As the international community struggles to respond to the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria, the White House hosted a three day Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Bringing together national and community leaders from 60 countries as well as civil society groups, the summit aims to develop new tools and political will to combat the violence that is quickly reaching every region in the world.
Yesterday U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the summit, calling for a united front in combating terrorism. “Addressing this profound challenge in a manner that solves — rather than multiplies — the problem may be the greatest test our human family faces in the 21st century,” Ban told the audience. “Let there be no doubt: the emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups including Daesh [ISIS] and Boko Haram is a grave threat to international peace and security.”
Much of the conversation around combating terrorism has focused on military options, including bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, a regional task force to combat Boko Haram in West Africa and the possibility of another armed intervention in Libya. But the summit isn’t about debating new military options but rather addressing the core issues driving such insurgencies. From poverty to corruption, there are key elements that fuel the outrage that leads to violent action. Breaking these cycles is key to combating terrorism but is all too often left out of discussions on how to respond to acts of terrorism.
It was these elements that Ban focused on in his address. “Missiles may kill terrorists,” Ban said, “but good governance kills terrorism. We must remember that.” By combating corruption, lack of opportunity and civil grievances, the appeal of terrorist groups lessen for those most vulnerable to their pull.
It is worth noting that the approaches advanced by Ban are proactive rather than reactive. It takes time and real political commitment to build strong institutions resilient to violent extremism. Economic opportunity also takes time and the willingness of elites to share in wealth and possibility. While none of these approaches are quick fixes, they do build the foundation for politically stable and peaceful society. Although most discussions will likely continue to focus on military options, it is important that these non-military approaches are also promoted and acted upon.
This week’s summit is just one recent event geared towards combating the rise of terrorist groups. In September, President Obama presided over a high profile Security Council summit that saw the passage of Resolution 2178 aimed at reducing the number of fighters joining the ranks of extremist groups. Ban also announced his intention to convene a special event with faith leaders from around the world to support religious tolerance and solidarity. As groups like ISIS and Boko Haram grow stronger, so does the international momentum to take them on.