As with the concept of 'violent extremism', there is no universal consensus regarding what exactly constitutes 'preventing' or 'countering violent extremism' (PVE/CVE) nor what forms these should take (McCants and Watts, 2012).
The key elements of CVE tend to comprise the "use of non-coercive means to dissuade individuals or groups from mobilizing towards violence and to mitigate recruitment, support, facilitation or engagement in ideologically motivated terrorism by non-state actors in furtherance of political objectives" (Khan, 2015). As one commentator, Peter Neumann, has observed, the scope of CVE and its related activities are "potentially unlimited". These may include the pursuit of wide ranging activities by governments and others entities to prevent radicalization, which generally includes messaging through diverse more conventional as well as social media channels; community engagement and outreach through all available means, such as roundtable or advisory council discussions; capacity-building, especially among the youth and women together with other community development, safety and protection initiatives; education and training for a broad range of stakeholders, including community leaders and law enforcement officials (Neumann, 2011, p. 18).
The absence of universally agreed definitions of 'violent extremism' and 'CVE' have at times been problematic, including in terms of ensuring consistency and coherence in related strategies, policies, practices and so forth. With respect to the former, the previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism concluded that "the lack of semantic and conceptual clarity that surrounds violent extremism remains an obstacle to any in-depth examination of the impact of strategies and policies to counter violent extremism on human rights as well as on their effectiveness in reducing the threat of terrorism" (General Assembly, Human Rights Council report A/HRC/31/65, para. 55).
The absence of agreed definitions of key terms has resulted in "conflicting or counterproductive programs" that are more difficult to evaluate (McCants and Watts, 2012, p. 1). A particular issue has been that without universal agreement on the parameters of CVE, there is the risk of it evolving into a "catchall category that lacks precision and focus; reflects problematic assumptions about the conditions that promote violent extremism; and [is not] ... able to draw clear boundaries that distinguish CVE programs from those of other, well-established fields, such as development and poverty alleviation, governance and democratization, and education" (Heydemann, 2014, pp. 1-4).
Adding a further layer of definitional complexity has been the emergence of the term 'preventing violent extremism' (PVE), a concept which has quickly "become a priority for the global community" (Frank and Reva, 2016, p. 2). The United Nations General Assembly, for instance, in 2015 underlined the significance of PVE, noting the importance of education and the promotion of tolerance through the instillation of a "respect for life", and through the promotion of a "practice of non-violence, moderation, dialogue and cooperation" (resolution 70/109). Shortly thereafter, the Secretary-General presented the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (VE Action Plan) to the General Assembly for its deliberations, which the Assembly subsequently recommended to Member States to reflect within their national contexts as part of its biennial review of the CT Strategy (resolution 70/291, para. 40). Within the Plan of Action, the Secretary-General indicated that there is a "need to take a more comprehensive approach which encompasses not only ongoing, essential security-based counter-terrorism measures, but also systematic preventative measures which directly address the drivers of violent extremism" (General Assembly report A/70/674, para. 6). In responding to the primary identified drivers (see below), States should undertake action which addresses "development, good governance, human rights and humanitarian concerns", whilst also strengthening "the rule of law, repealing discriminatory legislation and implementing policies and laws that combat discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion" (General Assembly report A/70/674, para. 41).
It would appear that PVE requires a State to undertake a deeper assessment of the root causes of violent extremism, addressing its key drivers, i.e. to adopt a more 'upstream' approach. That said, the VE Action Plan does note that "national plans should be developed … to include countering and preventing violent extremism measures", thereby suggesting a distinction between the two concepts. (report A/70/674, para. 44). Similarly, this is suggested by the Action Plan's "call for a comprehensive approach encompassing not only essential security-based counter-terrorism measures but also systematic preventive steps (PVE) to address the factors that make individuals join violent extremist groups" (CTITF, 2016).
Real life example
A community organization's project gave youth from a disadvantaged area the opportunity to undertake a free 12-week course. As part of this course it brought youth who in normal circumstances would not mix together and developed soft skills such as communication and anger management. It also gave the youth training and qualifications in IT and cyber security, raising their job prospects.
As such, efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism within the United Nations system are now framed round the overarching concept of 'PVE', which incorporates 'countering' elements. That said, the terminology of 'CVE' is still common within United Nations outputs, especially those published prior to the adoption of the VE Action Plan in 2015, and similarly includes a 'preventing' element.