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ICSR Insight: How to Make Global Fund on Countering Violent Extremism Meaningful

27/09/2013

By Professor Peter Neumann, Director ICSR

Earlier today, the United States and Turkey announced the creation of a $200m fund to counter violent extremism. Modelled on global funds to fight diseases like AIDS and malaria, the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience is hoped to bring together governments, charities and private companies in a global push to counter the drivers and underlying causes of violent radicalisation.

This ICSR Insight reviews the Fund’s prospects and highlights potential risks and obstacles.

Why the Global Fund is a good idea

For too long, governments’ attention has focused almost exclusively on the “hard power” aspects of dismantling terrorist networks and disrupting terrorist plots. Compared to the trillions of dollars that have been spent on fighting terrorists, the equally – if not more – important task of preventing people from becoming radicalised has never received the resources and attention it deserved. For this reason alone, the creation of the Global Fund is a great idea:

• Through the Fund, it will be possible to combine different sources of money and expertise, creating a potentially powerful instrument with which to set priorities, generate momentum, and help governments avoid duplication.

• The Fund has the potential to become a global hub for knowledge and expertise, enabling the sharing of best practices, the systematic improvement of counter-radicalisation approaches, and the development of global standards in assessment and monitoring.

• Being one step removed from government, the Fund promises to be more flexible, dynamic and independent than the official bureaucracies that have supported countering violent extremism projects in the past.

Risks and obstacles

Whether the Fund fulfils the enormous expectations that have been created by today’s announcement remains to be seen. As with every good idea, much will depend on its implementation:

• The Fund’s structures need to be simple and transparent. If the Fund ends up looking and operating like an international bureaucracy, a great opportunity will be lost. Nor would private donors ever be interested in supporting the Fund.

• The Fund needs dynamic leadership. The people running the Fund should be the smartest, most innovative and experienced counter-radicalisation practitioners from all over the world, including – but by no means limited to – government officials.

• The mission needs to be clearly defined. $200m sounds like a lot of money, but it’s no more than a drop in the ocean when considering the enormous structural problems in many countries that are vulnerable to violent extremism. To make a difference, the Fund must remain focused on projects that counter violent extremism and avoid conflating counter-radicalisation with development.

• Assumptions have to be sound. Over the past few years, there has been a growing body of research and rigorous scholarship aiming to understand processes of radicalisation and how they can be prevented. Many of its findings are counterintuitive, and the people setting up the Fund need to make sure they understand its implications.

Ultimately, of course, it is the political nature of the subject matter that makes the Global Fund on countering violent extremism different from the Global Funds on diseases like malaria or AIDS. The most serious risk is for the Fund to become drawn into the same kinds of political debates that have prevented more decisive action on terrorism and violent extremism in international institutions for decades. After all, governments and their policies have, in some cases, been the major reason for people becoming vulnerable to radicalisation in the first place.

If governments’ influence over the Fund becomes overbearing, the likely outcome will be a costly exercise in finding the lowest common denominator. But this is not inevitable. The Global Fund is a great initiative an opportunity for which the governments of the United States and Turkey deserve enormous praise. Making it a reality – and making it meaningful – will, however, require hard work.