Terrorism’ is usually defined as the real or threatened use of violence by a non-state actor against non-combatants or civilians to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives. This definition underlines the fact that the term carries many additional connotations. (The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies has established a database of legislation that defines terrorism.)
After last year’s fears that President Donald Trump would undermine NATO unity, we now have a clearer understanding of the administration’s ambition for transatlantic security. An unclassified version of the new U.S National Defense Strategy was released on Jan. 19, and it was generally well-received. Critics have lauded the strategy for clearly hierarchizing among competing priorities while others focused on funding issues, but all recognized the important shift towards prioritizing strategic competition with Russia and China (although the specifics of this competition with Moscow and Beijing are unclear), which consequently degraded the relative importance of fighting terrorism.
Counter-terrorism fails when it alienates the very communities it is meant to help.
Counter-terrorism strategies aim to disrupt activities of violent extremist groups and limit the spread of violent ideologies. Recent ISS research, supported by several other studies, suggests that some state responses to terrorism – far from alleviating security concerns – instead exacerbate the problem.
States often take a blanket approach to counter-terrorism, identifying a whole group or community as a ‘risk community’ based on a shared identity with violent extremist groups. In such cases, a clear conflict is created between upholding democratic principles of pluralism, the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and states’ views on how to achieve national security objectives.
Targeting Terrorists or Promoting Development? The United States’ Approach to Foreign Aid in Sub-Saharan Africa
In a recent Politico op-ed urging Congress to consider the importance of United States foreign aid programs, Admiral Mike Mullen (Ret.) and General James Jones (Ret.) insisted that “[s]trategic development assistance is not charity; it is an essential, modern tool of U.S. national security.” The authors focus particularly on the importance of this tool in countering violent extremism in distant regions.
With the advent of the “Global War on Terror” directed at al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the United States has developed a pattern of increasing aid funds to countries that experience any terrorist activity that poses a clear threat to its security. This has led to increasing concern among activists that the United States has taken a turn away from targeting development related goals to focus more on using foreign aid to strengthen the military capabilities of recipient governments. Such a shift presents a potential problem as aid aimed at activating an immediate counterterrorism response is often allocated directly to the recipient government with low accountability for how those funds are used.