On December 11, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan hosted the first ministerial in many years dedicated to counterterrorism cooperation in the Western Hemisphere in Washington, D.C. Senior officials from thirteen key North, Central, and South American partner countries and multiple U.S. agencies attended the gathering. Deputy Secretary Sullivan emphasized in his remarks that as global terrorist threats evolve, our governments have vital experiences and information to share with one another. The only way to counter these serious challenges is by working together.
Deputy Secretary Sullivan discussed the immediate threat posed by transnational terrorism to the Western Hemisphere. Although the perceived center of gravity seems far away, groups like ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and Lebanese Hizballah operate wherever they can find recruits, raise support, operate unchecked, and pursue their terrorist agendas. Many terrorist attacks have been attempted – a number have been narrowly prevented, and some have been carried out. Deputy Secretary Sullivan noted, “Since September 11, 2001, if nothing else, we have learned the hard and invaluable lesson that the only way to defeat these malign terrorist plots is for our border security, law enforcement, intelligence, and financial agencies to coordinate and collaborate on all levels.”
Deputy Secretary Sullivan emphasized that terrorist groups – and the individuals they radicalize – are constantly learning and adapting to plan more complex and decentralized operations, making them even harder to detect and disrupt. Any lack of interagency coordination – within and between governments – contributes directly to the terrorists’ ability to exploit any fissures. Deputy Secretary Sullivan also pointed out that while ISIS and al-Qa’ida broadcast their global vision loudly through calibrated public messaging, groups like Lebanese Hizballah have been more discreet about their operations, which have targeted both the United States and our neighbors in South and Central America.
Deputy Secretary Sullivan highlighted how the United States and each represented government has made progress to ensure that our counterterrorism policies are more nimble and effective to keep pace with the ever-growing terrorist threat. In October, President Trump released the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which prescribes a comprehensive and coordinated approach to bring all facets of American power to bear against terrorist threats. It better integrates our counterterrorism tools and places a new emphasis on non-military capabilities such as information sharing, investigations, prosecutions, and technology.
But, Deputy Secretary Sullivan echoed the President’s statement that the “America First” policy outlined in the new strategy does not mean “America Alone.” Noting that protecting our own individual Western Hemisphere countries means protecting the entire region, Deputy Secretary Sullivan also emphasized how encouraged he is by the many opportunities available for cooperation— from membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to implementation of the Caribbean Community Counterterrorism Strategy, to fulfilling UN Security Council obligations targeting foreign terrorist fighters and financiers of terrorism. He maintained that to effectively counter terrorist threats, we must consider collaboration across a broad range of actors, including civil society, community leaders, the private sector, and religious figures. Deputy Secretary Sullivan added, “We all have unique resources, experiences, relationships, and capabilities that – if we listen to each other – can help us develop a stronger, more innovative, and more sustainable counterterrorism policy.”
The ministerial provided an important opportunity for the United States and Western Hemisphere partner countries to prioritize cooperation and look across national borders for new ways to improve efforts to be as effective as possible, thereby making the Western Hemisphere we all call home safer and more secure.
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