How the US Must Expand and Redefine International Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism
January 25, 2010
As Americans we naturally focus on the most direct threats to the United States, and what all too many in the West have seen as a clash between civilizations. It is important, however, to keep what is happening in perspective. The latest State Department report on terrorism contains a report by the Counterterrorism Center that ranks the countries that have been the subject of the most serious attacks. The US and Western Europe at not even on the chart. It is nations with large Muslim populations that face the vast majority of the threat.
It is also clear that there is no meaningful way to separate threats of “terrorism” from threats that become insurgencies. The same data from the Counterterrorism Center show that it is the two countries where the US and its allies are actively fighting an insurgency dominated by Islamist elements that are the countries where “terrorism” has played a dominant role. Moreover, even these data understate the degree to which this is true because the total number of terrorist attacks in the “rest of the world” has only overtaken Afghanistan and Iraq because of the “rest of the world” includes Pakistan.
We face a threat that involves far more than terrorism. It should not take what is happening in Yemen, or an attempted airline bombing, to remind us that we are involved in struggle for the future of Islam that involves both violent forms of terrorism and insurgency; that affects virtually every country with a significant Muslim population; and that and has spilled over into rest of the world. Moreover, this struggle is not driven by a handful of extremists. It is driven by ideological, political, demographic, and economic forces that are virtually certain to make extremist violence an enduring threat for at least the next decade and probably the next quarter century.
The Burke Chair has developed two papers that address these issues. The first focuses on changes in US strategy for counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and dealing with the broader threat of violent extremism in predominantly Muslim states. It suggests the US needs to both reinforce many of its current efforts, but also needs to look far beyond a narrow focus on counterterrorism and today’s headline incidents, and make major changes in the way it organizes US efforts to cooperate with other states. This paper is entitled “The True Lessons of Yemen and Detroit: How the US Must Expand and Redefine International Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism” and is available on the CSIS we site at http://csis.org/files/publication/100125_Terrorism-USRoleIntCoopRev.pdf.
It suggests that the US must deal with a threat that is nearly global in dimension, enduring, and ultimately ideological in character: a threat shaped by fundamentally different religious and cultural values. In short, we need to look beyond the headlines and the search for the usual scapegoats. We need to firmly reject any form of US-centric approach or belief we are somehow dealing with a clash between civilizations. The US must learn and adapt to the new direct threats to its territory, but the United States cannot succeed through any narrow focused on a war on terrorism.
It needs a far more comprehensive approach to international cooperation based on developing a broader matrix of political, security, public diplomacy, and aid efforts – led by the US country team in each country -- that will allow it to create more effective partnerships with the governments and peoples in the Muslim world. Prevention and partnership – and a joint effort to win the ideological struggle -- are the keys to broad and lasting success.
Specifically, it suggests that:
* The United States should not separate domestic counterterrorism and international efforts directed at preventing terrorists from entering or directly attacking the United States, from options for improving US security through broader forms of international cooperation at the formal and informal levels. It needs to develop integrated domestic and international efforts focused on key missions and functions. US policy, programs, and budgets should recognize what US counterterrorism experts have long recognized: No amount of reorganization or improvement in US defenses, or centralized action by the intelligence community and Counter Terrorism Center can provide security or even hope to adequately analyze the sheer volume of indicators and “noise” generated by a global mix of threats. Important as such improvements are, they must be part of a comprehensive mix of domestic and international efforts.
* As the attached analysis shows, improvements in formal international cooperation can still have great value, but the most important areas for US success will lie in informal or formal bilateral and multilateral cooperation with largely Muslim states in East Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, the greater Middle East, and Africa. In most cases, government-to-government cooperation will be critical. Such cooperation will be most productive with friendly governments, but it will often be possible to cooperate in limited ways even with partially hostile regimes.
* The United States should not compartment counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, and should focus on developing local capabilities and forces. The United States does not have the resources to carry out hybrid warfare or international counterterrorism on its own, and cannot overcome the problems created by the fact the US has a different culture, political and legal system, and view of religion from many of the states involved. Working to build up local capabilities – and help states on a preventive basis – will be critical. So will steadily expanding the US ability to provide suitable trainers and partners for police, paramilitary, counterinsurgency, and rule of law capabilities; and to provide the transfer of skills, technology, and equipment. The US will lose this struggle decisively if it tries to act as a superpower; it can only win it as a partner.
* USCENTCOM is the key focus for security efforts. Security assistance in the broadest sense of the term is only part of the solution, but it is the critical first step. Dealing with the problems of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in the greater Middle East has clear priority, and the US military are the only part of the United State government that has shown the capability to deal flexibly with the required mix of police, paramilitary, and counterinsurgency training and partnering efforts. This makes USCENTCOM the logical center for coordinating such activity – although this would require additional resources and integrating a larger intelligence community and State Department component.
* The US should focus on helping states improve governance, their economy, and developing ways to both improve counterterrorism and improve their justice and counterterrorism systems to avoid human rights abuses and win popular support. The basic themes of President Obama’s Cairo speech are critical to dealing with this threat. As recent events in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan have made all too clear; “democracy” is not a solution to the region’s problems and elections can present as many problems as they solve. At the same time, effective governance and government services are critical to establishing any form of stability, and creating economic development and growth. State abuses of the rule of law may make short terms gains in dealing with terrorism, but can easily alienate large parts of the population or breed new terrorists. Moreover, the states involved are so different in their political structures, in facing the impact of extremism, in demographics, internal tensions, and wealth that the US must develop balanced efforts for each individual country, not simply pursue some broad “fits all” solution based on US political and cultural priorities.
* The US country team will be the critical focus for broader and enduring success. International and regional efforts will remain important, but the US needs to beware of false economies of scale and of the idea that it can run “normal” embassies, focused on diplomacy, rather than direct efforts to deal with these threats. Only a country team that mixes counterterrorism, military advisory efforts, aid in governance and rule of law, economic advice and assistance, and educational programs and public diplomacy tailored to a given nation’s needs – and the level of threat in that country – can succeed. Such country teams must also be operational in the field, rather than tied to large fortress embassies, and often must be staffed more by operators than members of the regular Foreign Service. It also will be far more cost-effective to fund such country teams for preventive action than wait until a country reaches its crisis level – as has been the case in countries like Yemen.
* Encouraging and supporting local governments, religious leaders, educators, media, and politicians in efforts to deal directly with ideological and religious challenges will be equally critical. None of these US efforts can succeed unless the elites in states with large Muslim populations directly engage with extremists at the ideological and religious levels, conduct a massive strategic communications effort, improve religious education, and provide for reintegration of those caught up in extremist movements. Better US public diplomacy, aid and exchange programs, and other US efforts are critical to improving the image of the United States. The US must act on the principal, however, that it cannot transfer American values to the countries and populations involved. This makes it critical to help local states in their efforts wherever possible. At the same time, the US cannot succeed by giving the equivalent of a political blank check in support of current regimes. The United States must be prepared to confront failed and corrupt governance, and other abuses of power. The focus must be on the people and not the regime. Proactive cooperation in counterterrorism must also find ways to address regime failures and push for reform and change.
The second paper is written for an international audience, and address the broader improvements required in international cooperation in dealing with international terrorism, including the efforts needed from Muslim and other states. This analysis has been developed as a draft report for a conference on international cooperation in counterterrorism in Turkey.
It is entitled International Cooperation in Counterterrorism: Redefining the Threat and the Requirement, and is available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/files/publication/100125_IntCoopinfightterror.pdf.
This report draws on lessons and the successes of the near decade since 9/11, and is designed to speak to both Western and Muslim audiences. The footnotes to the report also describe the progress that has taken place in formal cooperation in key international organizations like the UN, Interpol, and NATO.
Please note that both these papers are drafts and will be revised as a result of the conference in Turkey and outside comments. Please send any comments to Anthony H. Cordesman at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Adam Mausner at email@example.com.