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Development assistance and counterterrorism – AEI

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A fighter from a coalition of rebel groups called “Jaish al Fateh”, also known as “Army of Fatah” (Conquest Army), secures a road while Syrian Arab Red Crescent members evacuate civilians from the two besieged Shi’ite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, Syria December 28, 2015. Reuters

Key Points

  • US counterterrorism policy must draw on all available tools to succeed. This includes combining security, development, and humanitarian assistance when necessary to target environments that enable violent extremism to flourish.
  • US foreign development assistance can effectively support counterterrorism efforts when centered on four pillars: (1) prioritizing local physical security, (2) responding to humanitarian need, (3) improving governance, and (4) targeting and tailoring programming to local contexts.
  • A refined development approach to counterterrorism should more effectively target at-risk populations, address local governance concerns, and shape economic conditions in ways that support America’s counterterrorism goals.

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Executive Summary

Terrorism remains a persistent challenge driven by ideology and unstable political and economic environments. US counterterrorism policy must draw on all available tools—including foreign assistance—to succeed.

Part I of this report argues that US foreign assistance can support counterterrorism efforts if centered on four pillars: (1) prioritizing local physical security, (2) responding to humanitarian need, (3) improving governance, and (4) targeting and tailoring programming to local contexts. Ensuring physical security is paramount, but humanitarian assistance plays a crucial role in limiting the appeal of armed groups that use the chaos of a conflict or disaster to recruit. Medium-term improvements in governance, combined with development programming that actually addresses the factors driving individuals toward terrorism, are essential in achieving sustainable progress.

Part II reviews how US development assistance has been used to counter violent extremism in Africa, South Asia, and low-conflict areas of the Middle East. Many US-funded programs have taken standard development projects, in areas such as girls’ education or civic engagement, and argued that they are now directed at structural conditions driving violent extremism. This approach is misguided and has proved ineffective. Instead, the emphasis should be on directing programming funds in a targeted and evidence-based manner. If done correctly, terrorism prevention programs can help shift popular support for political violence among local communities.

The report offers recommendations on how to better measure the success of terrorism prevention programs, effectively target at-risk populations, respond to local governance concerns, and shape economic conditions in ways that support America’s counterterrorism goals. Short-term interventions to respond to immediate needs must be supported by longer-term strategies. This allows partner countries to build on US investments by changing the underlying conditions that contribute to terrorism and political violence.

A fighter from a coalition of rebel groups called "Jaish al Fateh", also known as "Army of Fatah" (Conquest Army), secures a road while Syrian Arab Red Crescent members evacuate civilians from the two besieged Shi'ite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, Syria December 28, 2015. Reuters

A fighter from a coalition of rebel groups called “Jaish al Fateh”, also known as “Army of Fatah” (Conquest Army), secures a road while Syrian Arab Red Crescent members evacuate civilians from the two besieged Shi’ite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, Syria December 28, 2015. Reuters

Introduction

The United States government has engaged in an extended, multidimensional fight against terrorism for almost two decades. Despite recent battlefield successes, the 2018 National Defense Strategy notes that “terrorism remains a persistent condition driven by ideology and unstable political and economic structures.”1 The 2017 National Security Strategy highlights the pervasiveness of this security threat throughout much of the developing world. In recent years, violent extremist organizations—which use ideologically justified violence to further their social, economic, or political objectives—have fomented conflict in developing countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, and the Philippines.2

The damage terrorism and violent extremism have done also extends well beyond the military realm. Extremist violence often creates or exacerbates an unstable economic environment—discouraging foreign investment, degrading infrastructure, and disrupting governments’ ability to provide services. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index, terrorism cost the world roughly $52 billion and more than 18,800 lives in 2017 alone.3 Fragile states bear the brunt of this burden, as they are both more likely to face terrorist attacks and more vulnerable to the economic consequences.4

The US military plays an essential role in degrading and disrupting terror networks abroad, but force alone will not succeed in suppressing highly adaptable terrorist movements.5 Foreign assistance for terrorism prevention programs can complement military tools by funding civilian efforts to (1) disrupt the recruitment and radicalization of individuals and (2) reduce local support for violent extremist groups and political violence more generally. Yet civilian programming in this area is estimated to make up less than 0.1 percent of the total US counterterror­ism budget.6 And while the US government is well practiced in deploying the military against terror tar­gets abroad, the same cannot be said for civilian coun­terterrorism efforts.

Part I of this report examines the role of foreign development assistance in the US counterterrorism tool kit. It assesses the degree to which current efforts, led by the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), contribute to the overall goal of “preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the United States homeland and our citizens, allies, and partners overseas.”7 It argues that current efforts are spread too thin and need to be concentrated on four pillars: (1) physical security, (2) humanitarian need, (3) responsive governance, and (4) targeted and tailored interventions.

Part II draws lessons primarily from past US government–funded programs in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia, and Tunisia. It recommends improved impact mea­sures for terrorism prevention programs and suggests how the US can refine its current approach to better support its objectives. While these countries represent only a portion of ongoing efforts worldwide, their successes and limitations should inform future programs.

Overall, the report argues that a development-based approach to counterterrorism holds promise in shifting popular support among local communities away from terrorism if funds are programmed in a targeted and evidence-based manner. This means that program goals should be clearly defined, program activities should be limited in scope, and effectiveness should drive program design, participant selection, and monitoring and evaluation. Recognizing the connection between security conditions and program effectiveness is also vital; terrorism prevention programs cannot operate effectively in areas with significant ongoing conflict.

Read the full report.

Notes

  1. US Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the Amer­ican Military’s Competitive Edge, January 19, 2018, 3, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf.
  2. For the purposes of this report, the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” are used interchangeably with “violent extremist” and “vio­lent extremism.”
  3. Institute for Economics & Peace, Global Terrorism Index 2018: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism, December 5, 2018, 4, http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2018/12/Global-Terrorism-Index-2018-1.pdf.
  4. For example, following the terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and Limburg, Yemen’s shipping industry suffered losses of $3.8 mil­lion per month as half of Yemen’s port activities were diverted to Djibouti and Oman. Todd Sandler and Walter Enders, “Economic Consequences of Terrorism in Developed and Developing Countries: An Overview,” in Terrorism, Economic Development, and Political Openness, ed. Philip Keefer and Norman Loayza (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 18.
  5. Katherine Zimmerman, Terrorism, Tactics, and Transformation: The West vs the Salafi-Jihadi Movement, American Enterprise Institute, November 15, 2018, http://www.aei.org/publication/terrorism-tactics-and-transformation-the-west-vs-the-salafi-jihadi-movement/.
  6. Shannon N. Green and Keith Proctor, Turning Point: A New Comprehensive Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism, Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 2016, 59, https://csis-ilab.github.io/cve/report/Turning_Point.pdf.
  7. US Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, 4.





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