The need for alliances and capacity building in counterterrorism

By Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip

The Podcast ‘Middle East Focus’ recently treated the subject ‘Counterterrorism under the Biden Administration’ and welcomed two guests: The first: Matthew Levitt, Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Jeanette and Eli Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an adjunct professor in Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. The second: Douglas London, Non-Resident Scholar at The Middle East Institute and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.
Levitt pointed out that the challenges in counterterrorism have become “more diffuse.” Lately, there has been much talk about domestic terrorism, besides international terrorism. The number of those radicalized has risen, and has broadened. While tactics against the surge have been carried out well, there is a lack of strategic thinking and putting things in perspective. Douglas London added that the threat is asymmetrical.

Addressing fragility

“Alliances are critical”, explained Levitt. While the Trump administration struck bilateral deals, borderless terrorisms call for multilateralism, “collective action” and inter-agency cooperation. Besides preventing violent extremism, one has to address fragility and work towards diplomatic solutions as well as international development cooperation. London also mentioned leadership and the need for successful backchannel communication. In order to disrupt and deter, one has to lead a partnership-enabled model on the basis of evidence, and with a more effective toolset. For instance, Levitt said, worldwide financial transactions, including of cryptocurrencies as part of “counter-financing,” should be tracked more successfully.

Prediction requires better judgement

However, “intelligence is not a crystal ball,” according to Levitt. “When intelligence is … incomplete,” it can be conspicuous, which requires investing in better indicators in forecasting. While more and more data is collected, this requires better judgement. For formal reasons, counterterrorism resources need to be better allocated. This might be brought about by enabling international partners. On the other hand, partners sometimes lack with regard to “human rights and democracy,” which renders confidence-building more complicated. In sum, Levitt said, binary thinking is not helpful. Rather, one has to see operations as an “ongoing effort.” One also has to build resilience despite the fact that one often deals with an emotional, hardly rational conversation in counterterrorism.

In closing, London stressed the importance of addressing grievances and victimization holistically. This requires using both soft and hard power in a fractured worldwide environment.

Listen to the podcast at:
Counter-terrorism under the Biden administration | Middle East Institute (mei.edu)

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