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Stephan U. Breu - Speech at Security Conference, Belgrade

Presenting my paper “Financing of Combatants in Asymmetric Conflicts” at the International Scientific Conference “Asymmetry and Strategy” organized by National Defense School of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia, Department of Strategy, Strategic Research Institute, Belgrad October 2017


Ladies and Gentlemen I would like to use this opportunity to thank the organizers of this extraordinary event for their work and for the chance to present a short summary of my paper to you. It is a special honor for me to be here today.

To identify the flow of finance regarding asymmetric combatants especially in fourth-generation warfare proves to be very demanding. Whereas « traditional » banking channels might be possible to control to a certain extent, fund transfers through charitable organisations, parallel remittance systems, cypercurrencies or state sponsoring of terrorism are much more difficult to monitor. With the increasing importance of cryptocurrencies, a completely new field of complex problems is arising through the implied anonymity and complexity or sheer impossibility to track transfers in the dark net.

The history of financing international terrorist groups is a long one. Charitable contributions are a historical part of Muslim solidarity and as such are also a core pillar of the Muslim faith and mostly donations in this context are just that. Nevertheless a lot of the established charitable and service organizations serving terrorist groups and their sympathizers grew out of the support for Mujahedeen organizations to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The Strategy of the OSCE on countering financing of terrorism is guided by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy which calls for the implementation of the international standards embodied in the Forty Recommendations on Money-Laundering and Nine Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing of the Financial Action Task Force, recognizing that States may require assistance in implementing them and encourages international co-operation in this regard.

Transfers through Informal Transfer Systems is basically less expensive, swifter, more reliable, more convenient and less bureaucratic than formal remittance systems. As a system based on national, ethnic and family relations it depends more on absolute trust between the parties involved than on legal documents. As such it is still the preferred way of sending money to families for a lot of immigrants and foreign workers. Most of the people using these systems are not doing it for any dubious reason but use it as the most convenient way to support the families at home. It can be seen as the « simplest and oldest way of moving value » .
The schemes for cash couriers moving money for asymmetric combatants vary from very easy to very complex depending on the number of couriers involved and borders to cross but in general asymmetric combatants tend to involve only trusted persons to increase security for the transfer. To increase the security risk of discovery of dubious transfers is particularly becoming difficult in a time where we tend to open our borders for the free crossing of goods, people and capital. To identify suspicious individuals at check points or border crossings would ask for a highly risk-orientated and deep co-operation between international security agencies and organizations exchanging information on on-going observations and operations which of course is not in the ethos of some of these organizations. Given the underground profile of these systems also the FATF-recommendations regarding combating alternative remittances to regulate and license Hawaladars might not really help to identify the misuse of the system as asymmetric combatants will try to use unofficial unregistered Hawaladars of their trust to undergo monitoring and discovery.

A very new development in financing asymmetric combatants is financing through the use of Cryptocurrencies or Virtual Currencies. It might be right that this channel of financing is not – yet – widely used by dubious organisations. But considering the increasing pressure on the existing financing channels it might well be very tempting to sidestep to this opportunity. So the European Banking Authority classified the terrorist use of Cryptocurrencies as a high priority risk. But to become a major source of financing some major disadvantages of Cryptocurrencies need to be reduced. First of all, any transfer in cryptocurrencies is relatively time-consuming today. But new concepts of cryptocurrencies offering faster transfer and higher security and anonymity are on the way. Secondly, the acceptance of digital cash is not very well developed in the areas where the headquarters of most asymmetric combatants and terrorist organizations are, and also internet access is often slow and unreliable. But also here we see a sustainable development of infrastructure and increasing acceptance of virtual currencies worldwide. Third, it is still challenging to transfer higher amounts through the cryptocurrencies systems today. But if cryptocurrencies are used to cover costs for financing basic supplies of smaller cells of asymmetric combatants or terrorists –  i.e. lone wolf attacks - detecting such transactions might nearly be impossible. Today security and anonymity has not yet reached a level that would make cryptocurrencies a priority choice of asymmetric combatants and terrorist organizations.

Maybe the most important reason why is that they still do not need to do so. The other models for transfers and financing are still too easy to use and readily available so there is no need today to invest heavily in new, complicated techniques. But for sure the work of Security and Law Enforcement Agencies will become more challenging in the near future with new cybercurrencies with deeper security and anonymity levels and through use of the Dark Net.

These scenarios have led to a lot of activities on governmental level around the world in the last months. Since May 2017 a US congressional subcommittee is developing a bill to study the use of digital currencies by Terrorists. Also in September 2017 China deemed Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) illegal on which decision the most important cryptocurrency exchanges in China informed they will voluntarily halt trading until further reports of government interventions are publicly announced. Shortly after the announcement of China also the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority “FINMA” announced that it was looking into a number of ICOs for breaching provisions on combating money laundering and terrorist financing and other regulations. Finally South Korea followed these examples and banned all forms of cryptocurrency-based money raising activities and announced curbs to margin trading in cryptocurrencies at the end of September 2017. Despite a sustainable price correction of  Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies after the first announcements the value has reached the same level as before these publicly declared intentions within short time and showed a robust development after.

In general, it can be said that the challenges for Security and Law Enforcement Agencies to monitor and discover illegitimate transfers from peer-to-peer is increasing more and more. All regulations and recommendations regarding such transfers have to bear in mind that all the financial systems described are mainly used by people for legitimate transfers and are having a positive influence on economic growth, stability and innovation.

Therefore, any regulations have to avoid making the use of these systems unnecessarily more complicated, more time consuming or more expensive so as not to damage the economic development or civil society engagement at a whole. Technically, it has to be an increased focus on more deep co-operation between international security and law enforcement organizations like advocated by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED).

Especially the capacities of the Cyber Investigators will have to be sustainably increased regarding the potential developments of Cryptocurrencies and the inherent difficulties to regulate such. It seems in this sector a strong self-regulation of market participants is really the prime option and might be the best one for a considerable time to come.

Also, the awareness of the Civil Society and the Management of Non-Profit-Organisations should be increased and there should be easy accessible reporting points for suspicious activities. There is a strong need for an ongoing dialogue and capacity building among stakeholders to share perspectives and build consensus to prevent terrorist abuse.

Finally any regulations and standards have to be internationally coordinated and have to stay  flexible to react on any development of these remittance systems. This asks for ongoing international analysis and monitoring of evolution and market changes.

Thank you very much for your attention.


Digital Middle East: Transforming the region into a leading digital economy

By Parvis Hanson, EWB Suisse President

A number of countries in the region have high rates of consumer smartphone penetration, but businesses and governments need to catch up.

The Middle East is on the verge of a massive digital disruption. In the past decade, the cross-border data flow connecting the Middle East to the rest of the world has increased more than 150-fold. Several countries—including Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—are leading the digital consumer charge, with high smartphone-adoption rates and social-media use. However, digitization is uneven from country to country, and businesses and governments across the board have struggled to keep up. Building on a history of innovation, the region has the chance to transform itself into a leading digital economy—and to realize significant economic benefits—if it can bring stakeholders together to focus on developing the region’s governance, business, funding, and talent.

Citizens themselves are leading the Middle East’s digitization charge. As measured by digital consumer adoption, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are among the top countries in the world, with more than 100 percent smartphone penetration and more than 70 percent social-media adoption—even higher than in the United States.

However, while consumers are primed and ready to lead digitally enhanced lives, businesses and governments have not fully adapted to digital. The Middle East Digitization Index is the first effort to assess the level and impact of digitization across nine Middle Eastern countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. However, despite ambitious government aspirations to go digital, only 6 percent of the Middle Eastern public lives under a digitized smart government. And Middle Eastern countries lag far behind benchmark countries (Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) in business digitization on indicators ranging from the amount of venture capital funding available to start-ups, to the share of the workforce working in digital careers and industries.

Some Middle Eastern governments, including those of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have begun implementation of core digitization initiatives. Indeed, the United Arab Emirates government leads the Middle East in digital adoption and matches the world’s digital vanguard on several metrics. Other countries also have big ambitions and have made considerable progress. However, in their efforts to promote innovation and push the public sector’s adoption of digital to the next level, they are facing implementation problems such as an inadequate governance structure.

The future is promising. Consumer enthusiasm for digital suggests strong growth potential in the near future, as consumers are clearly primed and ready to quickly embrace new digital offerings. It will be critical for the region to increase patent applications and enhance infrastructure to improve its information and communications technology supply and innovation performance.

The prize is significant. Our analysis reveals a strong correlation between a country’s GDP per capita and its score on the McKinsey Digitization Index: a higher GDP allows countries to spend more on digital adoption, which increases a country’s performance on the Digitization Index. And a high level of digitization contributes to economic growth, leading to higher GDP. Indeed, our analysis indicates that a unified digital market across the Middle East (160 million potential digital users by 2025) could contribute up to 3.8 percent annually in GDP—amounting to approximately $95 billion. Digital can also have a positive impact on inclusion and poverty reduction, increase access to and quality of healthcare and education, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Winning the rush for data services in the Middle East and Africa

To accelerate digitization in the Middle East, we offer ten tangible recommendations across four areas—governance, business, funding, and talent. These recommendations are comprehensive, forward-looking, and mutually reinforcing. They are also designed to complement and fuel initiatives already under way in several countries. The future of digital in the Middle East will require the participation of all stakeholders, from government leaders and individual agencies to the private sector and civil society. Given the accelerating pace of technology and its potential to continually shape lifestyles, business practices, and governing for many years to come, now is the time to act.

Parvis Hanson,

President EWB Swiss



EWB SWISS in Action: Bern,Workshop "Swiss elections 2015"

President of EWB Swiss Parvis Hanson and Ex.Director EWB Swiss dr hc multi Zoran Vitorovic with representatives of Swiss Parties



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