The spread of violent extremism is a matter of acute concern to the international community. For example, an estimated 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), drawn from over 100 States, have elected to travel to such destinations as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen to join the ranks of terrorist groups engaged in conflict in those countries. At some point, many of the FTFs will return to their countries of origin, or travel to other potential conflict zones, bringing with them the tactical knowledge and ideological views they have gained when they do (General Assembly report A/70/674, para. 3).
The international community - at the national, regional and international levels - is grappling to better comprehend the phenomenon so that it can respond more effectively to it. It raises significant issues of international peace and security falling within the remit of the United Nations, including within the parameters of the Security Council's Chapter VII powers in this regard. For example, the mass migration of millions of people fleeing territory under the control of violent extremist and terrorist groups has caused significant regional instability (General Assembly report A/70/674, para. 2). Furthermore, it threatens to undermine other priority global efforts such as the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (General Assembly report A/70/674, para. 16). As the United Nations Secretary-General observed in the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (VE Action Plan) (report A/70/674, para. 16) - examined in some detail in this Module - at the time that the SDGs were adopted:
Member States warned that violent extremism threatens to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades. By exploiting development challenges, such as inequalities, poverty and poor governance, violent extremism further exacerbates these grievances and thereby creates a vicious cycle of decline which affects marginalized groups in particular.
Consistent with the approach adopted in other Modules, this Module is framed around the United Nations CT Strategy, specifically here around Pillar I and Pillar IV goals, frameworks and initiatives. A central part of the discussion is around the E Action Plan - both its identified primary drivers of violent extremism as well as suggested responses to them - since this informs the realization of CT Strategy goals in relation to violent extremism. As the Action Plan acknowledges:
There is a need to take a more comprehensive approach which encompasses not only ongoing, essential security-based counter-terrorism measures, but also systematic preventive measures which directly address the drivers of violent extremism that have given rise to the emergence of these new and more virulent groups. (Para. 6).
In addition, a number of regional PVE/CVE efforts are considered.
The first issue to consider is that of terminology, especially since the incorrect use of language can in and of itself further fuel violent extremism or, at least, hinder efforts to counter it. As will be seen, there can be a lack of understanding and/or many controversies surrounding the meaning of key concepts. Nor is there one consistent approach or universally agreed terminology at the governmental, regional or multilateral levels or within civil society, including in terms of legal and institutional tools and frameworks developed for PVE/CVE purposes.
The sub-pages to this section provide a descriptive overview of the key issues that lecturers might want to cover with their students when teaching on this topic.