The Prevention Project was launched in March 2016 to help operationalize and sustain a “whole of society” approach to preventing the spread of violent extremism. Working with its partners, which include the Geneva Center on Security Policy, the Global Center on Cooperative Security, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), the Prevention Project is committed to promoting the role of civil society, local authorities, and, more broadly, communities in preventing a and countering violent extremism (P/CVE).
Working with government and non-governmental actors around the globe, it provides practical guidance on overcoming the challenges confronting P/CVE efforts and developing and implementing community-focused solutions to prevent the spread of violent extremism. The Prevention Project’s flagship report, “Communities First: A Blueprint for Operationalizing and Sustaining a Global Movement against Violent Extremism” (December 2016) which was produced with generous support from the European Union and the Governments of Switzerland and Norway, includes a number of concrete recommendations in this area. In 2017, the Prevention Project is focused on promoting their implementation, including under the umbrella of the Global Solutions Exchange (GSX), which it is proud to co-lead with ICAN.
As underscored by the 2016 Global Terrorism Index, the threat of violent extremism is more geographically dispersed and more localized than ever. No longer is the threat primarily from groups with defined chains of command as it was on September 11, 2001. Rather it is from often loose, terrorist networks and autonomous cells, and, in an increasing number of cases, individuals inspired by violent extremist ideologies. This evolution of the threat has implications for how governments and other actors should address it.
Among the lessons over the past 15 years of counterterrorism practice is that security-focused and other responses of national governments and multilateral institutions have not been and will not be sufficient to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism. A more comprehensive and strategic approach that empowers local actors and focuses more attention on community-led interventions to address underlying drivers of the phenomenon is required. This involves, inter alia, the development and deployment of a more dynamic and complete set of policies and programs and the involvement of a more diverse set of actors, particularly at the local level, such as public health, mental health, or social services providers; parents; researchers; teachers; businesses; and women’s, religious, and youth leaders. In addition, this group includes police and corrections officials, actors that also have roles to play, albeit different ones, in the “hard” response to terrorism.
This approach requires, inter alia:
- a sustainable global network of these stakeholders that can have impact at the local level and a voice at the global level;
- leveraging, although not co-opting, a wide array of efforts, including development, peacebuilding, good governance, and public health, that can contribute to preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) by helping address some of the grievances that fuel the spread of violent extremism;
- leveraging existing knowledge of which P/CVE and related interventions have and have not worked to improve the effectiveness of efforts to address the threat;
- recognizing that how governments treat their citizens really matters when it comes to P/CVE;
- understanding how the broader aims of strengthening the relationship between the state and its citizens and building trust between all levels of government and local communities lie at the heart of the P/CVE agenda;
- addressing the marginalization and alienation, poor governance, and state-sponsored violence that damage the government-citizen relationship and are among the most prevalent drivers of violent extremism.
With these and other strategic requirements in mind, the Prevention Project is focused on a number of discrete but inter-related P/CVE themes, which are addressed in “Communities First.”
- moving from rhetoric to action, with a particular emphasis on resource mobilization;
- ensuring greater coherence between counterterrorism and P/CVE policies and objectives;
- moving from a national-level and security-centric approach to a local-level and community-centric approach;
- empowering cities and civil society;
- securing more strategic donor engagement;
- integrating to a greater extent countermessaging and other communications efforts to dissuade potential recruits and delegitimize violent extremist organizations into broader P/CVE efforts and devoting a higher proportion of those efforts to interventions that address the underlying drivers of violent extremism and provide positive alternative activities;
- expanding “off-ramp” programs; and
- making the international architecture fit for purpose
- The sustainability and, ultimately, success of the global movement against violent extremism, which the 2015 White House CVE Summit helped catalyze and the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism helped universalize, is largely dependent on effectively addressing the above issues and translating the rhetoric around this agenda into practice. Critical to this will be ensuring the necessary institutions, networks, and platforms are in place to sustain the effort over the long-term. The sheer number of actors that have a role to play, whether domestically or internationally, within or outside government, risks producing a web of overlapping mandates, structures, and activities that could hinder overall effectiveness if not organized properly at the different levels. The tools to address many of the grievances driving violent extremism exist; they have to be used strategically and resourced sufficiently.