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Preventing Violent Extremism: The Way Forward – Statement by Under Secretary Sewall
April 8, 2016

U.S. Statement at the Geneva ConferenceA woman sitting
Preventing Violent Extremism: The Way Forward

Under Secretary Sewall

Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Friday, April 8, 2016



Deepest thanks to the United Nations and the Government of Switzerland for convening us here today.

Ten years ago, when U.N. Member States endorsed the first-ever Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, they envisioned the need to both combat existing terrorist threats around the world and prevent those threats from emerging in the first place.  Elements of both combating and preventing terrorism marble the Strategy throughout, but there is no question that until now, the U.N. has yet to fully balance and integrate both of these essential components.

As we all know, global counterterrorism efforts to date have focused overwhelmingly on responding to terrorist threats. Global military, intelligence, and law enforcement cooperation has improved, while broader efforts to prevent terrorism remained relatively underdeveloped. During this time, however, terrorist threats continued to expand and adapt, gaining new recruits and spawning savage new groups like Boko Haram and Daesh. Clearly, the international community will struggle to defeat the current threat if the next generation gestates and takes root unimpeded.

This has begun to change as states have reevaluated the effectiveness of relying upon more reactive approaches and have increasingly recognized the value of proactive, preventive measures to keep the violent extremist threat from growing.  States have gathered together to discuss ways to bring a broader array of actors and tools to the preventive effort. They have developed new domestic approaches and national action plans. They have partnered with civil society organizations and conducted research to better understand and tackle emerging threats.  All this activity has culminated in the Secretary-General’s new Plan of Action, which represents an important benchmark in our global struggle against terrorism.

The Plan of Action fills in the framework of the original Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy by emphasizing the additional value of proactive measures to deny terrorists the next generation of recruits, organizations, and tools. And let me note that the Plan of Action is very clear that violent extremism knows no single religion, ideology, or geography. The Plan of Action’s mention of Anders Breivek’s terrorist attacks that killed 77 in Norway speaks to this very point. All states have needs and opportunities when it comes to preventing violent extremism.

And in encouraging prevention, the Plan offers Member States a practical roadmap to combat existing terrorist threats more effectively. For example, the Plan calls for building trust between security forces and vulnerable communities. That can open up new channels of communication for citizens to report terrorist infiltration. It also calls for enlisting allies from civil society – like religious leaders, women, and youth – to add credible new voices to discredit terrorist ideologies. Other recommendations, like programs to de-radicalize inmates and rehabilitate returning fighters, can drain the pool of potential terrorist recruits.

In addition, by mobilizing the entire U.N. system behind the PVE agenda, this Plan can unlock a new set of tools and resources for Member States. For example, the UNDP can help countries identify which underlying factors may be enabling radicalization. UNESCO can design programs to give youth the critical thinking skills to resist terrorist ideologies. Many U.N. bodies have expertise to contribute to the prevention agenda, but they need the mandate, resources, and agility to do so effectively.

Finally, I will make the obvious point. If we can’t contain the spread of violent extremism, we will find it very difficult to defeat terrorist networks. Simply put, we need prevention in order to win the current fight.

For all of these reasons, the United States strongly endorses the Secretary-General’s Plan and urges all Member States to support its implementation as a critical part of the U.N.’s broader CT Strategy. We believe the PVE agenda articulated in this Plan is integral to the original intent of that Strategy and is fundamental to defeating terrorism over the longer term.

Thank you.