Countering Terrorism: Roots, Impacts and Responses

“Like their licit counterparts in society and industry, terrorist groups are benefitting from globalization by diversifying their sources of funding, decentralizing their organizations and communicating via new technologies,” said IPI Senior Policy Analyst Naureen Chowdhury Fink during a briefing to NGOs at the UN on counterterrorism. “So, today the UN confronts transnational terrorism, one perpetrated by non-state actors that have fostered what Peter Bergen has called the “privatization of terrorism.”

Ms. Fink said that, in response to this, the UN has developed a dense institutional architecture to counter terrorism that utilizes a broad range of UN agencies, and that non-governmental actors played an important role: First, by providing vital knowledge and inputs into the decision-making process at the UN and in capitals; second, by raising awareness of the UN and its tools among local practitioners and communities; and third, by monitoring the impact of the states’ counterterrorism efforts and serving as a watchdog to ensure human rights are not infringed. But most importantly, Ms. Fink said, they help to counter a violent narrative that sees some human lives as superior to others, or worse, expendable in the pursuit of a cause, no matter what the justification.

The April 7th briefing, titled “Countering Terrorism: Roots, Impacts and Responses,” was intended to provide an overview of the role played by the UN in addressing global terrorism. Panelists included Hardeep Singh Puri, Permanent Representative of India to the UN and Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) of the Security Council, and Syed Haider Shah, the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).

Choosing to speak in his capacity as India’s Permanent Representative, rather than Chair of the CTC, Ambassador Puri reminded the audience that India suffered one of the highest incidences of terrorism. He reiterated that, while there are no excuses or justifications for terrorism, poverty and political grievances could provide enabling environments for it. Saying that “no religion provides a sanction for the use of violence,” Ambassador Puri expressed concerns that certain religious groups had been vilified after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Acknowledging the advances made by the UN to address this threat, he argued that the response has been insufficient, and urged the adoption of a global compact so that states might provide a more unified front in the face of terrorism.

Syed Haider Shah explained that CTED provides a normative response to terrorism, through public awareness, the promotion of an international legal framework, and dialogue. He explained that by sharing best practices, and through practical responses such as identifying gaps, providing technical assistance and capacity building, the Counter Terrorism Committee is making strides in addressing the obstacles faced by states in their counterterrorism policies.

The final question-and-answer period highlighted the emotive nature of the discussion of terrorism. The panelists addressed questions by participants relating to the definition of terrorism, the designation of a terrorist and the prospects for an international consensus on a definition. Other topics discussed were the role of UN interventions abroad; the importance of human rights in counter-terrorism efforts; the impact of gender mainstreaming on terrorism and violent extremism; and poverty as a root cause of terrorism.

Read more on IPI’s work on terrorism