Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts: Aviation Security

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
September 27, 2017


Thank you, Secretary-General Liu and Ambassador Aboulatta, for your briefings.

“We have some planes.” That was one of the first radio transmissions air traffic controllers heard on September 11, 2001. And more than sixteen years later, the pain of this barbaric act of terrorism remains. We continue to mourn the victims and honor their memories. Across the United States, Americans remember vividly exactly where they were and what they were doing when they got word that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. None of us will forget.

Just as we never forget what the victims of 9/11 suffered that day, we must never forget the lessons we learned. We know that terrorists are determined to target civil aviation. They want to attack the links that connect our countries and bring down the infrastructure that is the backbone of modern society.

Despite the many improvements made to aviation since 9/11, the threat is still all too real. The threat to civil aviation continues to evolve at a rate that challenges even our best efforts to secure the global aviation system. And recent terrorist attacks against aircraft in Egypt and Somalia make that clear.

At the same time, our reliance on airplanes to facilitate the movement of people and goods continues to grow. As the global economy continues to be more and more reliant on aviation, keeping that system secure becomes more and more important.

Last year, through Resolution 2309, the Security Council recognized the importance of aviation security in our global counterterrorism efforts. The resolution was built on previous work to strengthen global standards to address the terrorist threat.

Resolution 2309 highlighted the importance of mobilizing more resources and deepening our cooperation to respond to changing threats.

Now we welcome the work of the global aviation community in response to Resolution 2309, including through the International Civil Aviation Organization. ICAO has developed the Global Aviation Security Plan, and the United States calls on the ICAO Council to endorse this plan as soon as possible. It is a vital next step toward increasing international cooperation on aviation security.

Once the Global Aviation Security Plan is approved, it will be up to Member States to work with ICAO to make sure its recommendations are implemented and progress is monitored. UN counterterrorism offices should focus on helping Member States follow through on ICAO’s plans.

But ultimately, keeping air travel safe requires each UN Member State to do its part. Just one weak link in this sprawling international system can become a catastrophic vulnerability.

So consistent with Security Council Resolution 2341 adopted earlier this year, the United States calls on all Member States to strengthen the protection of critical infrastructure such as airports.

Member States must also be vigilant about preventing foreign terrorist fighters from traveling across borders.

The United States has helped lead efforts to expand information sharing on known and suspected terrorists and improve border security through enhanced traveler screening.

But we have more to do to counter the foreign fighter threat. That is especially true as fighters from the battlefields in Syria and Iraq try to return home or move to other war zones.

Despite the progress we have made, the terrorist threat to aviation, airports, and air travelers remains. Many countries still struggle to consistently implement and adhere to international security standards and practices.

As Member States, we must hold each other accountable to ensure that international security standards are both rigorously implemented and adequate to meet new threats. No country should be left behind.

We must continue expanding intelligence and law enforcement information sharing, and we must accelerate efforts to implement Advanced Passenger Information and Passenger Name Record collection, analysis, and sharing to identify terrorists and criminals.

It’s up to each of us to recognize our unique vulnerabilities, take a hard look at current threats, and anticipate future ones. The United States will continue to take a hard look at our system of air travel to make it stronger.

We look forward to continuing our work with fellow Member States and UN entities to ensure the security of the global aviation system.

Above all, we cannot forget the fundamental role that air travel plays in our lives today. The fact that leaders from around the world gathered here at the UN last week is a timely reminder. It is simply impossible to imagine the modern world without aviation. We all rely on the knowledge that when we board a plane, we will reach our destination safely. If we think for a moment about the stakes of keeping aviation safe, we would all agree that there is no time to waste in strengthening this vital system. That should push us to deepen our cooperation, and the United States stands ready to help.

Thank you, Mr. President.