BY: YAELA COLLINS
What is CVE?
Countering violent extremism (CVE) has been on the international agenda since the drafting of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which notes the body’s concern for “the increase, in various regions of the world, of acts of terrorism motivated by intolerance or extremism.” CVE is a popular theme in UN documents as it is mentioned in various UN position papers, meeting notes, and special council resolutions like the Human Rights and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in October 2015.
According to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, the purpose of CVE is to address the “’conditions conducive’ to the spread of terrorism” as defined in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. In the comprehensive counter-terrorism (CT) plan of action adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006, states were urged to take measures to lessen the negative effects of “prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism…lack of rule of law and violations of human rights…political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization…” poor governance and numerous forms of discrimination. The document also mentions potential mitigation techniques including “negotiation, judicial settlement…peacekeeping and peacebuilding.” Promoting cultures of tolerance and committing to human development are also practices that the UNGA endorses to defend against the creation of environments that are favorable to the provocation of extremism and use of terrorism.
The idea of CVE was revamped in 2016 by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres when he presented the idea of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). CVE and PVE differ mostly at the point of intervention. For the purpose of visualization, we can use a simplified emergency management cycle. In the quest to reduce the devastation of terrorism motivated by extremist ideology, PVE would likely be employed during the mitigation/prevention and early preparedness stages of the cycle, whereas CVE programs would take place during the late preparedness and response periods. PVE and CVE implementation would likely overlap in the recovery phase for purposes of risk avoidance and risk mitigation, respectively.
The Weaknesses of a Top-Down Approach
Despite widespread international understanding about the need for PVE and CVE, there is a lack of consensus about best practices for both methodologies. Government-led programs and counter-messaging campaigns have been accused of being asymmetrically geared towards Muslims, in-group policing strategies have been criticized by organizations like the ACLU for reasons related to the right to privacy, and other societal structures can be compromised as a result of top-down interventions.
Once case-study of government P/CVE involvement on the community level gone-wrong is the Netherlands. Statistics from the Dutch intelligence agency (AIVD) on the country’s Comprehensive Approach to CT would suggest significant levels of success in foiling terror plots and decreasing rates of radicalization. However, partnerships forged between the Dutch government and neighborhood leaders have led to the disintegration of social normalcy in some marginalized communities.
Early intervention CT strategies as a part of the Comprehensive Approach were disproportionately geared towards communities with higher levels of racial and religious diversity. Additionally, in-group policing, compulsory reporting policies, and increased overt surveillance led to the securitization of society. Many minority groups already demonstrated high levels of distrust towards the government and police, leaving local-level social service providers as the only dependable individuals with connections to government. When the new CT framework was inaugurated, state appointed counselors and social workers were asked to report to police. Subsequently, beneficiaries were urged to refrain from disclosing incriminating information. This absence of openness severely altered the relationship between counselors and the community, eroding any previously established trust.
Resentment towards government and associated personnel in target communities are push factors that drive individuals to join organizations that share those sentiments, like the Hofstad Network. The Hofstad Network, a terrorist organization based in The Hague, ran campaigns largely based on the rejection of the Dutch government. In a 2005 court testimony, Hofstad Network member Samir Azzouz summed up the group’s opinions when he said, “We reject you. We reject your system. We hate you.”
Private Sector Takeover
Noting the downfalls of the Dutch approach, we are left pondering: who should be responsible for executing P/CVE strategies? Over the last several years, researchers and practitioners have been advocating for private firms to take on P/CVE as a part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).
CSR is often packaged as a female empowerment program in a developing country, environmental sustainability initiative, or commitment to using ethically sourced products. Actually, CSR is simply a concerted effort by private companies to account for their “social, economic and environmental impact, and consideration of human rights.” Initiatives need not be complicated nor vast in scope. Engagement in CSR only requires that businesses contribute to overall global (or local) community betterment while minimizing their negative impact on society. This leaves the private sector relatively free to decide how they will interpret “betterment” and define their CSR.
Big data and marketing enterprises have been pioneers in the CSR for P/CVE space, using analytic tools and messaging campaigns to support CT efforts. Large social media companies have also attempted to do their part through content takedowns, more stringent terms of service, and suspicious account monitoring. A considerable proportion of the positive trends we see in P/CVE in these areas are the result of heightened government and user demands, especially on social media and messaging platforms. Nonetheless, other segments of the economy like health and finance, largely thought to be free of national security pressures, also have stake in P/CVE developments.
What does CVE in CSR Look Like for Non-Conventional Stakeholders?
The first step in visualizing what P/CVE in CSR looks like is widening the view of what issues are related to extremism. Violent extremism is often associated with religious ideologies and extremely active groups like ISIS. However, extremist ideology can manifest as the result of numerous stressors including territorial struggles, economic rights, and lack of confidence in incumbent leaders. Each of these issues can have major impacts on the private sector and there are many ways that corporate entities can reduce associated risks and mitigate negative repercussions through P/CVE.
Low capacity states are territories that lack the proper governance, law enforcement, judicial and societal strength to deal with the threat of extremism. Influxes of foreign capital tend to stimulate markets in these countries and allow for less stringent spending on social programs. Though foreign direct investment (FDI) is a strategy with a track record of success in decreasing the fragility in recipient nations, it carries a significant level of risk. Conflict spillover from neighbors, government coups, high rates of disease, and climate related hazards can all influence the success of investments. With low levels of political and social stability, economies in low capacity states can be very volatile and vulnerable to both domestic and external risk factors.
Investing in local NGOs
In territories where extremism tends to thrive, local NGOs and community organizations step in where the government has fallen short. These non-profit grassroots groups, normally staffed by volunteers, run microfinance institutions, sponsor empowerment and equality programs, hold financial literacy classes, operate health clinics, and host civic engagement workshops in addition to providing a multitude of services needed in the community. Tragically, these NGOs severely lack the funding necessary to make the sustained positive impact they set out to achieve.
Investing in NGOs may pose less risk than FDI because their activities can be more easily measured as they occur on a smaller scale. These organizations are also likely to be amenable to hosting volunteers which can allow those employed by donor firms to physically take part in philanthropic activities. Though territories of operation may still be volatile, success of NGO activities are not necessarily tied to economic trends nor political stability. In fact, non-profit organizations may have increased demand for programming during crises and in crisis recovery periods.
Sponsoring Training Programs
Private sector entities may find that allocating funds for the administration of their own free programming is the best option for their business. Examples include financial literacy workshops in underprivileged communities or sponsoring career counseling events for high school students. The key would be to make sure that the majority of the target beneficiary group can access these initiatives and that they are geared towards increasing growth and sustainability in struggling communities. This tactic may hold the lowest risk as the company can have direct control over program development and execution.
Regardless of the tactics firms use to engage in CSR, initiatives that fall into the P/CVE category will have to concentrate on indicators that are linked to higher levels of susceptibility to extremist content. These include, but are not limited to: economic hardship, social exclusion, access to education, access to healthcare, and civic participation.
C/PVE is a delicate and complex issue to tackle. If a central government entity has full control over C/PVE programs, related messages and campaigns can be viewed as propaganda and the basic human rights of residents in targets communities can be compromised. As influencers of policy and activities in the global system, it is time for the private sector to take a more proactive role in P/CVE and make greater contributions to the creation of a climate of peace and security.
Yaela Collins is currently working at The Bassiouni Group where she engages in security and development research and business management consulting focused on sustainability. She received her BA in International Relations with a focus on Developing World from the State University of New York College at Geneseo and a M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.