United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 2309: time to convert words into action

by Philip Baum

For the first time in its history, the United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution specifically focusing on civil aviation security; on 22 September 2016 UNSCR 2309 was passed, demonstrating global resolve to tackle the threat posed to the industry.

Admirable though it may be – and certainly a source of great pride for Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and her new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who led the initiative – we must now ask ourselves the question how 2309 is actually going to have a positive impact on security at the coal face.

Branded a ‘landmark’ declaration of intent by many commentators, what does 2309 actually provide beyond the welcome sight of political heavyweights stating the obvious? After all, the international community already has conventions (Chicago, Tokyo et al) designed to mitigate the threat in force. What does a resolution that, in effect, asks member states to abide by their own rules achieve?

Reaffirming commitment to a cause does have value as we can all benefit from being reminded of the basic principles by which we are supposed to operate – in all areas of our lives. Furthermore, with ever-changing leadership and regimes around the world, it is reassuring to see our modern day politicians express their faith in the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Yet talking heads are one thing, concrete action another.

After all, statements that terrorist attacks against civil aviation pose a serious threat to international peace and security, and cause damage to economies and trading relationships, are little more than fluff. So too are expressions of the need for states to put in place effective security arrangements to better safeguard aviation. Statement of the obvious! Of course, no resolution can go into the specifics of the security measures we need to adopt, but we must be honest with ourselves and challenge every new procedure, technology deployment, audit process and training programme, and ask whether aviation security is truly enhanced as a result.

Aviation is essential to our daily lives, so there is a natural tendency to overlook an aviation security regime’s shortcomings for fear of the economic impact of instigating sanctions against those who do not made the grade. It’s all too easy to recommend improvements whilst continuing operations, but we must resist the modern-day primary school approach where nobody is actually ever allowed to fail; governments need to show their teeth and the international community ought to be resolute in having minimal (ideally zero, but let’s be realistic!) tolerance for any state failing to meet minimum standards which are, by their very nature, already well below optimum standards.

Perhaps as it was borne out of the attacks against civil aviation in Egypt (Metrojet) and Somalia (Daallo Airlines), 2309 implies that our greatest challenge lies in helping certain states achieving those minimum standards through the provision of targeted capacity development, training and other technical assistance. Many of the foreign ministers who gathered in New York expressed the need for states to comply with Annex 17 requirements and strengthen their screening regimes. To my mind it is more sad than reassuring that, in 2016, Japan’s Ambassador to the UN, Yoshifumi Okamura, had to state to the Security Council that, “Under Japan’s leadership of the Group of Seven (G7), an action plan had been developed for aviation security that called on States to strictly abide by the Chicago Convention and its annexes.” That’s so 1970s – a period when, perhaps, there was a justifiable excuse for a state to be non-compliant. Are we really, despite the multitude of attacks that have succeeded, plots that have been detected and threats that we knowingly face, still having to get states to ‘abide’ by the Chicago Convention?