Press release

Securing Asia conference on 27 June 2012: James Brokenshire speech

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

James Brokenshire's keynote speech at the inaugural Securing Asia conference.


It is right that the UK should pay considerable attention to Asia.

Our historical links in the region have created close bonds between our countries and our people.

There are 1.4 million journeys between Pakistan and the UK each year, and 1.2 million between India and the UK.

That’s almost the equivalent of the entire city of Glasgow making a return journey every year.

And Asia’s economic star is rising.

The Asian development bank has estimated that Asia’s global share of GDP could double by 2050, to over 50% of the world’s gross domestic product.

But there are a number of challenges and security is one.

Asia specific issues

In Mumbai in 2008 marauding gunmen caused the deaths of 164 people and injured a further 300.

The bombings in Bali in Indonesia in 2002 caused the loss of 202 innocent lives and over 200 injured.

These headline attacks are mercifully infrequent. But they don’t tell the whole story.

Every day innocent people are killed or injured in extremist, terrorist or insurgent attacks in market places, at schools, at checkpoints, in churches or in mosques.

People who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Pakistan alone, nearly 13,500 civilians and 4,500 security force personnel have been killed in terrorist violence since 2003.

The changing global threat

The global terrorist threat is changing and our approach to countering that threat has evolved to meet new challenges. International counter-terrorism work has made significant progress over the past ten years.

Al Qaeda core is in decline:

  • It is weaker than at any other time since 9/11;
  • It hasn’t conducted a successful attack in the UK since 2005;
  • Much of its ideology has been discredited and it has failed in its objectives.

But this has led to more autonomous affiliates - including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb - seeking to capitalise on unrest in the Middle East and Africa.

There is greater cooperation between terrorist groups, for example between Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Magreb & Boko Haram in Nigeria; Between Al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula & Al Shabaab in Somalia underlining the continued importance of international cooperation.

The threat has now spread over a wider geographical area than ever before beyond the previous Afghanistan / Pakistan focus.

There is also a greater threat from self-starter terrorists and so called ‘lone actors’ not reliant on traditional command and control structures and that much harder to detect.

And we heard on monday from Jonathan Evans, the head of the security service, that with the Arab Spring, revolution and instability across the Arab world means parts of the region have become ‘a permissive environment for Al Qa’ida’ and there is evidence of ‘British would-be jihadis’ travelling to Arab countries ‘to seek training and opportunities for militant activity’.

Drivers of terrorism

We judge that four strategic factors will continue to enable terrorist groups to grow and survive in the modern world; conflict and instability, aspects of modern technology, pervasive ideology, and radicalisation.

Let me unpack these:

  • Terrorists exploit conflict and instability in a number of ways:
  • Fragile states like Somalia can provide the space for terrorist groups to operate freely.
  • Weapons are often widely available.
  • Law enforcement is stretched or may be compromised by corruption.
  • In some cases, their abuse of human rights may cause resentment which encourages radicalisation.

Al Shabaab has flourished because the writ of central government has been limited in its reach barely extending through the capital, Mogadishu.

And terrorist groups use conflicts to develop global networks.

So called ‘foreign fighters’ travel to conflict zones, such as Afghanistan, where they receive training from terrorist groups and engage in operational activity.

Some return to their home countries where they plan attacks against domestic targets, recruit more people to travel overseas and raise funds to enable them to do so.


Terrorist groups use technology to progress attack planning, communicate and spread their ideology, evade protective security measures and increase the effectiveness of attacks.

For instance, you’ll recall how AQ-AP used innovative improvised explosive devices concealed deep inside printers, in a foiled attempt to attack international cargo aircraft in October 2010.

And terrorists are increasingly using online technology, including google earth/street view for operational planning.

The marauding attacks in Mumbai in 2008 were directed by people using off-the-shelf secure communications technology.

Terrorists continue to use new technologies to communicate propaganda. For instance, the internet can extend the reach of ideologues, enabling them to preach to groups and reinforce extremist messages.

We saw this through the late Anwar-Al Awlaki, the US-born preacher who propagated AQAP’s messages to new audiences through the online English-language magazine, “Inspire”.

But technology is also a lever to countering terrorism and through cooperation between British and Asian industry we can identify and develop innovative solutions to our joint security challenges.

On the issue of ideology, central to Al Qa’ida’s development has been its ideological framework.

To inspire its believers, attract affiliates, justify its actions and inform its strategy.

This has been attacked, however, from inside and outside the organisation and the Arab Spring has undermined it.

The uprisings were motivated by economic and political issues.

The goals and aspirations of those taking part in the popular movements were very often freedom, respect for human rights and democracy; not the imposition of a militant aggressive state and a war against the West.

Hence Al Qa’ida has been reactive in attempting to adapt to the developing politics of the region.

It would be premature, however, to conclude that all of its ideology has been widely or conclusively discredited.

We continue to believe that aspects of that ideology will be more resilient than Al Qa’ida itself and can be a key driver for terrorism in the future.

Radicalisation refers to the process by which people come to support, and in some cases to participate in terrorism.

Our revised prevent strategy, one of the strands of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST, assesses that radicalisation in the UK is being driven by an ideology that sets Muslims against non-Muslims, which highlights the alleged oppression of the global Muslim community and both obliges and legitimises violence in its defence.

An international network of influential propagandists target specific personal vulnerabilities and local factors which make that ideology seem both attractive and compelling.

Much of this pattern is reflected overseas, including in Asia.

Prevent work is delivered locally in the UK, focusing on priority areas and involves working closely with a broad range of communities.

But we also know that there are risks overseas that pose a threat to us here in the UK.

We therefore also work with various diaspora groups. Seeking to increase our understanding of their links to home countries and how that can impact on the propagation and acceptance of extremist messages.

We are for example funding projects in two priority areas to improve engagement with the Afghan Diaspora.

We know that a distorted account of Afghanistan is used as a radicalising narrative in the UK, portrayed as a Western aggression against a Muslim state/population, and we work with local Prevent leads to seek ways to counter this.

A good example of Prevent work with communities was in Birmingham where the Noshahi Kashmir civic centre played host to a meeting between troops from 3 Commando Brigade and local Muslims from the Pashtun and Pakistani communities.

The troops met with the local communities before deployment, taking part in open discussions about domestic and overseas community concerns.

Talking directly to community leaders, explaining the role of troops in helping to ensure that Afghanistan will not be used by international terrorists, presented a good opportunity to help this message to filter through to those communities, and providing an opportunity for British troops to understand the cultures and concerns of the Afghan Communities they were deploying to support.

Our presence in Afghanistan

We are in Afghanistan to protect our own national security by helping Afghans to take control of theirs so that it will never again provide a safe haven for terrorists.

In 2001 Afghanistan was used by international terrorists as a launch pad for attacks.

The presence of international troops reversed this and the threat to the UK from this region has been reduced.

As international troops now begin to reduce in number, the Afghan security forces will continue to prevent the return of international terrorists, working alongside the international community.

Transition to Afghan control, as agreed at the Lisbon conference in 2010, is on track, realistic and achievable by the end of 2014.

In the coming weeks, Afghan security forces will have lead security responsibility for areas where around 75% of the population live.

As Afghan national security force capacity continues to develop, the role of international troops will evolve from principally combat to a training and support role.

But there will still be tough times ahead.  As we have seen in previous years, violence levels are increasing as we enter the summer months.

And we can expect the insurgency to target areas under Afghan-led security control, and to continue to plan high-profile attacks to try to generate publicity and undermine Afghan public confidence, regardless of the cost to civilian life.
But Afghan security force capacity and capability are up - they are leading on 40% of conventional operations and carrying out 85% of the training.
The international community reaffirmed its commitment to Afghan security beyond 2014 at the NATO summit at Chicago in May.

And next month, the Tokyo Conference will provide the opportunity for the international community to commit to long term development assistance.

Uk strategy

In terms of our broader strategy, the UK’s security and prosperity are indivisible from those of other countries.

We cannot isolate ourselves from the dangers in other countries.

To deal with this international terrorist threat, we need international cooperation and collaboration.

That’s why a significant part of delivering our CONTEST strategy is based on building the capacity of states to counter the terrorist threats they face.

This covers a range of activity, including support for the criminal justice system so they can investigate, prosecute, convict and detain terrorists away from their networks and in compliance with international human rights standards.

It includes support for implementing international standards on anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing.

It includes support for border security.

It includes support for protecting national infrastructure, including transport systems, places of public gathering, and places of worship.

All this is delivered through political and diplomatic engagement, and by funding specific counter terrorism projects in key countries.

Terrorist finance

Countering terrorist finance is another significant global challenge.

Illicit finance impacts directly upon global security, enabling terrorists to commit their atrocities.

It’s a simple fact that terrorists need money.

Operating and maintaining a terrorist network does not come cheap.

Money is obviously needed to buy explosives, weapons and ammunition for terrorist attacks, but it does not stop there.

It is also needed to fund travel expenses, false documents, safe houses, food, bribery, training, recruitment and radicalisation.

Without funding, terrorists and their organisations become constrained in their activities.

They are forced to compromise. To cut costs. Their ability to plan and execute attacks is degraded.  Their inability to carry out successful attacks undermines their credibility and discourages their financial supporters from contributing.
Countering terrorist financing is therefore a high priority for the government.

We are committed to doing all we can to starve terrorists of the funds they need to carry out their activities.

Finance by its very nature, often leaves a trail that can be used as evidence.
This is hugely valuable, not just in prosecuting financial crimes but also as a part of wider police investigations into other criminal and terrorist activities.

Financial information allows us to build a picture of a suspect’s lifestyle, identify associates and their suspicious activities, and facilitate intelligence development.

To put it simply, effective financial investigation is a fundamental part of counter-terrorist work.

A good example of this was the UK investigation into the Trans-Atlantic Airline Plot in 2006.

Over 150 suspicious activity reports were investigated as part of this case by UK financial investigators, helping to generate crucial new leads and intelligence. This plot was successfully foiled.

In cases where the worst happens and we aren’t able to prevent an attack, financial analysis can help us bring those responsible to justice, or to understand better what happened and where our vulnerabilities lie.


We are also conscious of the changing nature of potential risk.

Cybersecurity has been identified as a ‘Tier One’ risk in our national security strategy and our work in combating cybercrime forms a major part of the overall national cyber security programme. 

But work to protect the UK from online criminals isn’t just the responsibility of government.

I strongly believe that the work to tackle cybercrime is the responsibility of us all.

We all go online - for work, for business, for pleasure - and therefore we all have the responsibility to make our data safe and our systems secure.

Security mustn’t be seen an optional extra - it is an inherent part of any online service, and indeed of any data processing.

I recognise that government has a major part to play in this area.

As we move services online we will make sure that data security is at the heart of the design of these services.

We will provide an effective law enforcement response, through the creation of the national cyber crime unit as part of the national crime agency, and through the mainstreaming of knowledge of cybercrime throughout the police service.

But countries need to cooperate to counter the threat.

The UK wants to improve international cooperation and action on cybercrime and encourages all countries to ensure they have the legislation, resources, processes and willingness to cooperate necessary to reduce the harm from cybercrime.

We believe the only current, comprehensive framework for this is the European convention of cybercrime - the “Budapest convention”. Whilst bearing the title “European” the convention acts as a global template for tackling cybercrime - allowing all countries to work together in a collaborative and co-ordinated way.
One of the first steps this government took was to ratify the Budapest convention, and as part of our chairmanship of the council of Europe, the government is actively supporting the council in promoting it. 
I am keen to work with countries outside Europe, particularly in Asia, to help us work together and support the wider work to tackle cyber crime. 
The national cyber crime unit will work closely with international partners to tackle these crimes, and I want them to work with partners in Asia, so that we can all help to protect each other, and identify and catch the people responsible.

Working with industry

And government doesn’t deliver security alone.

In the UK we’ve recognised the importance of UK industry and the private sector as both a supplier and user of security products and solutions.

Home office expertise lies in the area of security and counter-terrorism policy, including world class policing and border security.

When offering support and advice to our allies we need to back that up with a stronger emphasis on the security capabilities that underlie the policies.  We are committed to doing that.

We are examining the options open to us to develop security standards and a UK Security Brand. That will help our foreign partners and allies to understand and assess the security products on offer from UK industry.


But one event which has a very clear and powerful brand is fast approaching.
In exactly one month’s time, millions of people from around the world will watch the opening ceremony of the London olympics.

Anticipation is building rapidly and we look forward to welcoming people from across Asia and from across the globe.

We know that the eyes of the world will be on London and I am quite sure that the games will provide a tremendous spectacle of sporting achievement and cultural celebration which London, the UK and the world can be proud.

And safety and security has been at the heart of our preparations.

One of the ways we have secured the games is through the ground-breaking “secured by design” methodology which enabled us to design security into the games infrastructure from day one.

From the placement of trees to interrupt lines of sight to shatter-proof glass to minimise the impact of an explosion and through to the fundamental design of the core structures, we have considered every aspect of venue physical experience.

We can now boast some truly outstanding and iconic new venues which are also amongst the safest and most secure buildings of their kind in the world.
Balancing security design alongside what I think is some quite inspirational architecture.

But it is the partnership with industry that has ensured the real success of this challenge.


And in that much broader sense, it is partnerships and assistance to each other that we need to continue.

Asia’s problems are our problems, and our problems are also Asia’s problems.
The success of our security strategy is dependent on international co-operation and partnership.

Our governments and industries must continue to work together.

Only by doing so will we achieve our shared goals and shared rewards.

Only by doing so will we deliver our shared ambition of increased security in Asia as well as here in the UK.