Update on White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) Follow-on Process
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Thanks. Thanks so much. I really appreciate you providing this opportunity for me to come and talk about some of what I’ve been working on for the past several months, and also more specifically, give you an update on where we’ve come as a global community and in a global conversation in just the last four months since the February White House summit. I don’t know how many of you were following that or maybe came to the briefing that we did in advance of that, but we had high hopes for the summit and I think we are really gratified and excited by the progress that we’ve made going forward.
So I wanted to just start, for those of you didn’t necessarily follow the summit, by just reminding you what was different about that summit and what our goals were, and then talk a little bit about the activities that have transpired and the work that’s going on in so many different parts of the globe related to that new agenda, and then discuss briefly what our hopes are for September with the meeting at UNGA. So thank you very much for coming, and I’m really pleased to see you.
The White House summit in February was really the beginning of a very different type of global conversation. The counterterrorism discussion has tended to focus on the immediate fight and the military and intelligence tools that are used to defeat active terrorists. And the White House summit sought to really broaden that conversation, to think ahead of the current threat about the future threat and about how we contain the threat so that we can better defeat it with the military tools that we have, but how we contain that threat by preventing the spread of violent extremism with a very different approach, building on some of the individual efforts that have been undertaken to date.
But there were three key characteristics of the discussion at the White House in February at the CVE summit, and they really flowed from the President’s statement that he made there. And I’ll quote from him: “When people feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there’s no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from the injustice and the humiliations of corruption, that feeds instability and disorder and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.”
So what the President did in his statement and what the summit really did was open the aperture to think preventively about how violent extremist networks radicalize and bring individuals and communities into their ranks. The President was talking about the need to address the underlying conditions – what are sometimes referred to as the push factors – that relate to the spread of violent extremism; not just the pull factors of ideology and social media messaging, but also those underlying conditions or root causes. And so that was one characteristic that was very different in the conversation in February and continues to be a focus of our efforts going forward.
The other element that was really different flowing from the President’s remarks is the need to involve local actors and have greater diversity of local actors. So local communities, local governments, civil society networks, that really the work of protecting communities from the lure of violent extremists is best and most effectively done at the local level. And that’s a second element of the White House summit that has carried through the work going forward.
And then the third piece is really to focus not simply on that current immediate threat where terrorists are already controlling territory and exerting violence, but to think about communities that have yet to be penetrated by terrorists, to think preventively about how do you protect those who have not yet come under the control or sway of violent extremism.
And so those three principles really animated a very different kind of discussion with very different participants in our February summit, and it’s building on that that both our activities and the partners in this effort have continued to push a very different conversation. So what the President did in February, as you may remember, is he said this is a different conversation about a different and complementary approach to our hard CT efforts, and we all need to come together and we all need to work at the community level and at all levels with a broader array of tools to work preventatively to protect people from becoming recruited to the violent extremist way of thinking and acting. And we should work between now and September and reconvene on the margins of the UN General Assembly to take stock of what our efforts have produced.
So in the past four months, I’ve had the honor of attending several of the regional summits and participating in other kinds of events and work that have furthered the summit agenda as agreed by the participants at the February meeting. And the energy around what is essentially a much more positive and affirmative agenda in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, something that talks about helping people and protecting people and getting ahead of the curve to minimize future problems, keep children safe – that agenda has really been welcomed not simply by a variety of countries that are perhaps not comfortable or as deeply engaged in military activities to fight terrorist networks, but also by a variety of actors that have not been part of a fight against violent extremism but very much want to be – those civil society groups that are not part of a government conversation typically but instead are now welcomed into a conversation with governments, with the private sector, with religious leaders; a much broader conversation about how everyone can pitch in. And so the excitement and the diversity of voices and the energy that I’ve been able to interact with over the last four months has been really rewarding and I think validates the hopes that the President had in holding his summit.
The stories from local entrepreneurs, the stories from mayors who have initiated new kinds of experimental programs that they’re using to reach out to youth or to mobilize networks of women, the stories about how local businesses have banded together to provide opportunities for youth who are at risk or feel marginalized – those are the things that really stick with you because they’re the human element of this more proactive and affirmative approach. And so while CVE itself is a very long-term generational struggle, as the President said, we have in many different ways seen key new areas of work and activity that I’d like to share with you and that I think and hope we will be witnessing when the UN General Assembly meets again in September and we have an opportunity at a high-level meeting to hear from many of these actors about this work. So I just want to preview for you what’s going on now and what I think will be featured prominently at the summit.
First of all, the UN’s engagement in this more proactive, preventive agenda is really noteworthy. As you know, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined President Obama and Secretary Kerry at the White House summit and spoke at length about the need for a more preventive approach, about the importance of good governance, and the need for security measures to not create new challenges as they seek to counter current terror threats. He talked about his plans for developing a UN CVE plan of action that he will be releasing in November. And we understand that his plan will focus both on how to better harness all of the different very disparate and unique elements of the UN system toward this broader, preventive agenda, but also will outline a new set of expectations for member states. And as you know, there’s already quite a bit of activity within the UN on counterterrorism and more recently with the UN Resolution 2178 the secretary general’s CVE plan of action will take this new White House summit line of thinking more directly into the UN and therefore out into UN member-states. So you can stay tuned for that as one element that has grown out of the conversation in February.
Another really exciting development has been the engagement of the private sector in a more structured way, and the World Bank in particular, in thinking about the role of and the impact of violent extremism on economic activity more broadly and on development progress. And so there have been a number of activities to include the World Economic Forum hosting a regional MENA meeting in which the private sector engaged with civil society and governments on how it can better assist in the CVE agenda. The World Bank itself is redesigning its development strategies to ensure that its future programs in key countries and regions take the threat of violent extremism into account, and that’s something that is – that I expect we’ll be hearing more about over the course of the coming year.
A related but distinct area of energy and I think long-term significance is the emerging conversation among governments but also among international organizations about the role of development in countering violent extremism. There’s just a growing chorus of voices calling for what we think of as the mainstream tools of foreign policy and development as becoming part and parcel of the solution set that works at the local level and engages civil society and strengthens communities. And again, this notion that you can’t have sustainable development if you don’t have healthy communities and safe communities really seems to be coming to the fore, and this was very much a topic in the recent U.S.-EU Security and Development Dialogue that I just hosted working closely with my counterparts at USAID. It’s an emerging topic of conversation that AID is leading with other development agencies of states with large programs. And again, I think we’ll be seeing more on that in the coming year in a way that can take really key institutional processes and integrate this softer side and this affirmative, positive side into the struggle against violent extremism.
The fourth point that I just wanted to highlight in terms of energy and activities going on really have to do with networks of people working at the community level coming together to provide sort of learning and information hubs at a regional level, and then globally linked. And so these include everyone from the research community, which is increasingly organizing itself regionally and then globally around the CVE agenda, but also youth networks. And there are also an emerging group of municipal leaders, but now increasingly people below the municipal level and people above the municipal level also want to join in the conversation about how does a county or how does a town engage in CVE, how do they think about a CVE plan of action, who do they involve, what are the tools that they can use.
And so this idea of civil society actors finding sort of more formal mechanisms in which they can engage in an ongoing set of activities and learning that parallels but is not the same as the international mechanisms that we have for states that are very well established to talk, that’s a very exciting innovation that is coming to fruition and I expect will be announced in various different formulas at the summit in UNGA.
And then finally, I mentioned that I had been able to attend CVE regional summits in Albania and in Norway and more recently in Kenya. They’ve also been held in Australia, in Kazakhstan, and we’ll have some upcoming events in Algeria and Mauritania. These have been, depending upon the national host that has stepped up to invite these – to host these meetings, these have had a flavor that’s quite unique to the host and to the region. But they’ve all been in keeping with these key themes from the White House summit about preventive action, about addressing root causes and underlying push factors, and about engaging civil society in the private sector.
And so the – again, the energy was really extraordinary. And so, for example, in Norway, the youth network was really a very vital element of that particular discussion. In other summits it’s been different aspects, but each of the summits is in keeping with the White House summit, incorporating this much broader and more inclusive and more proactive conversation about countering violent extremism.
So we are looking forward to – I’ve got a couple of handouts for you. I’ve got the CVE summit one-page handout I think you have, which is the types of deliverables that we’re encouraging governments to announce. Governments will be working on and revising their national action plans in the context of both the White House summit and the regional summits, and we will be convening in Rome on the 29th of July at a meeting that is hosted by Italian foreign minister of – Italian Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano, where the countries that have been most engaged in the CVE work going forward will come together to take stock of what has occurred both in the nine different summit work streams, in the multiple regional conferences, and in the emergence of networks and deliverables, to think about how to organize the event in New York in September and plan for the unveiling and think about the post-UNGA environment. So that will be happening at the end of July, and then we will roll in September into the UNGA summit.
So I want to close there by just concluding with a reminder that this is a generational challenge, in President Obama’s words. I think that in fourth months, the kind of energy, activity, and emergence of new ways of sustaining this work and defining this work and carrying out this work going forward has really been remarkable, given how early we are in this new version of adding to the struggle against violent extremism. The President’s notion of how CVE more broadly fits into the fight against current threats like ISIS and like al-Shabaab is very much that we need to be ahead of the curve and containing the growth of violent extremist networks in order to be more successful where we’re currently engaged in the hard fight with the hard security tools. But this is fundamentally about protecting youth and children, about protecting and strengthening communities very much in the vein of supporting and joining with communities and keeping them strong and healthy. And so it’s really a legacy of the President’s thinking that we are now moving to the global conversation and implementing in really exciting ways that I think will become clearer and more public at the UN General Assembly meeting in September.
The notion that communities themselves have to be the core of the long-term – addressing the long-term challenge of violent extremism is really central to the White House process. And I think it augurs – it’s a very exciting innovation in how we think about governments in their relationship to communities and communities in their relationships to governments that will be working itself out over the coming years, if not decades. And so I feel really honored and fortunate to have been a part of it. I think that for the President this is very much work that he is committed to doing everything he can to set on a strong path going forward so that it can proceed long past his tenure. And I think the UN picking up so much of this preventive agenda is really auspicious in that regard.
So with that, let me close. And I am open to and welcome your questions.
MODERATOR: Great, so please – yeah, raise your hand or raise a pen, as the case may be, and don’t forget to give your name and your outlet. And for our colleagues in New York, if you are interested in offering a question, please – or asking a question, please come to the podium so we can see you.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mounzer Sleimnan, Al Mayadeen TV. It seems that countering violent extremism is not limited to societies in the Middle East. We have violent extremism, probably not in the form that we’ve seen, but all over the world. But the approach – in order to take some credible (inaudible) we need to review how we are doing with the fight against Daesh or ISIL in the region. And you mention and the President mentioned the issue of regional power or local to be participating in this. There is – the message in the region is totally confused about certain countries are assisting those violent extremism. They are providing them with weapons, providing with finance, with people allowing them to go and to join such organizations. So I think one thing needs to be focused on is the countries that joining the global campaign against terrorism and violent extremism that it’s engaging, whether secretly or openly, with such. And that is sending a mixed message about the credibility of this approach to counter it.
It’s true that you could go to the long term, and the President is correct about the long term. But for the short term it needs to be addressed seriously and the message should be clear to the people who are engaging this issue, the countries that – supposedly sometimes allies of United States.
MODERATOR: Mounzer, is that your question?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Well, I hear your comment. I think that this is an appropriate issue in the context of the counter-ISIL coalition, because as you say, that’s very much an issue that is being – that is central to the close fight against Daesh. Really, the CVE focus is about countries that have yet to be engaged by and usurped by violent extremist messages. So I have no comment on your comment about the counter-ISIL discussion, but what I will say is that in February at the White House summit UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made some very pointed remarks about the responsibilities of governments as they fought the current terrorist threat to do so in a way that did not create – fuel that threat. And I think that’s very much in the spirit of the prevention conversation.
I think it’s fair to say that over time part of what will happen by virtue of a broader conversation that links together different aspects of the struggle against violent extremism and points out the connections between short-term actions and long-term actions is that over time – and not necessarily immediately, because I’ve been in this business long enough to know that even the best and most self-evident ideas take some time to implement – but over time I think it will become clearer to those participating in this conversation that we have to align our shorter-term activities with our longer-term interests, and that sometimes requires a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of where self-interest lies.
So I think this is the beginning of a conversation that can – that can both illuminate and potentially harmonize the way we think about security over the longer term, and I think that could have implications for how different countries address the shorter-term threats.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up one quickly?
MODERATOR: If it’s short. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: My point is that it’s – the approach is valid, it’s correct the strategy about the long term, but it will damage that strategy not having action for the immediate problem that we are facing; it would send the wrong message. And what is being done about that, or what should be done about that? That’s my focus.
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Well, unfortunately, I’m not here to talk about the counter-ISIL coalition, so I hear your comment and thank you for sharing it.
MODERATOR: Yes. All right, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Chris Sheridan from Al Jazeera English. Thank you for doing this. Two quick questions. One, I noticed – so there’s seven countries here that have had regional summits. Is that because – were they selected for a particular reason? Did they – were they – did they ask to have these summits there? That’ll be one.
And then the other thing is I noticed the White House, and including you today, steered away from discussions about military responses and sort of more – along those lines, more towards development, as you pointed out today with – working with local governments to develop the economies of local regions. Is this a strategy now or something we’re going to hear more about in terms of countering violent extremism? That – I guess that’s —
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Sure.
QUESTION: And is there going to be more money put into this side of things?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: So thanks for those questions. The answer to the first question is that in every case, the regional summits were hosted by governments that offered to host them. So there was no particular rhyme or reason. These were welcomed with open arms as ways to continue the conversation.
In terms of the CVE approach, I mean, I think it’s really useful to unpack it a bit. So we have a counterterrorism policy that has been very well publicized and very centrally engaged in by this Administration for a very long period of time. We’ve had over the last several years different versions of CVE programming that are more at the level of community engagement and using the more positive development tools, thinking more about underlying drivers, in addition to doing the counter-narrative work which has been underway for a much longer time, the pull factors we’ve been focused on for a long time. So there’s been a lot of energy on the hard security side. There’s been a fair amount of energy on the counter-messaging side.
What has been much less developed – really nascent – in the U.S. side, and I think it’s fair to say internationally, is this notion of how to use other tools – how to use other tools and how to use other layers of actors to include people who are local governments but also local communities and the business and the national civil society actors; how do you bring more people into this preventive fight?
So CVE has existed in nascent form for some time. We’re now sort of blowing it up much bigger in the sense that we are making it part of the global conversation. We’re asking to think about global muscle of movements like foreign assistance, foreign direct investment, you name it. And we are inviting players who have not been part of the hard security CT conversation to come very much and participate in the CVE conversation that’s really focused on the prevention of the threat as opposed to the response post facto to the threat. Because that’s the way we get ahead of the curve on the problem set. That’s the way – if you’re constantly using military tools and the problem is spreading, then you’re going to be behind the curve. We want to get ahead of the curve, contain that threat so that the military tools that we have can have more of a chance of being effective.
QUESTION: Is that all —
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: We had asked for $390 million from the Hill. The House has provided – now I should say parenthetically, and I don’t want to get into numbers because I may remember wrong, but last year, the Administration asked for a big chunk of change from the Congress for partnership funding. DOD was given several billion dollars, State Department received none. We asked again this year for funding with a much more detailed explanation of this CVE approach and the White House summit behind it. The House – initial mark in the House has been 100 million and the subcommittee within the Senate has currently marked – I think it’s 140, but don’t quote me on that.
So there has been, I think, a recognition on the Hill that this is a way to essentially be – if you want, one way to think about it is the term “force multiplier.” This is a way to engage many more actors, whether they’re governments or nongovernmental actors, in this effort. But I think there is also an awareness that the United States has a critical role to play in galvanizing that, and that we have some experience with these programs that we can usefully use around problem sets where it’s not the hot zone of the fight, but it’s at the periphery before that full penetration and control of terror networks where we can shore up allies and shore up communities to contain that threat.
And I think you will be hopefully seeing some of that happen over the course of this coming fiscal year. We’re currently seeking to do that in a number of areas. I can’t share the details, but we are working very much on trying to obtain resources. There have been some initial encouraging signs from the Hill, and we are working within our own current resource constraints to think in a more integrated way across our agencies, and hopefully with international partners eventually, about how to work at the periphery of some of the key terror problem sets.
QUESTION: Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you very much for this. Just a clarification.
MODERATOR: Oh, can you say your name?
QUESTION: Tolga Tanis with Hurriyet. Can you please clarify the difference in terms of the legal consequences designations or international bodies that were in charge with this, et cetera? What is the difference between terrorism and violent extremism?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: We use the term “violent extremism” to encompass radical ideologies that incite violence. It’s not a legal term. So nothing has changed about counterterrorism. But violent extremism is seen as an umbrella term that encompasses terrorism. So when we use the term “violent extremism,” it’s precisely to make the point that people can be violent extremists and that violent extremist threats can exist independently of whether or not they are formally designated or have a formal legal status.
So for example, in Norway, for their regional summit, their major touchstone – when you use the term “violent extremism” in Norway, they immediately think back to the white supremacist attacks against students within Norway that was not part of a designated terror – foreign terrorist organization, was not something that we would think of as an organization at all. And so – and yet the acts were motivated by extremist ideology and they were extremely violent. So it’s a broader phrase that is meant to be more inclusive.
QUESTION: So inclusive in terms of lone wolves, et cetera? So what – I’m trying —
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Inclusive in terms of – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Lone – for example, lone wolves is another dimension of the terrorism, like President Obama mentioned in Pentagon two days ago – lone wolves. So —
MODERATOR: Lone wolves.
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Oh. Sorry, yeah.
QUESTION: Why – I’m trying to understand why you need such a new term, because it’s also another complication in terms of to define who is a violent extremist. While there is an ongoing conflict in Syria, for example, a lot of countries, as my colleague said, are working some violent extremists in the eyes of U.S. in the region. But these countries do not believe that these groups are necessarily violent extremists. So who will define who is violent extremist? Why do you need such a new term while we have terrorism?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: So if you’re coming from the terrorism angle and you’re thinking about hard security tools, that may seem like a really central question. But if you’re coming from the perspective of thinking about how do you prevent those who promote extremist views that are fundamentally aimed at denying human rights of others from penetrating a school or a youth group or a particular community, then those legal distinctions are not your central concern. And so as we think about an agenda that is preventive and is about ideas that can motivate people who are feeling particularly marginalized or as though they don’t have a role in their society or a future, the struggle to prevent that ideology from penetrating doesn’t matter as much whether or not you have given it a legal status, because you’re working with youth groups, you’re working with communities and parents to recognize early signs of radicalization. It’s less germane a distinction for the CVE agenda.
And so if you want to get into more specific legal questions, I would refer you to the State Department’s legal folks for more specific legal questions. But from the perspective of the CVE agenda, and in particular in the context of the efforts that are further out on the spectrum away from the current kinetic fight and thinking about how do you protect children from ideologies that can infect them, that distinction is less germane. And it’s much more inclusive and it allows more people to understand how extremism can function in their societies, because people may not think about a brand of extremism as being terrorism, but it may nonetheless be a brand of extremism that can incite violence. And that’s fundamentally what the concern is.
MODERATOR: I’ll take one more here and then we’ll go to New York, so at the end there.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Selim. I’m from the Voice of America Bangla service. My question is about Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a vulnerable place in terms of being recruited by the violent groups like ISIL and al-Qaida. Many people have been recruited; we have read the news. What is your view about Bangladesh, how Bangladesh is doing in terms of countering violent extremism?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Well, we welcome Bangladesh’s engagement in this broader conversation about both the role of state action to counter terrorism as an area that needs to be closely looked at for second and third-order consequences apropos of the earlier discussion that we were just having. And we welcome Bangladesh in terms of thinking about the extent to which violence which comes from extremist ideologies but may not be recognized as terrorism by all concerned or as a legal matter can nonetheless rip apart the fabric of society and make people extremely vulnerable and exploit grievances that may be politically based rather than ethnically based.
So I think this – I think that Bangladesh is an interesting example of a country that will be – that can benefit from engagement in this broader discussion about how to prevent violent extremism from penetrating societies. I think for many countries the preventive work has a wonderful overlap between essentially development and community strengthening and creating more stable and secure communities and therefore countries. And so I would hope that the government would welcome it in that regard.
MODERATOR: Great, okay, going to go to New York. And remember, not country-specific questions – we’re looking for broad. Okay.
QUESTION: This is – thank you. This is Mushfiqul Fazal (inaudible). And personally, I am very much impressed about the Counter Violent Extremism summit, and it’s a really innovative idea which is done by the U.S. authority, particularly from the President Obama.
My question is the – what can be the best possible way to bring all Islamic country – Muslim-majority country under one umbrella to protest IS activities? As you know, the organization of the Islamic Conference, OIC, sees a big (inaudible) for the Islamic Muslim-majority country. So what can be the best possible way to bring all Muslim countries under one umbrella to protest IS activities? And IS is recruiting many of the – not only the underdeveloped country, even in developed country, and they are using Islam, as Islam is a religious. So what – how can you involve more to the Islamic world? Thank you very much.
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: Thanks for the question. I think it’s not the place of the United States to suggest how different communities of nations self-defined can best address particular threats that they face in common. What we are trying to do is to galvanize a global conversation about violent extremism that has many forms and suggest that there are common principles and approaches that can be useful. We also believe strongly that this is an issue in which the elevation of moderate voices – whether they are of a religious nature or whether they are of an ethnic identity, whether they reflect some other cleavage that might be at issue in the context of extremist rhetoric – is critically important. And so different communities and different regions of the world that are at risk will respond in different ways, but we think there are some commonalities that can be promoted.
It’s part of why the global conversation about countering violent extremism is so important. It’s part of why I think we are really heartened that the UN secretary-general will be takin on these prevention aspects as he looks at the agenda of the United Nations and at responsibilities of member states. But the particular ways that individual extremist threats can be addressed by communities of countries or non-government communities, such as these networks that we expect to see launched at the margins of the General Assembly, I think are all open for possibilities. And we certainly don’t have any predominant view of what the right answer is in each case.
MODERATOR: All right. Yes, okay. Go ahead, yeah, Kazakhstan.
QUESTION: Zhiger Sarsenov, TV channel Khabar of Kazakhstan. I would like to hear about central Asia region, namely Kazakhstan. As you know, Kazakhstan was a regional Islamic summit of CVE. What is your opinion? What is your comment on this?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: All the reports out of the – from those who participated in the Kazakh-hosted summit were extraordinarily enthusiastic and full of praise. I think it was a real hallmark for the region to have that summit, and I commend the government for hosting it. I think there was a really interesting mix of different participants there very much in the spirit of the White House summit, which we were really gratified to see. And again, I think that was really groundbreaking and a great example of how we can really engender sort of a race to the top of best principles, of inclusive problem-solving through the CVE process and through this broader approach that’s more preventive in nature.
So I would say very positive, and I think augurs well, and I’m hopeful that it will not be the end of the region’s engagement in those issues, but it was a really important first step.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Couple of – Yasmine El-Sabawi, Kuwait News Agency. Couple of questions. One of the criticisms right after the summit was that the Administration didn’t take steps to discuss attacks that’s weren’t quote-unquote – just related to Islamist radicalism, so whether it’s white supremacist attacks or otherwise. So I’m wondering if, in light of what happened in Charleston, if more of those kind of incidences are going to be incorporated into the CVE approach.
Second question is – Secretary Kerry’s brought this up a lot and so did the President. You talk about development, you talk about youth that are underprivileged, underemployed, giving people opportunity. But we’ve seen and more evidence since February in particular that with a lot of the lone wolf attacks that that may not be the case, that a lot of these people come from sort of well-to-do families with a lot of opportunity. So what steps are maybe you taking to address those kind of issues where you’re looking at radicalization and it’s taking place and where people have opportunity and have options but this is what they’re choosing to do and perhaps it’s related to more political frustrations rather than inability to access economically (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: There’s a lot there, so let me come to your first question. And I think one of the things that the Administration has been very clear about all along is that, again, getting back to the nomenclature question, that violent extremism pertains to all manner of threats and Charleston is a really good example of extremist thought that results in violence that you might not consider terrorism. Certainly that individual was not a designated foreign terrorist organization. But we’ve been also criticized for talking about things other than Islamic forms of violent extremism. So we’ve talked about the range of violent extremism and that continues to be – sort of the hallmark of this conversation is that this is not unique to any one religious group, any one region, and I think it’s really central and will continue to be central. I think it’s part of the reason why the UN secretary-general can unrestrainedly endorse it as an element of a universal membership organization’s work, because these are universal problems. They come in many shapes and sizes.
In terms of your very good question about root causes, it’s very complicated and it doesn’t lend itself to sound bites. So forgive me while I nerd out for just a minute in trying to disaggregate some pieces of this puzzle. So – because I think your question was both about what are causes, but it was also about how is the international community responding. And we have quite a robust architecture already, whether you’re talking about the Global Counterterrorism Forum or whether you’re talking about 2178 in the UN Security Council, for dealing with individual recruitment – the notion of a terrorist pipeline, the notion of foreign terrorist fighters, and the awareness, as you point out, that these can – that people can be motivated by a host of different motivations. I think that’s pretty well understood. Nobody is quarreling with that.
There are two things that I think are fundamentally different about the CVE agenda – noteworthy – and need to be distinguished from that line of effort, which the U.S. is very committed to and obviously will continue working on and supporting wholeheartedly. But individual recruitment is quite different from community mobilization, and I think that’s sometimes forgotten when we talk about how do terror networks grow, how does violent extremism penetrate. It’s one thing for someone to decide to join a terrorist network because they have, for whatever constellation of reasons, made that decision. It’s another thing for an extremist ideology to penetrate an entire community and to essentially convince it to become part of a terrorist movement.
In some senses, if you look at the rapid growth of Daesh from its origins in Syria to the territory that it now occupies within Iraq, it wasn’t a matter of individual recruitment; it was a matter of community mobilization. And so we have to think about what are – this is President Obama’s point – what are the underlying factors that predispose a community to throw their lot in with a group of actors that are so anathema in many ways to that community in terms of their current practices or current beliefs? And so there you do have to look at a host of different factors which have to do with political marginalization, perhaps, or have to do with a lack of a sense that there is a future to be had for that particular group within that particular country.
These are factors that have not been part of the global conversation and the architecture and the UN Security Council resolutions to the same extent as the foreign terrorist fighter pipeline recruitment issues. But these are issues that, as we think about the global spread of violent extremism, are absolutely critical. And these are issues for which some of the mainstream development tools that have to do with education, economic opportunity, political inclusion, community mobilization are most apposite.
So to some degree, it depends on which kind of problem you’re tackling. And the other thing to remember is that whenever people talk about the causes, they’re listing a host of things that have been attributed in a causal capacity to the motivations of either individuals or groups to endorse violence in the name of an extremist ideology. That’s very different from being able to, in a given community, in a given country, in a given region, responding to whatever the inputs are of extremism that exist in that context and the local context for those individuals that are being targeted, figuring out what the most salient issues are.
And that’s why the research agenda is so central to the CVE summit agenda, and will be so central in terms of creating a global research agenda with regional subsets as we look toward the margins of UNGA. Because in fact, what we have recognized all along and what was emphasized at the White House summit is that there are very local circumstances for the spread of ideology. And one has to tailor one’s interventions, whether you’re a government or whether you’re a civil society organization or whether you’re the local community youth leader, to the causes that are specific in that context. So we can talk all we want about overarching push factors and pull factors, but at the end of the day, if you’re trying to affect a specific context, it’s that context that you have to better understand, and that’s where research really does come in.
And because this is a generational struggle, we’ve got to begin now learning what’s most effective and how to best diagnose, because this is a long-term issue that we’ll be dealing with, and we have to have international learning because we can’t afford to have a bunch of stovepipe learning curves. We want to be able to learn as fast as we can from one another about different contexts.
MODERATOR: All right. I think we have time for one more, Middle East. Yeah.
QUESTION: Manar Ghoneim, Middle East News Agency, Egypt. I want just to ask – you have just mentioned now about the causes and about the environment of extremism in the whole world, not only in the Middle East, but I’m focusing on the Middle East. What plans do you have in particular to cooperate with the countries of the region in order to fight extremism, especially that President Obama had said just two days ago that extremism or ISIL or the terrorism have just go beyond Iraq and Syria and now it has pointed out to the attacks that’s going on in Sinai, in Tunisia, in Libya? In other word – so I want just to ask: What are your plans for cooperating with the countries of the region in order to fight this phenomenon? For example, in Egypt, there is going to be held a strategic dialogue between Egypt and the United States this month. So do you have any plans or do you have any contacts that you are going to fulfill with these countries – for example, Azhar? That’s my question.
UNDER SECRETARY SEWALL: So let me answer your question by saying that the decisions that the United States makes on the security side with regard to building security capacity or intelligence capacity with partner states for the military fight against active terror threats is quite distinct from the process that I’m describing here, which is the more long-term preventive approach. Having said that, there are clearly areas in the Middle East – many areas in the Middle East – in which the efforts to protect communities and in some cases nations from penetration by violent extremist ideology is really critical. And that’s why they are very much expected – or I should say we very much anticipate that those countries will want to benefit from this global conversation about countering violent extremism and begin, particularly in the context of the conversation about foreign assistance, international financial institutions, and the private sector, be thinking about how best to inoculate their youth and their local communities from violent extremism. This is a more preventive approach that works best in areas that are not currently in ongoing conflict or controlled by terrorist organizations.
So in some ways, your question is quite different from the question about the CVE summit agenda, but it is the President’s belief that unless countries that are not currently facing the active hostilities from terrorist organizations work on these preventive concepts, the violent extremism may continue to spread. And so these ideas about CVE are very important in the Middle East for countries that are not currently engaged in the military fight. So like the earlier question where you wanted me to talk about specific plans in the context of the military fight, that’s something that will happen through other channels, through the strategic dialogue in the case of Egypt, through other mechanisms. But thank you for the question.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for coming today. We are now off the record.