The Secretary-General for Defence: “Terrorism has taken to globalisation like a fish to water”

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On 25 February, the Secretary-General for Defence, Mr Alejandro Alvargonzález San Martín, visited UIC Barcelona to give one of the lectures in the series that forms part of the Continuing Education programme in the Faculty of Law. Alvargonzález gave a general overview of the dangers faced by the international community and how national defence policies, specifically Spain’s, aim to combat them.

The Secretary-General for Defence: “Terrorism has taken to globalisation like a fish to water”

The Secretary began by explaining that globalisation has led to changes that are comparable to those experienced in the transition from mediaeval times to the modern age. Watertight territories are a thing of the past, value systems are losing their internal homogeneity and mass migration is becoming impossible to control. Communication is both instant and simultaneously accessible from almost any point on the planet. New technologies are improving the quality of life, driving the economy forward and encouraging an unparalleled growth in wealth. Even so, more than half the planet lives on fewer than three dollars a day.

Against this background, the threats our national defence policy need to respond to have changed and, as of today, the biggest threat is terrorism, specifically jihadist terrorism.

“Terrorism has taken to globalisation like a fish to water” declared the senior official and career diplomat who went on to explain: “terrorism transmits encrypted messages through powerful yet universally available technology, transferring funds from one cell to another with a click, anonymously contracting lawyers in London to collect the ransom for a boat hijacked in Somalia or making massive profits by selling counterfeit prescription drugs over the internet. Daesh, Boko Haram and the various cells of Al-Qaeda control the arms- and people-trafficking routes passing through Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and the Horn of Africa. Libya and Algeria have become their strongholds and weapons arsenal; and they are increasingly close to having access to chemical weapons.”

In Africa and the Middle East war has broken out between Shias and Sunnis. The Sunnis exiled from Iraq after the fall of Saddam, armed and war-trained, were recruited by Daesh and head up their military campaigns. In Syria, al-Assad, a Sunni, is fighting the Shia resistance with the support of Russia and supposedly of Daesh while Saudi Arabia and Iran find themselves embroiled in an arms race in which 110,000 million dollars have so far been invested.

With the current outlook, asked the Secretary “is there any doubt that a national defence policy is more necessary than ever?” Furthermore, he added, there is now no state that can fight this threat on its own, not even the United States. Supranational organizations such as the ECDE, the UN and the much-criticised NATO are more necessary than ever: “We rely on friends and neighbours and even far-off countries and those opposed to us for support against the current common threat”.

“Speaking about defence in the rest of Europe is like an ideology”, he asserted. “We are defending our way of life and ultimately our freedom”. Alvargonzález pointed out that the current threat is not one which wants to conquer or even convert us, “the jihadist philosophy is simply to destroy us”. He complained that in Spain, talking out about defence is seen as being outspoken. He said that the Armed Forces and Intelligence and Security Services are perceived as “bodies that serve political interests seeking to conceal who knows what, but the reality is that the threat exists and we need to be ready to face it”. He commented that military might and the industry that sustains it have a deterrent effect. “We must be prepared to anticipate the arrival of the threat, move quickly to its origin and be capable of destroying it; and not only that, we must also be ready to do what is necessary in the full knowledge of why we are doing it”.