Because the Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provide different viewpoints, tools, and expertise, the two agencies determined that a joint strategy utilizing the diverse strengths of both bodies is the United States’ best option for preventing and countering the spread of violent extremism (CVE). That strategy, released May 28, outlines the agencies’ plans for CVE moving forward, and will be updated every two years.

The strategy is lacking, however, in oversight and criteria on human rights. Failing to make these protections an integral part of the strategy could lead to repressive regimes using CVE as an excuse to abuse basic rights and close civic space. Unintended consequences should be considered in advance. Without that important step, well-intended laws and policies can end up causing dire consequences, as has been seen with the misuse of recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force.

It is also important to note that in order to effectively prevent violent extremism, the U.S. government must take a hard look at the material support statute and its prohibition on peacebuilding. Preventing violent extremism must necessarily involve talking to extremists, which is prohibited under current U.S. law.

Drivers of Extremism

Effective U.S. approaches to terrorism must both address the underlying drivers and dynamics of radicalization, like sectarian conflict, corruption, and repression, as well as counter the ideology and methods of recruitment used by various extremist organizations, the strategy explains. Objectives outlined in the new strategy include education and mobilization of resources to strengthen infrastructure. Deepening and refining our understanding of the drivers of extremism and mobilizing international resources for more effective interventions will be integral components of this. The agencies will look at political, social and economic factors. State and USAID also will work with partner governments to adopt effective policies and approaches within national plans of action and change state practices where necessary while promoting local voices with alternative visions to counter the extremist narrative and recruitment process. Building upon this, they will assist with the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals removed from the cycle of radicalization and violence.

USAID and State will use rule of law and development programs to address specific drivers of violent extremism and to build capacity in the areas of criminal justice, development, and civil society. Beginning in 2017, they will seek additional funding from Congress for these programs. It is important, however, that “development assistance be undertaken for development reasons, keeping in mind that development is not a counterterrorism tool,” said Kay Guinane, director of the Charity & Security Network. If it is limited or focused on CVE, the U.S. government “runs the risk of tainting development,” she said, adding, “The independence of civil society must be respected.”

Additional strategic goals include:

  • Developing positive relationships and effective communication between law enforcement and the community, and working with law enforcement, in the judiciary, and in prisons to promote rehabilitation, reintegration, and disengagement with radicalization.

  • Enhance civil society by increasing community-government dialogue and greater community engagement in decision-making, including more education and social service interventions to counter possible drivers of violent extremism, with a focus youth, women, community and faith leaders, as well as victims of violent extremism.

  • Expanding support for research and learning efforts around the overall trends of violent extremism and on its local drivers of recruitment and radicalization.

Moving forward, CVE efforts will be coordinated within State by the newly-renamed Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and within USAID by a new CVE Secretariat. A working group including representatives of State, USAID, and interagency stakeholders will coordinate implementation of the strategy by agreeing on focus regions and countries, encouraging the development of integrated CVE plans, and routinely assessing progress and resource allocations. The working group will review and adjust the strategy every two years, as the tools and methods of violent extremism evolve.

Read the new Department of State & USAID Joint Strategyon Countering Violent Extremism.