During the course of the year 2015, counter-terrorism (CT) and countering violent extremism (CVE) have become increasingly important terms in the geopolitical security vocabulary. This was illustrated once again by the proceedings of the 70th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), held in New York from 22 September-1 October 2015. Although the principal topic of the UNGA was the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 (ASD2030), CT and CVE both figured prominently into the various side events as well as the priorities of attendees from Member States. Their inclusion reflects the growing acceptance of the potential roles that terrorism and violent extremism can play in spoiling development in contexts around the globe.
CT-MORSE participated in several events during the course of the UNGA. Two of these events were launches of new networks: the Researching Solutions to Violent Extremism (RESOLVE) network, led by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and focused on conducting and disseminating research on CVE strategies; and the Strong Cities Network (SCN), which connects municipal officials in cities around the world to share CVE experiences and strategies. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) led events on topics including the nexus between development and security and the possible role of the private sector in CVE programming. Perhaps the highest-profile event of the UNGA was the US-led Leaders’ Summit on Countering Violent Extremists and ISIL, which was attended by leaders of over 100 countries and witnessed a plethora of announcements of CVE-related activities and initiatives.
Two key themes ran throughout the above discussions of CT and CVE at the UNGA. The first of these themes has to do with the UN’s own approach to CVE. The UN has, laudably, recognized that violent extremism is a crucial issue around the world, as demonstrated by the recent tragedies in Beirut, Paris, and elsewhere, and that any successful CVE programming must be comprehensive in scope. Going forward, however, it will be important for the UN and the various actors in the CVE constellation to align their programming so as to avoid duplication of efforts. Several side-event organizers, including the GCTF and the RESOLVE network, explicitly touched on this fact.
The second key theme has to do with the type of programming that is most needed at the moment in the CVE field. Several actors, most notably the GCTF, emphasized the idea that CVE programs and initiatives should keep the development of actionable knowledge as a basic, fundamental goal. Upon taking over the GCTF chairmanship, one of the GCTF’s new Dutch co-chairs announced a five-point plan for the next two years; two of the points, “Results” and “Reinforcement,” include explicit calls for more action-oriented activities. The calls to action were also echoed by actors outside of the traditional UN sphere. Most notably, the Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism gave young leaders from around the world the opportunity to discuss their own CVE initiatives and to request needed support and assistance from the international community.
The discussions and themes mentioned above have significant implications for the European Union’s CT and CVE work. Most concretely, as was discussed at the joint meeting hosted by the EU and the International Crisis Group on Balancing Security and Development, there are three elements of the EU’s CT/CVE approach that are most relevant in the current context. First, all CVE programming must be evidence-based. Second, local contexts must be taken into account in order to produce tailored and appropriate programming. Finally, a multidisciplinary approach must be adopted that involves many actors beyond traditional law enforcement, criminal justice, and military services. These participants should include traditional development actors in fields such as health, education, and governance, as well as human rights and civil society organizations.
In the current CVE landscape, the EU can potentially play an extremely important role. Throughout the UNGA proceedings the EU’s Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism (STRIVE) program was lauded as an excellent example of a strategy developed to support global efforts while also responding to national and regional priorities. Another current EU strength is in the area of policy against foreign terrorist fighters, which has seen considerable development over the past year. On the funding side, too, the EU is very active and respected, both in terms of giving money to CT and CVE initiatives as well as in tracking money laundering and funding of terrorism.
At the same time, the EU should take care not to reinvent the proverbial wheel going forward. As mentioned previously, the landscape of actors in CT and CVE programming is expanding constantly, which naturally increases the likelihood of overlap regarding ideas and initiatives. While most of those at the UNGA who knew about the EU’s policies held favorable opinions thereof, many others were simply unaware of the policies’ existence. As such, it is vital that the EU embark on a program of awareness-raising regarding its own work, as well as that of other governments and blocs. By doing so, the EU could give some much-needed structure to the CVE field while simultaneously establishing itself as a leader therein.