This week, the State Department and USAID released the first-ever Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).
Violent extremists continue to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize people -- especially young people -- to engage in terrorist acts. Their actions not only increase threats against the United States and our partners, but also undermine our efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts, promote human rights and the rule of law, and expand prosperity.
Children in Chad react to a participatory theater performance as part of a USAID program to counter violent extremism. [USAID Photo]
Carrying forth the work of last year’s White House CVE Summit, this new strategy provides a roadmap for mobilizing America’s diplomatic and development tools to counter violent extremism through five objectives:
- Expand international political will, partnerships, and expertise to better understand the drivers of violent extremism and mobilize effective interventions.
- Encourage and assist partner governments to adopt more effective policies and approaches to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, including changing unhelpful practices where necessary.
- Employ foreign assistance tools and approaches, including development assistance, to reduce specific political or social and economic factors that contribute to community support for violent extremism in identifiable areas or put particular segments of a population at high risk of violent extremist radicalization and recruitment to violence.
- Empower and amplify locally credible voices that can change the perception of violent extremist groups among key demographic segments.
- Strengthen the capabilities of government and non-governmental actors to isolate, intervene with, and promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals caught in the cycle of radicalization to violence.
Mayors and local government leaders from around the world participate in the launch of the Strong Cities Network in New York in September 2015. [State Department photo]
CVE refers to proactive actions to address the conditions that enable violent extremist recruitment and radicalization. These conditions vary enormously, which explains how Da’esh has drawn recruits from nearly every region and background, from conflict-ridden provinces in western Iraq to working class neighborhoods in Brussels to cities and towns across the United States. We know that poverty alone does not cause a person to commit violent acts. But as we’ve seen across the Middle East and North Africa, when people are systematically denied economic opportunities and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption, these sentiments can fuel grievances that terrorists exploit for recruitment.
As we look ahead, it is not enough to degrade and disrupt terrorist groups through security measures. To be effective in the long run, we must also address how these groups draw local support and attract new recruits.
Youth leaders from around the world present a “Youth Action Agenda to Prevent Violence and Promote Peace” at the Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism in September 2015. [State Department photo]
The United States is carrying forth CVE work with global partners from organizations with credibility, reach, and resonance in the communities most targeted by violent extremists for recruitment and radicalization. For example, Hedayah, the CVE Center of Excellence based in Abu Dhabi, provides a platform, training, and tools for governments and civil society. Separately, the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) funds grassroots organizations in places like Bangladesh, Mali, and Nigeria to challenge violent extremism at the local level. The newly created Strong Cities Network and the RESOLVE (Researching Solutions to Violent Extremism) Network were created to ensure local, sub-national leaders, and researchers continue to advance the CVE agenda by creating common agendas, sharing best practices, and connecting regularly beyond traditional annual conferences and emails.
As part of a U.S.-supported early warning and early response program, community leaders from northeastern Nigeria meet to address threats from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. [State Department photo]
Thanks to these organizations, the mayor of Vilvoorde, Belgium, can share details about his successful initiative to reduce the number of foreign terrorist fighters in his city. These organizations can also help researchers who have studied disengaging youth from violent right-wing extremist groups in Europe to share their research with peers in East Africa who are looking to do the same with groups like al-Shabaab.
In addition, the Bureau of Counterterrorism has formally transitioned to the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. Secretary Kerry has empowered the newly renamed Bureau to lead the State Department’s CVE engagement and assistance. The CVE office will also expand its existing CVE work and complement the Bureau’s long-term efforts on improving aviation security, countering the financing of terrorism, working to staunch the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, designating terrorist groups and individuals, and building our foreign partners’ civilian counterterrorism capacity.
USAID is equally increasing its focus on CVE by establishing a Secretariat to coordinate its programming and ensure collaboration with other government departments and development institutions.
It is our hope that this new joint strategy will not only strengthen the United States’ ongoing efforts to defeat terrorist groups around the world, but also bolster our efforts to address the underlying conditions that often fuel terrorism in the first place.
About the Author: Michael Ortiz serves as the Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This blog also appears in the State Department's Foggy Bottom Publication on Medium.com.
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