Countering Terrorism Must Go Beyond International Law Enforcement
Countering Terrorism Must Go Beyond International Law Enforcement
Hold Your Fire! (Season 4)
Hold Your Fire! (Season 4)
Op-Ed / Global 3 minutes

Countering Terrorism Must Go Beyond International Law Enforcement

The UN Security Council's resolution on combating foreign terrorist fighters devotes just 31 of its 330 lines to addressing the roots of the problem. The rest is law enforcement. But a narrowly military and police focus alone cannot work. We also must face up to the difficult work of balancing international and regional diplomatic rivalries, thereby reducing the conflicts and tensions that lead to radicalization. Terrorism is usually a symptom of social breakdown rather than its cause, and states that have taken a narrowly military rather than more comprehensive approach often have little to show for it.
In Nigeria, for instance, the government has never addressed the governance, underdevelopment and rampant corruption driving radicalization, choosing instead to “do something” through military surges that drive more people into the hands of jihadi extremists. Yet, just as the expensively built new Iraqi army was pushed out of Mosul by a few thousand fighters, Nigeria's military is now threatened in Borno state.
Kenya is currently paying a high price for its neglect, and on occasion outright persecution, of Muslim communities, especially in the ethnic-Somali-dominated northeast, mixed communities on the coast and Nairobi's slums. In Somalia, seven years of military campaigns led by neighbors supported by the West have failed to defeat Al-Shabaab. Money flows could not be cut off, and most “foreign” fighters come from the region itself; this means it is imperative to pursue national and local reconciliation that works. In many regions of conflict, a focus on drones, technology and sealing frontiers only reveals how powerless such strategies are on their own against poor governance, weak infrastructure and the reality of long, porous borders.
The terrorist designation can also be misused by governments, which, as in Syria, see in it an opportunity to suppress legitimate opposition. The Horn of Africa illustrates how, in isolation, stricter counter-terrorism legislation and cooperation between security services -- exactly what is hoped for in the resolution on foreign terrorist fighters -- can reinforce authoritarian tendencies. In Ethiopia, bloggers have been the latest target, but there have been numerous examples of illegal renditions between Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia since 2007.
The Security Council has a crucial role to play in pressing states, working with regional and international organizations, to invest more in conflict prevention. Without addressing ungoverned spaces and political exclusion, we will always wind up at the wrong end of the conflict spectrum. Without inclusive political settlements, which usually require broad networks of states employing sustained, coordinated conflict resolution initiatives, there is little chance of transforming or ending many of today's conflicts. A readiness to share lessons learned should not just apply to police matters, but also to best practices on integration of minorities, recognizing and preventing potential radicalization, and rehabilitating returning foreign fighters. It is possible to get this right, or right enough: Colombia's ongoing peace process is one example.
The Foreign Terrorist Fighter resolution's focus on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda inadvertently offers a good example of a dangerous neglect of larger political realities. In both Iraq and Syria, Sunni extremists have gathered force largely because of state violence against Sunnis. Radicalization on one side has benefited and fed into radicalization on the other, a reality that ISIL is trying hard to exploit with its beheading videos. As the world grapples for a response to ISIL, it should not forget to address the sense of Sunni alienation that has helped drive extremism in the first place.
The Security Council is a political body that needs to work toward political solutions, with all the breadth and depth of engagement that implies. Efforts are needed to reduce the levels of violence committed by all. This may sound idealistic, but supposedly realistic stand-alone military approaches have clearly not worked. Stumbling transitions in Iraq and Libya show that temporary military success cannot be the trigger for international detachment. It is to be hoped that, when it comes to continued support for the government in Afghanistan as foreign troops leave in 2014, the world will have learned the need for an overall peace strategy.
Foreign fighters are active today from Europe's North Caucasus to the Sahel and Horn of Africa, Central, South and South East Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. The pervasive nature of the problem, its inter-linkages and its seeming durability suggest that to be effective, approaches to counter it need to be geographically comprehensive, sustained and nuanced. Responses that are overwhelmingly externally driven, or which focus only on one dimension of the challenge, are unlikely to bear fruit.


President & CEO
Former Director of Communications & Outreach

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