Clare G Richardson-Barlow

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A Day in Brussels: March 22, 2016

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This post is a joint effort between me and my partner William J. Schaffer, a finance and strategy professional focused on the Aerospace, Defense and Government Services (ADG) sector.

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A Brussels city view from the New Hotel Brussels, which hosted a portion of the German Marshall Fund’s Young Professionals Summit.

Today has been an unexpectedly fortunate day. The two of us, husband and wife, have been temporarily kept from departing Brussels following today’s IS terrorist attacks on the Brussels International Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station. It has not escaped our attention that this is not the only attack in the last week, or the only incident of extremist violence this year. We are privileged to be safe and in Brussels another day, as the city has been so kind to us for the past week, and we are happy to have another day together. There is nowhere we would rather be.

The event that brought us to Brussels in the first place was the Young Professional’s Summit, a side event of the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum. The Forum is an international meeting of political, academic, and corporate leaders from both sides of the Atlantic, focused on addressing the shared challenges of the transatlantic community and the responses required for continued global stability and peace. While a variety of security, economic, and political concerns were addressed throughout the dual conferences, dialogue was often brought back to the pressing refugee crisis in Europe and the threat of terrorism and conflict that has spurred it. It has been extremely difficult for the two of us not to ponder on the irony of attending a high-level conference where the topic du jour was the refugee crisis and Middle Eastern conflict that led to it, followed by what many viewed as the successful capture of Salah Abdeslam on Friday, only to witness a more somber Brussels today. Strategic and innovative security solutions were discussed at the Forum, and today we were reminded that they are part of the vital changes that must happen among transatlantic partners.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels.

For the past 12 hours we have been glued to our Facebook newsfeed, Twitter, and Google news updates. While the images from the airport and metro station a few miles away have been terrifying, the scariest news has been the policy responses proposed by U.S. Presidential Candidates back home. It is our belief, as security and economic policy analysts, that it is the current political and security systems imperative to prevent the prejudicial, protectionist, and reactionary government policies we have seen encouraged across the transatlantic community, both today and in the past several years. This imperative is increasingly apparent as acts of terrorism and violence increase and more and more people are displaced from these acts.

Homegrown terrorism from communities with disenfranchised young populations who have little stake in existing societal formations have a history of presenting security threats to existing political structure. This is a challenge faced by democratic and authoritarian governments alike. However, the ability of excluded and disenfranchised to connect globally, disseminate ideologies, and spread misinformation is unprecedented in human history. Regardless of group, grievance, or region there is a deep-seated need to secure public spaces and critical infrastructure, lest their vulnerability give weight to societal responses far more damaging than most acts of violence.

Grand Place

The Grand Place in Brussels, a central square in the city.

Social media, smart phones and increased Internet access have provided lone wolves the opportunity to quickly form packs and further radicalize. Self-inspired or remotely recruited individuals and small groups are able to operate independently and deliver significant damage at low cost, representing one of the core security threats of the 21st Century.

To counter this threat the private and public sectors of the transatlantic security community will need to collaboratively build more agile, adaptive capabilities able to efficiently identify, monitor, and deter purveyors and practitioners of violence via video surveillance, signals communications, and data analytics. Capable technology solutions are critical to providing viable alternatives to the xenophobic, closed border policies that prevent successful integration, creating greater, systemic security concerns.

The current transatlantic defense and security industry remains organized around core defense infrastructures and requirements-based procurement. Although certainly evolving, this system was designed to deter State sponsored aggression; it  is ill equipped to quickly develop and implement the solutions needed to reliably prevent violence from non-state aggressors. The string of attacks in Brussels, Paris, Ankara and San Bernardino California points directly to this need.

This is an immense task, but advances in sensors technology and data science are allowing innovative companies to create the real-time security solutions needed to better combat the rapidly evolving, threat of modern-day terrorism. Haystax Technology, Palantir and Digital Barriers are both excellent examples of companies presently delivering these types of solutions. With time, a next generation of technology solutions should not only empower governments to protect the public at the national and local levels but help finance, IT, utilities and other private service providers to affordably police themselves and share information.

Being in Brussels today amid the unfolding crisis we have been reminded of something it is easy to forget in the West: we are fortunate beyond belief. Tomorrow we will get on a train and go home; a home that is not surrounded by the same conflict, suffering, and inequality that is driving people across the Middle East into Europe by any means necessary. We are not in an emotional or physical place where we need to migrate for the safety of our family unit, and we pray that we never will be. However, as responsible voters, informed employees in the global policy community, and kind partners, friends, and neighbors, we must take a stand for those that do not have the same benefits, and we must encourage the adaptation of government policies that will responsibly address and prevent similar crises in the future. A strong balance of tangible security solutions and inclusive policy responses are cornerstones of creating sustained global stability.

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2 Comments

    • claregrb says:

      Irving, thank you for reading my post. I appreciate you taking the time with so many other articles easily available to read. Its true that there are many instances of the Prophet Muhammad supporting killings. There is a similar history of support for killings from Christian leaders, including those listed in the bible and those that are more recent. Regardless of the variety of religions, popular organizations, and groups of people that have supported the killing of others as a means to spread a message or punish, I think we can all agree this is wrong.

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