’s water supply, our water agency, PUB, has developed a diversified water supply strategy through the 4 National Taps. Our water catchment now covers two-thirds of Singapore’s land area. We continue to import water from Malaysia, but have also developed alternative sources, namely desalination and NEWater, which are not dependent on weather conditions. We have also invested in R&D to address not just our own water challenges, but what is essentially a global challenge of having sustainable water solutions.
But this is not all. Tackling climate change has to be an ongoing process, taking into account changing circumstances. To assess the adaptation measures needed in the longer term, we are conducting a Risk Map Study, which will be completed by next year, to identify specific coastal areas at risk of inundation and the associated expected damage.
Third, international collaboration is essential for effective response to complex issues. Improvements in transport and communications have made it easier for people, goods and funds to move across borders, but these improvements also support criminal activities such as illegal drug transactions and money laundering.
Because crime does not recognise national borders, and indeed will exploit them, enforcement agencies in different countries must work together in order to fight transnational crime. A good example is the new INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation, which will open in Singapore in 2014. It will carry out research and development and build up new capabilities such as digital forensics. This facility will also allow enforcement officers around the world to share real-time criminal data, analyse cyber threats and trends, and work more closely together when fighting new types of crime, including transnational crime and cybercrime.
Your participation in APPSNO today is a good indication that you see the necessity and value of working together across countries and agencies to deal with a more dynamic and complex risk landscape. We need to revisit issues periodically, broaden our horizons by sharing perspectives, and constantly challenge our mental models so that we can be better prepared for the future.
APPSNO provides a useful platform to bring together senior officials from the Asia-Pacific region to start conversations and build relationships that will strengthen in the years to come.
I wish all of you a meaningful and enjoyable mutual learning experience in the week ahead. Thank you.