Towards a Common Security Framework: Securing Access and Managing Risks in Hazardous Missions

Oct 2004

International agencies are facing increasing levels of threats against their staff and activities in many of their operations. Since the end of the Cold War, these agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental alike, have been called to work more intensely in conflict areas.1 These areas have become singularly more dangerous in recent years, exposing staff to greater risks. The threats of attack, as well as recurring levels of criminal violence, are now part of the daily life of international agencies’ workers in many of these situations, hindering their work and limiting their access to people in need. Although significant resources have been invested recently in building the security capabilities of international agencies, the escalation in security threats has not been matched with the development of corresponding institutional strategies to mitigate operational risks and reduce the exposure of international agencies. Despite serious flaws in existing security systems, international agencies have been inclined to expand their security capacity at a technical level rather than reviewing the relevance of their security strategies. As a response to the attacks against United Nations (UN) headquarters in Baghdad and other field missions, the United Nations is planning to expand significantly the capacity of the UN security system by creating a Directorate of Security, which will centralize all UN security systems, and by adding a number of staff and layers of technical responsibilities to an already bureaucratic and over-procedural security apparatus. While most operational managers agree that the security environment of UN agencies has evolved considerably over the recent years, this significant expansion in security capabilities is being considered without a clear and proper understanding of the types or sources of threats the UN will face in the coming decades.2 There are few discussions on global and local threats against UN operations or the role that agencies can play to mitigate exposure to risks. Similarly, other agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), are increasingly tying their security response to conservative interpretations of their mission — relying significantly, in the process, on the neutral character of their activities and the acceptance of the communities. Many organizations, however, fail to acknowledge the changing perceptions of international assistance in some areas of the world and the changing profile of the security threats that endanger not only their operators but the recipient communities as well. For these agencies, the current security developments represent a major challenge