Saturday September 18, 2021

Building resilience

Being a resilient society is a new defence norm to effectively deal with and respond to your security environment that is increasingly becoming uncertain, complex and unpredictable.

The security environment for nuclear and non-nuclear-armed states is changing because it is now characterised with traditional and non-traditional threats together with threats that are hybrid in nature and could be driven autonomously. Resilience helps counter threats across the spectrum. To establish deterrence against such threats it is critical for states to defend themselves by creating resilient societies capable of denying adversaries the incentive to target government mechanism, civil population and critical civilian infrastructure

Building and maintaining resilience at the national level is enshrined in Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty; it involves a combination of military power/capacity and civil preparedness. Civil preparedness is a key in Nato’s framework for defence resilience that helps develop situational awareness and readiness to respond to a potential attack. Working on Nato’s framework, defence resilience works at three levels – people/group level, technological level and infrastructural level.

At the people/group level, three key stakeholders – government, population and private/industrial sector – and their mutual relationship is pivotal. Continuity of government and its key services, support from the civil population and rigorous engagement with the private/industrial sector can help society withstand and recover from a crisis. For this level to work, it is important to build resilience at a technological level so as to enable a society (including key stakeholders) to defend itself against disruption. Furthermore, resilient infrastructure is needed to ensure a resilient supply of key resources including energy, food and water, health systems to deal with mass casualties and the ability to address the issue of uncontrolled movement of people during crises. All three levels are intertwined and together they help society not only in dealing with emerging or imminent threats but also enabling a society to bounce back rapidly with better ease as compared to a less resilient society after a crisis to a pre-crisis situation.

Securing and defending the working of one’s government and its key offices and critical infrastructure against disruption is critical because our societies are increasingly becoming dependent on ICT; huge investments in ICT are thought to increase GDP growth as well. There has been an increase in ICT spending across the globe – India increased ICT spending by 10 percent in 2021; China has become the second largest ICT market; Britain made some room for the digital and technology sector; Israel ranks at the top in R&D expenditures per GDP with 19 percent of global investment in cybersecurity; and in December 2019, Pakistan launched the Digital Pakistan Initiative to meet the country’s digital communication and IT needs. However, such investments bring exposure along with vulnerability to cyber-attacks and criminal activities and necessitate building resilience against political and digital/cyber disruption through a legal, political and technical framework that can adapt, evolve and change its posture according to the nature of disruption.

States are more likely to face traditional and non-traditional threats that (have tested) are going to test states’ ability to maintain a resilient supply of key resources and to deal with mass casualties and movement. To successfully pass this test, there are both good and bad lessons in the ongoing management of the global pandemic. For instance, the way Britain managed to provide uninterrupted supply of key resources and the way Indian government failed to provide sustained oxygen supply. Comparatively, Pakistan managed to maintain balance between the options of dying from coronavirus or from poverty or hunger through its transition from implementing province-/city-wide lockdown to smart lockdowns. Nonetheless, it needs resilience at the infrastructural level that not only requires investment in its health sector, lines of communication, logistics and power sector but also continuous engagement with the commercial/private sector. Several developed states in their efforts to deal with the global strategic shocks of the pandemic realised the critical significance of engaging the commercial/private sector.

Engagement with the private sector is a must in modern societies that are characterised with integrated and interdependent critical infrastructure (including sectors and key services), which makes having resilient communication, transportation and logistical network essential. For instance, in today’s world, trade, production and supply of products and services heavily depend on internet-based communication. Therefore, any blackout can disrupt this interconnectedness. This makes physical protection of infrastructure and physical security of supply during crises critical, and it depends on the ability of the state’s supply, communication and transportation lines to absorb the shocks of disruptions and ensure operational continuity. Countries such as Pakistan need to address their transportation, logistics and energy supply issues on a priority basis where transportation is characterised with under development and acute lack of modernization and blackouts are frequent occurrences. To gear up its lines of communication and logistics, and energy supply, Pakistan, like several other states, encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI) in those sectors to enhance their efficiency.

FDI in strategic sectors such as energy, seaports, airports, telecommunication raises questions on state control over those sectors to support the military during crises. States have developed frameworks to regulate FDI. For instance, Pakistan has a set screening process for FDI and ceiling for FDI in the key strategic agricultural sector (60 percent); and some sectors including arms and ammunitions, high explosives, radioactive substances, currency and mint, securities and alcohol are not open for FDI due to national security and public safety reasons. In case of an emergency such as war, states through their legislative and regulatory mechanisms generally take direct control of resources, capabilities and infrastructure that were with the private. It is at this point that states need to seek resilience.

Overall, state-centric efforts have proven inefficient to respond efficiently to threats like terrorism, climate change, cyber threats, and pandemic and have revealed the critical significance of building societal resilience to respond to new threat norms like disruption. A whole-of-government effort is required based on close and direct cooperation with the commercial/private sector, rigorous ICT sector and modernized critical infrastructure to respond to and manage (or anticipate) strategic shocks.

The writer is a London-based writer and teaches at King’s College London.

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