A United Nations' task force today is engaged in closed-door
discussions on the global implications of the Year 2000 computer glitch, and
is discussing how to handle international failure scenarios.
Today's meeting marks the first time such an international group has
gathered to discuss the issue and address a number of international
concerns about the impact of the Y2K glitch on national economies, financial
markets, developing countries, and civil services.
Taking part in the forum are representatives from 120 UN member states, or two-thirds of the
international body, as well as representatives of other countries that are
not full member states. In addition, the Clinton administration's point-man
on Y2K issues, John Koskinen, is playing a leading role in the discussions.
The UN meeting will include expert reports on: banking and finance;
telecommunications; nuclear power; oil and gas; shipping and ports; and
aviation. There will also be an exchange of viewpoints on contingency
planning and crisis management, followed by a discussion of international
Koskinen said it is critical for countries to work together to address
"cross-border" Y2K failures, which could be hazardous to international trade
and commerce. The greatest risk of these failures exists in areas with
international trade and commerce, observers say.
The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old
programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many
computers now must be modified or they may mistake the year 2000 for the
year 1900 or may not be able to function at all, potentially causing widespread
disruptions in services in the transportation, financial, utility, and
public safety sectors.
The greatest risk of cross-border failures exists in
international networks, such as transportation and telecommunications, where
localized difficulties within one country can quickly spread to others.
For example, airlines will likely refuse to fly to countries that cannot
demonstrate the Year 2000 readiness of air traffic control networks. Also,
localized telecommunications failures could mean that callers, or Internet
transactions, in one country may not be able to get through to another.
Concerns about cross-border Y2K failures have led some within the UN to
consider what can be done within the international organization to handle
this particular problem.
The possibility of establishing international "SWAT" teams specialists to
handle unanticipated problems will be discussed, said Ahmad Kamal,
Pakistan's ambassador to the UN and chairman of the UN Economic and Social
Council's Informatics Working Group, and head of the Y2K task force.
"I have no doubt that SWAT teams will have to be set up, either
nationally or regionally or internationally," Kamal said yesterday. "We
need to decide where to set this up."
Kamal said there are some within the UN who think that to prevent countries
from initiating cross-border problems, possible enforcement rules should be
given to the UN to make countries bring their systems into Y2K compliance.
"This would have to be a resolution by the Security Council," said Kamal.
"Some believe that Y2K will become a security concern by the middle of next
But Koskinen hesitates from going that far. "Our job isn't to find out how
to force people into compliance, but rather how can we make them aware of