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.
The truck attack on a mosque two weeks ago in Finsbury Park, London, represented two disturbing recent trends in terrorism. First, the manner of attack: There have been six major truck attacks in Western nations since December of last year—Nice, the Berlin Christmas Market, London Bridge, Westminster, Stockholm, and Finsbury Park. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are scrambling to find an answer to these kinds of attacks. Second, the profiles of the terrorists: The perpetrators have largely been either citizens or permanent residents from within the societies they attack.
Increasingly, the danger to a community or a country comes from inside rather than outside its borders. The solution favored by far right politicians and their supporters worldwide is to mitigate the risk of attack by preventing the movement and settlement of Muslims in western nations. However, most terrorism experts agree that this does not address the problem and is in many ways counter-productive.