Thoughts on CVE and Foreign Aid

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Image: Devex 

Foreign aid has undergone several shifts in recent years. As someone involved with the development sector in Pakistan and Indonesia for the past decade, I have noticed the gradual ‘securitisation’ of development programs. Although governments have always used international aid and development to further their state’s interests in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the presence of security language and programing in international aid (in particular – countering violent extremism – CVE) is changing the development landscape.

As new forms of internationalised violence emerge, there has indeed been a justified need for greater focus on security threats within foreign aid. The need to address the emergence of violent extremism has seen the blurring of the worlds of international development and international security, as international aid programs increasingly look to address development and security at the same time. This will change the international development sector and will result in greater collaboration between security and development specialists.

But CVE remains a controversial field.

Two problems recur in the literature on CVE: First, there is some literature that suggests CVE policy “struggles in its efforts to explain terrorism or to provide findings of genuine … value.”[1] Second, there is a lack of empirical evidence that CVE has worked and, of more concern, there is some evidence that in some cases it has actually caused harm.

Due to its relative infancy, CVE in foreign aid is an understudied field. To some extent, this helps explain the lack of data.

On March 1 2017, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a new framework, Development Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism: Policy Framework and Guidance Note, to “guide the delivery of development assistance to counter violent extremism in developing countries, bolstering existing Australian Government efforts.” It acknowledges that there is no agreed international definition of what violent extremism is, and that it is “a complex phenomenon,” the form of which differs “across and within countries.”

There have been a range of successful CVE initiatives in Pakistan, however ‘violent extremism’ in the country continues to surge. Furthermore, when CVE is approached as an adjunct to CT activity, there is the issue of state security forces using inappropriate force in response to terrorism and security threats. On the one hand, CVE is promoted to reduce conflict and insurgency in conflict affected, non Western societies; on the other hand, security forces in these societies have been known to use CT as a method of suppressing opposition. In the context of Pakistan, CVE has been flouted as a method which the society could “overcome the challenge of growing extremism, [with programs that] comprise of individual- focused de-radicalisation, and environment-focused counter-radicalisation strategies.”[4] But how can we decide which communities to to target, and how effective can such programs be when it is already widely acknowledged that CVE is a clumsy and contradictory field? Even if the research community could agree on what a successful CVE program looks like — and more research needs to be done in this area — there is a real concern that the CVE is being promoted as too broad a CT activity without there being any clear evidence of its efficacy. Furthermore, when there is a change of government, what will happen to these initiatives? For there to be any long-term measurable impact there needs to be continuity. This has been a problem for the Australian Government in recent years. As Terrence Wood et al point out, post-2013 changes to Australian aid having “wide-ranginimpacts and have led to deteriorating overall aid quality” so far.[5] 

It is too early to make definitive comments about the direction of the aid program. However it appears that in substantive terms, aid is being framed as security risk management, yet the aid budget continues to decrease.[6] It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next five years.

 

[1] Andrew Silke, “The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (2001), pp. 13.

 

[2] Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia: Need for a Rethink, 30 June 2014 IPAC Report No.11, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Abdul Basit, Countering Violent Extremism: Evaluating Pakistan’s Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization Initiatives, IPRI Journal XV, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 44-68, 44.

[5] Gauging Change in Australian Aid http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/app5.173/epdf

[6] Varghese, P (2016) 2016 Australasian AiConference Speech. viewed 19/11/201<http://dfat.gov.au/news/speeches/Pages/2016-australasian-aid-conference.aspx>

How effective are Australian strategies to counter violent extremism?

Published 20 May, 8:35am 2015 by The Lowy Institute for International Policy 

Gallipoli Mosque, Sydney (image Flickr)

The Australian Government has just announced that more than $22 million will be spent on battling the radicalisation of young Muslims in Australia. But just how effective are these counter-terrorism programs?

Critics of the Federal Government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy have highlighted problems that have emerged after nine years of CVE community engagement and intervention. One concern is that CVE policies have the potential to divide Muslim communities because they embrace questionable notions of what it means to be ‘moderate’ or a ‘radical’, preferencing and seeking to ‘deputise‘ the former in order to keep the latter in check.
Community critics of the CVE strategy also emphasise that law enforcement leadership of CVE outreach programs is problematic, firstly because it indicates that the Government has ‘securitised’ the Muslim community, and secondly because such outreach strategies have the tendency to be experienced as an extra layer of unwanted scrutiny on a community of predominantly law-abiding citizens. These issues have the potential to erode trustbetween law enforcement and Muslim communities. Because positive relations between communities and law enforcement are so central public safety, the Government has an interest in carefully measuring the impact of its CVE activities on its target communities.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been at the forefront of proactive community engagement responses to CVE since establishing its Islamic Liaison Team in 2007. The team also assisted in contributing to national policy initiatives as part of the Federal Government’s national CVE strategy. The philosophy behind the AFP’s initiative reflected CVE trends emerging at that time. The terrorist threat, it was argued, could be reduced by building‘positive, trusting and cohesive relationships with the community, (which) over time will help increase (the community’s) resilience to extremist behaviours by creating greater levels of social cohesion.’ Within this strategy, ‘at-risk’ groups could be targeted with engagement programs to ‘promote social inclusion.’

But some members of the community argue that this kind of policy has a tendency to reinforce the notion ‘that the entire Muslim community is to blame for its few bad apples.’ As a result, the current CVE model of engagement has begun to be viewed with suspicion by the community, with some leaders calling on the community to boycottparticipation in AFP initiatives such as the Iftar dinner and Eid festivals. But, in the words of one AFP officer, the AFP are ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ continue such programs. The AFP executive is convinced that community engagement is central to CVE, and parts of the Muslim community also expect that the Government will help them to provide ‘social support’ to their young people to prevent them from radicalising, despite others in the community criticising such programs.

Beside the potential to alienate the Muslim community, the effectiveness of CVE community engagement measures as a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy has not been properly measured. As Prof Basia Spalek points out, ‘there has been little empirical investigation of community-based approaches within a CT context…As a result, there is little empirical understanding of…whether (these types of policies) may clash and serve to undermine each other.’.

The perception from some in the Muslim community that the Government’s counter-terrorism approach treats Muslim communities not as partners but as ‘suspect’ presents significant challenges, especially because of the potential this uninvited scrutiny has to create another level of alienation in young people. The latest policy announcement, which devotes $22 million to the Muslim community’s presumed social disadvantage by helping new Muslim migrants find education and employment, also ignores the reality that the causal link between socio-economic troubles and radicalisation is tenuous.

There is much international literature detailing the importance of reducing risks of alienation and radicalisation through redressing policies seen as racially or religiously targeting one community. Studies have come from the US,UK as well as Australia. Yet the focus on the Muslim community by CVE strategies helps perpetuate ‘essentialist stereotypes of terrorists as religious Muslims,’ and leave the community feeling over-scrutinised.

The prime directive of CVE policy is ‘first, to do no harm’. To date, there is little evidence that Australian CVE policy has been informed by this directive. Nor is there an indication our policy-makers have assessed the effectiveness of the CVE programs that have been in operation for the past nine years. The Australian Government needs to take onlessons from US and the UK which show that, in order to reduce the terrorist threat, we need counter-terrorism policies that don’t alienate those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, publishing daily commentary and analysis on international events.