Our Plan for Countering Violent Extremism

Posted by John Kerry
February 19, 2015
Secretary Kerry speaks at the the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Show the world the power of peaceful communities, and tackle bad governance that breeds frustration.

Throughout our history, we have faced threats from aggression, genocide, chaos and dictatorship. Today we are asked to wage a new war against a new enemy. The battlefield is different, and so are the weapons that we need to overcome that enemy and triumph. 

The rise of violent extremism represents the pre-eminent challenge of the young 21st century. Military force is a rational and often necessary response to the wanton slaughters of children, mass kidnappings of schoolgirls, and beheading of innocents. But military force alone won’t achieve victory. In the long term, this war will be won only by deploying a broader, far more creative arsenal.

A safer and more prosperous future requires us to recognize that violent extremism can’t be justified by resorting to religion. No legitimate religious interpretation teaches adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities, such as razing villages or turning children into suicide bombers. These are the heinous acts of individuals who distort religion to serve their criminal and barbaric cause.

A safer and more prosperous future also requires us not to be distracted by divisions grounded in hatred or bias. There is no room in this fight for sectarian division. There is no room for Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Violent extremism has claimed lives in every corner of the globe, and Muslim lives most of all. Each of us is threatened, regardless of ethnicity, faith or homeland. We must demonstrate to the terrorists that rather than divide us, their tactics unite us and strengthen our resolve.

Toward that goal of unity, and of action, President Obama has been hosting a summit in Washington this week that is bringing together leading figures from local and national governments, civil society, and the private sector around the world. This summit at the White House and State Department will expand the global conversation and, more important, adopt an action agenda that identifies, shares and utilizes best practices in preventing and countering violent extremism. And when world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly next fall, a key topic of discussion will be the steps we’ve all taken to fight extremism based on the agenda we outline this week. Put simply, we are building a global partnership against violent extremism.

Success requires showing the world the power of peaceful communities instead of extremist violence. Success requires offering a vision that is positive and proactive: a world with more concrete alternatives to the nihilistic worldview of violent extremists. Success requires empowering leaders from Los Angeles to Lagos, Paris to Peshawar, and Bogotá to Baghdad  to take the reins in this effort -- because terrorists don’t exist in a vacuum. They require acquiescence from the broader population, if not outright support. They recruit among the disaffected and disenfranchised, but also among those of all backgrounds on a misguided quest for meaning and empowerment. They exploit anger, ignorance and grievance.

Eliminating the terrorists of today with force will not guarantee protection from the terrorists of tomorrow. We have to transform the environments that give birth to these movements. We have to devote ourselves not just to combating violent extremism, but to preventing it. This means building alternatives that are credible and visible to the populations where terrorists seek to thrive.

The most basic issue is good governance. It may not sound exciting, but it is vital. People who feel that their government will provide for their needs, not just its own, and give them a chance at a better life are far less likely to strap on an AK-47 or a suicide vest, or to aid those who do.

We must identify the zones of greatest vulnerability, the places that could descend into the chaos that breeds terrorism -- or that could turn the corner and be the hotbed of growth or innovation. And then we must tailor our efforts and target our resources to meet the specific needs of those places. It may be training young people so they can get jobs and envision a future of dignity and self-reliance. It may be working to eliminate corruption and promote the rule of law, so that marginalized communities can enjoy security and justice. It’s very likely both, and of course much more.

There are precedents that can lead us. We’ve combated violent extremism before. We know there are tools that work. We also know the power of the international community to make positive progress when we’ve come together to combat other challenges, such as when we combined our efforts most recently to fight Ebola. We need to funnel more resources, creative ideas and energy into the fight against extremism and work closely with effective local organizations and governments to make sure those resources are used properly. 

This week’s summit won’t solve all these problems, but it can catalyze a global effort. But let me be clear: We are in this for the long haul. We can send a clear signal to the next generation that its future will not be defined by the agenda of the terrorists and the violent ideology that sustains them; we will not cower, and we will prevail by working together. Indeed, there are roles for everyone, from religious and government leaders to academics, NGOs and the private sector. Our collective security depends on our collective

The 20th century was defined by the struggle to overcome depression, slavery, fascism and totalitarianism. Now it’s our turn. The rise of violent extremism challenges every one of us, our communities, our nations and the global rule of law. But the extremist forces arrayed against us require that we charge forward in the name of decency, civility and reason.

 About the author: John Kerry serves as the 68th U.S. Secretary of State. Go to www.state.gov/secretary and follow @JohnKerry on Twitter for more from the Secretary.

Editors Note: This opinion piece originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.



john g.
Wisconsin, USA
February 19, 2015
"The 20th century was defined by the struggle to overcome depression, slavery, fascism and totalitarianism" Slavery?
February 19, 2015

Thank you so much US.Department of State for coming up with this programme.Indeed violent extremism has become a great challenge hindering development in the global world.It is time for all of us the elite youths,government leaders,religious leaders and NGOs to come together ideologies and measures to bring end the issue.I will keep in touch with you for more information.

Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
February 20, 2015
I think Secretary Kerry is right. "The 20th Century is a struggle to overcome Psychological Depression, as well as dealing with the Finance Depression". They are both Depressions that we have had too struggle with in the 20th Century. So, it has been quit a depressing couple of years for everyone. Look on the bright side...That just means things have to get better, because they can't get any more depressing. So Smile, things are getting better anyways, the worst is over, we can't get anymore depressed then we already have been in the 20th Century . :) Also, I think he meant Fascist Dictatorships in the world. Military Totalitarianism !
Jake B.
United States
February 20, 2015
Mr. Kerry, you are such a hypocrite. Only weeks ago, representatives of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor were meeting representatives of the pro-terrorist Muslim Brotherhood (Dr Gamal Heshmat, Dr. Abdul Mawgood Dardery, and Judge Waleed Sharabi) in order to promote violence against the Egyptian government. President Al-Sisi of Egypt is building ambitious infrastructure projects including a new Suez Canal; Egypt is just a little too independent to suit Whitehall and hence the US Department of State. So, your department encourages terrorism while publicly denouncing it.
Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
February 20, 2015

@ Sec. Kerry,

I may not always agree with every policy decision made by this (or any other) administration, but I truly respect the way these issues before us have been put on the table for discussion. I think what makes us an exceptional as well as essential nation is America's ability to face up to our flaws, warts and all...that history which compels us to continue to form a more perfect union.

If we fail in achieving success to bring the world together with the vigor of a new mindset to confront the mindset of violent extremism, it will only be because those who would seek greater political polarization have succeeded in dividing us as a nation.

So I would address the matter of a fellow who questions the President's love of country thusly;

Here we are in the 21st century with all this groovy technology that helps folks think and speak freely in real time...then along comes Rudy Giuliani to remind us all that artificial intelligence is no substitute for natural stupidity. Someday there may be an app for that.

Please feel free to quote me on this Mr. Secretary,...with my best regards to your boss.


Cori C.
California, USA
February 21, 2015
One can easily argue Islam enslaves millions of men, women and children annually, of course women and children have the brunt of it. 13 Muslim countries mandate death for apostasy or leaving Islam. I would argue killing humans for the 'crime' of leaving their religion is a form of slavery. Forcing humans to abide by religious rituals against their will is a form of slavery. Selling children to old men to satisfy debts or forced marriage where they are treated as slaves/property is slavery as well..
Tibebe G.
North Carolina, USA
February 21, 2015
Am an African: my thinking is also influenced by what I witnessed in life. Am here because others died my death. Am so grateful to those who sacrificed themselves to let me continue in life. I saw people fighting wild fires by setting fires that consume the combustible materials around their properties. It took only a few people to do it. They eliminate the sources of energy for the wild fire. I also seen the civilized people here in the west trying to fight wild fire by spraying water, fire retardant or other stuff to cool down wild fire. The basic idea is to control the damaging wildfire. The causes of these uncontrolled wildfire are known. Those are not the camel herdsmen, or the camels themselves. Those who chop the necks of their subjects in the public view, those who torture, those who support torturers, those who embrace tyranny as form of governance, and those who stay relaxed because they disarmed their citizens need to wake up. Now I witness the wild fire spread from Afghanistan to west Africa. Are all these people drunk or crazy? There is no way that could happen. As a subject, I respect all who got power and authority. I suggest it is better to clear the sources of the wild fire that are laughing as we strife to regain our beautiful world. Their turbines are hanging low and shiny. For sure it is a very good idea to attempt the counter the radicalization. The scene has been polluted by social unrest, tyranny, and injustice. What difference does it make as to holds the sword? Our world has gone back to barbaric justice.
Elizabeth D.
United States
February 21, 2015
First thing to do is get a Secretary of State that does not contradict himself from one sentence to the next in an op-ed piece. From the op-ed: "The most basic issue is good governance. It may not sound exciting, but it is vital. People who feel that their government will provide for their needs, not just its own, and give them a chance at a better life are far less likely to strap on an AK-47 or a suicide vest, or to aid those who do." And maybe government is the problem because it is providing for their needs. People are not learning how to stand on their own two feet because of the government interference. Provide "good" schooling and then get out of the way. Stop treating every booboo with government help. You cannot fix every problem and trying and failing like this administration so often has, creates some very ticked off people from all ideologies. And why don't you try the easiest thing of all? It is called the TRUTH. Maybe people would be less upset all of the time. Please try it on for size. You might find that it works!!!!
Pavel P.
February 21, 2015
To counter violent extremism you should understand the reason. Reason is the Great Demografic Revolution from Mali to Bangladesh. Up to 50% of population in this region are children. Olderly generation can not take due care and ensure proper education. Popultion increased in last 60 years between four and six times. Last time such demografic revolution took place in Germany and Russia before I WW. All developed should immediately unite and provide education and work to this young generation. Otherwise WW II will look like nothing. Europe with 10% of children and 30% population over 60 is extincting. Stop war in Ukraine! Unite.


Latest Stories

December 10, 2016

Why Human Rights Matter

December 10, marks the 68th annual Human Rights Day in which the United States and countries around the world recall… more