Turning the Screw on Counterterrorism Policy: Savid Javid’s speech – 4th June 2018

Posted by ap507 at Jun 04, 2018 04:52 PM |
Dr Rob Dover discusses the Government's new 'CONTEST' Strategy for Countering Terrorism

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The problems of radicalisation and terrorism are ‘wicked’ problems. Not ‘wicked’ in the 1980s slang way, but wicked in the sense that they are highly complex, dangerous and that every policy or operational innovation contains a myriad of unintended consequences.

The terror threat the UK faces are sourced from three locations: 1) Northern Irish dissidents, 2) extreme right-wing nationalists, and 3) from so-called Jihadists. When we hear talk about the government’s ‘CONTEST’ strategy, and it’s offshoot ‘PREVENT’ we typically only hear about how it relates to the Muslim community and indeed how sections of the Muslim community feel that is oppressive, aimed at them or is counterproductive. And this is mostly due to the way the complicated nexus between media commentary, some loud political voices and the public interact with these issues.

And whilst we all ‘know’ what we mean when we say ‘terrorist’, it often does not quite tally with how others describe or understand the same thing, and it also has an alienating impact on various parts of our non-radicalised community. To point this out will inevitably trigger cries of ‘snowflake’ or ‘shame’ amongst those who see these issues in a binary way. But my point is that all three of these sources of terrorism are terrorism as I would understand it, but they are more precisely examples of political violence. That is violence enacted in order to try and cause, provoke or generate some kind of political or societal shift. And viewed in that way, it is simpler to understand that the counterterrorism problem is one of criminal acts, but also of non-mainstream politics. To focus on the politics is less inflammatory and more productive than focussing on the label ‘terrorist’, however strong all right-thinking people’s reflexes are towards instant action.

So, if we do focus on the ‘jihadist threat’ we can see – from this political violence perspective – that these actors (from 2001 onwards) sought to make the western world more fearful, less liberal, and less integrated. From that standpoint, they have made considerable progress towards their goals. These latest proposals seem to get them a little bit closer: because the passing of intelligence around a very wide pool of government and local government actors (without the possibility of legal challenge) looks like an information security nightmare, it also looks like a minefield of innocents-about-to-be-erroneously-disclosed. Disclosure would no longer be the preserve of exceptionally rare leaks or revelations, we could reasonably assume it will happen more frequently, and we could also reasonably assume there will a large number of people irked by their inclusion on lists of concern.

So, whilst I can sit in my ivory tower and say ‘yes, intelligence sharing is good’, I can also see that it has the potential to help people along a path of radicalisation. It does nothing to roll back the sense of victimisation in certain communities. If we were to view the radicalisation/ terrorism problem as one of a low intensity insurgency (and intellectually, I think there is a lot of merit to this), we could happily see that one rational approach would be to respond to attacks but not to carry out operations that encroach or isolate communities, because counterinsurgency doctrine tells us that we need to dislocate the insurgent from his or her base of support. It also tells us that this is the most important thing we can do. So, one way of doing this is to demonstrate to a non-radicalised or partially radicalised fraction of the community that support or acquiesce to terrorist plots being formed near them, that there are lower costs to unwinding that activity than to acquiesce to it. And that can only occur if those people believe they belong and are valued.

By that rationale, inclusion, integration and access to social mobility and economic wealth are far more important and persuasive levers of counterterrorism than being able to prosecute people for streaming multiple video nasties. These are obviously far longer term measures than legislative change, but this is as George Bush noted now 16 or so years ago, a long term challenge, and one – collectively – that has been poorly handled by governments of all global regions.

The move to amend existing provisions to catch up with the advances in digital  technologies is a good one, because technologies have moved more quickly than legislators and regulators have been able to respond to. Similarly, support should be continually given to those law enforcement officers and security officials who sit at the highest end of risk on the front line of counterterrorism and community safety. My thought here though, is that peace only prevails when unmet needs are met, and there is greater impetus to engage and preserve than to fight. We can continually ratchet up the security provisions, the powers our agencies have, but ultimately bad actors will be stopped when more people feel they belong and that what they have and what their society has is worth preserving: the grinding poverty and exclusion in many of our cities is creating generations who see nothing to lose. Continuing to generate greater number of ‘have-nots’, excluded from social mobility and economic development will only make the security situation worse.

Words by:

Dr Rob Dover FHEA
Associate Professor in Intelligence and International Security
School of History, Politics and International Relations

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