3 US Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism An Assessment - Foreign Policy Research Institute (20

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U.S. Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism: An Assessment By Will McCants and Clinton Watts Will McCants is an analyst at CNA and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He previously served as a State Department senior adviser for countering violent extremism. Clinton Watts is an FPRI Senior Fellow and Consultant at Navanti Group. Watts served as an FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force and as the Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The United States and its allies devote considerable financial and human resources to countering violent extremism (CVE). CVE is a central pillar of the United States’ domestic and international counterterrorism effort, following the lead of the United Kingdom’s Prevent initiative begun several years earlier. Like the United Kingdom, the United States launched its CVE enterprise in response to a perceived increase in radicalization among its Muslim citizens. The U.S. enterprise, however, lacks a clear definition, is based on flawed assumptions about what works, and its proponents have yet to question whether CVE is worth doing in the first place. The United Kingdom’s approach suffered from similar shortcomings when it was first introduced, many of which were corrected in a later program update. It is time for the United States to do the same. DEFINING CVE Although U.S. government documents frequently employ the term CVE, there is not a shared view of what CVE is or how it should be done. Definitions range from stopping people from embracing extreme beliefs that might lead to terrorism to reducing active support for terrorist groups. The lack of a clear definition for CVE not only leads to conflicting and counterproductive programs but also makes it hard to evaluate the CVE agenda as a whole and determine whether it is worthwhile to continue. In the interest of clarifying the activities covered by CVE and encouraging debate on their relative merits, we propose the following definition: reducing the number of terrorist group supporters through non-coercive means. This definition is useful for several reasons: 1. It is broad enough to cover most of what people describe as CVE without being biased towards one type of activity. For example, we favor programs that persuade active but law-abiding terrorist supporters to abandon their support. Others favor an approach that prevents people from becoming supporters in the first place. 1 Our definition captures both of those approaches and makes it possible to have a debate about their efficacy because there is a clearly stated goal. 1 The United Nations defines counter- radicalization broadly as “deter(ing) disaffected (and possibly already radicalized) individuals from crossing the line and becoming t errorists.” See United Nations, First Report of the Working Group on Radicalisation and Extremism that Lead to Terrorism: Inventory of State Programmes , available at: December 2012
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  • Fall '19
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