Remarks
Daniel Benjamin
Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Washington, DC
July 24, 2012


Thank you, Alistair, for the kind introduction and for organizing this timely event. A big thank you for all that you and your Center have done over the last six or seven years to promote multilateral counterterrorism cooperation.

Last week’s horrific terrorist attack in Bulgaria, which killed a Bulgarian and five Israeli citizens, is just the most recent reminder of the global nature of the terrorist threat – no country is immune from it.

It also serves as another reminder that effective international cooperation, whether among police, policymakers, prosecutors, judges, border officials, or others, is essential both in responding to these attacks and preventing future ones.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to speak here today about some of the work that we have done at the State Department over the past three years to strengthen the international counterterrorism apparatus. This includes not only creating the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) but fine tuning the existing bodies. In both cases, among the key objectives has been to ensure the necessary international architecture is in place to allow us to pursue our long-term, civilian-focused counterterrorism objectives most effectively.

Secretary Clinton came into office with a strong conviction that we needed a more comprehensive counterterrorism policy and that there was an important diplomatic role to be played. She believed strongly that it was not just a question of taking out the terrorists who were threatening us at any given moment, but that over the long term, we also needed to diminish recruitment, which the terrorists of course rely upon, and help others to do a better job defending themselves against the threats within their borders and in their regions.

You’ve heard her speak at great length about smart power. We very much consider this to be a smart power approach. We could call it strategic counterterrorism. And its core elements involve countering violent extremism, undermining the ideology of al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and building the capacity of civilian and other rule of law institutions in countries so that they address threats within their own borders regions.

Doing so reduces the burden on American taxpayers; builds partnerships and enables countries to put in place and use rule of law institutions/framework to prevent and counter terrorism, thus reducing the likelihood of US intervention, which unfortunately has proven to be significant radicalizer, historically.

To make real progress in advancing this strategic agenda at the global level there was a strong sense that we needed the international community – in particular its CT policymakers and practitioners – to come together in a way that it had never done before to build counterterrorism capacities, to share expertise and good practices, and develop innovative solutions.

Over the years the UN had done a commendable job in elaborating a normative international counterterrorism framework and some of its secretariat bodies, in particular Mike Smith and his CTED colleagues, do excellent work with countries to advance its implementation on the ground. However, the tendency of the governmental bodies within the global organization to return to the sterile debate about who is a terrorist and the emphasis in New York on process and politics rather than action left us thinking that the UN was not the ideal venue to serve as the centerpiece for advancing our strategic counterterrorism priorities at a global level.

With the terrorist threat spreading to new regions, and in order to advance our long-term, strategic counterterrorism goals, we needed a multilateral forum that could bring together Western donors, Muslim majority partners and emerging powers; one that emphasized results over rhetoric. Our aim with the GCTF was to establish an apolitical, technical body, where CT policymakers and practitioners could come together to set priorities, mobilize resources and do the essential work of assisting our partners to become more capable.

The need for this body was all the more urgent because of the Arab Awakening. Suddenly, a key group of new governments wanted to get away from the repressive practices that drove radicalization for more than a generation. We didn’t want to miss this opportunity to help shape the future.

The 30- member Forum, which grew out of the G8’s Counterterrorism Action Group, was officially launched by Secretary Clinton and her Turkish counterpart last September on the margins of the UN General Assembly and held its second ministerial meeting last month in Istanbul. The continuing high-level political commitment from so many of its members is a demonstration that the Forum is an idea whose time has come.

In its short life, the Forum has already demonstrated the value of having a dedicated global venue to regularly convene CT policymakers and practitioners from around the world to address some of the critical counterterrorism challenges of today and tomorrow, including in its two areas of strategic priority: strengthening rule of law institutions so that countries are better able to address the security threats within their own borders and regions – while respecting human rights and reducing terrorist recruitment by countering the political, economic, and social drivers of violent extremism.

A quick run through the various cities in which the Forum has met since its September launch is just one indication of the breadth of countries that have stepped forward to support the GCTF mission -- Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Istanbul, London, Washington, Niamey, Madrid, Dar es Salaam, Rabat, Semarang, Rome, and The Hague. We expect this list to grow in the months ahead as other GCTF members and non-members step forward to host GCTF activities.

The GCTF has already established itself as an action-oriented organization – one that has surpassed expectations.

It has elaborated and endorsed rule of law-based CT good practices for criminal justice officials and for how to develop prison rehabilitation and reintegration programs for violent extremist offenders. It has raised more than $150 million for capacity-building projects to strengthen rule of law institutions, with a particular focus on countries transitioning away from emergency law as the basis for fighting terrorism. We are seeing an increasing number of GCTF members align their civilian CT capacity-building resources with GCTF thematic and geographic priorities.

Thanks to the GCTF, the first-ever, international rule of law training center will soon be established where the Arab Awakening begin – Tunisia – which will provide human rights-based CT training to criminal justice officials in countries in North Africa and the broader Middle East.

We recognize that this Institute will not be the first actor to engage in this region on these issues. However, while a number of bilateral and multilateral actors are delivering rule of law-related counterterrorism training in the Middle East and North Africa region, much of this is done as one-off workshops and/or on an ad hoc basis and is thus often not geared to the longer-term, sustainable training that could be delivered from and by the Institute.

This will complement the first-ever International Center of Excellence on Countering Violent Extremism, which the UAE agreed to host, with the support of the GCTF, and is set to open this fall. Its international experts, who will be drawn from governments, academia and NGOs around the world, will provide, long-term, sustainable training to government officials on how to develop programs and tools to counter violent extremism at home and abroad.

Much like the Tunisia center, this CVE center was inspired by and driven by the agenda of the GCTF. Also, much like the Tunisia center and the GCTF as a whole, the Abu Dhabi center will have a close partnership with the UN, including by offering a platform for relevant UN entities to deliver CVE training and host CVE workshops.

All of this is not only going to provide us a more dynamic, strategically and practically-oriented multilateral counterterrorism architecture, but it is going to pay real security dividends for the U.S. and its partners.

With the Forum soon entering its second year of existence, we are accurately aware that its impact should not be limited just to its members; maximizing its impact will require contributions from and developing partnerships with non-members and this includes states, multilateral bodies, and civil society.

The GCTF has already made important strides here. It has already developed a close working relationship with the United Nations, and regional bodies as it strives to promote the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. A wide range of UN entities have participated in GCTF activities and have contributed to the elaboration of GCTF good practices. We are also particularly pleased to see how the Forum has been able to mobilize additional resources for UN capacity-building projects in areas of strategic priority for both the Forum and the UN, some of which I am sure Mike will address in his remarks.

We have also seen key counterterrorism partners from the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Southeast Asia, countries who are not members of the Forum, participate in Forum activities. In fact, in May, Niger (a non-member) hosted a productive GCTF meeting that brought together border security experts from all Sahel countries and GCTF members to build working-level partnerships and identify how best to secure the borders in the region. We are committed to continue to find ways to involve non-member states in the work Forum and demonstrate that despite its limited membership the GCTF is truly committed to strengthening global civilian CT capacities and cooperation.

The Forum has also made progress in engaging with and involving regional and other international organizations. So far, experts from a diversity of regional bodies have participated in GCTF activities to learn how they can take best advantage of the expertise and resources that the GCTF can mobilize.

Before turning the floor over to Mike, I wanted to underscore that although our efforts with the GCTF may attract the most attention, we remain very active in a wide range of other multilateral fora, whether at the UN or at the regional level. Our efforts have focused on how we can leverage these organizations to increase the political will and the capacities of countries around the world to counter terrorism. Wherever appropriate, we have sought to work with partners to reorient the work of these bodies towards our strategic counterterrorism priorities.

For example, we are increasingly turning to the UN to deliver counterterrorism capacity-building assistance, including in politically sensitive regions such as South Asia, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, and on potentially sensitive topics. This recognizes not only the growing expertise that that the UN is developing, but that in many instances engagement under the UN flag is likely to be more productive, better received and far reaching than providing it bilaterally. We are particularly pleased with two innovative projects: one that will allow the UN for the first time to be able to deliver counterterrorism-related human rights training to law enforcement officials in key regions around the globe, and the other will allow the UN to work with prison officials to develop rule of law-based programs aimed at rehabilitating violent extremists. Both of these initiatives will pay particular attention to countries transitioning away from the use of repressive counterterrorism tactics and other front-line countries.

At the regional level, our efforts have traditionally focused on those bodies in which the U.S. is a member. Thus, for example, we spearheaded the creation of an APEC Consolidated Counter-Terrorism and Secure Trade Strategy, with the objective of making regional commerce and travel more secure, efficient, and resilient and will now work within APEC to bring together experts from a range of sectors, such as aviation, maritime, customs, and border protection to support its implementation. This complements the work we have done in recent years within APEC to build the capacity of our APEC partners to secure transportation and trade and counter terrorism financing, among others, This week in Manila, for example, we’re hosting a training workshop on Bus Security as it pertains to information sharing, capacity building, and public awareness. As we saw last week in Bulgaria, this is an area of critical importance.

At the OSCE, by applying its signature concept of comprehensive security and utilizing the multiple dimensions of the organization, we are seeking to expand CT cooperation and capacity-building with Central Asia and Afghanistan. This includes by helping to develop and fund projects to promote the rule of law and counter violent extremism and radicalization.

Finally, we continue to work closely with OAS/CICTE on strengthening CT cooperation and capacities in the Western Hemisphere and capacity building and provide funds for workshops on a diverse range of subjects to strengthen the capacity of our partners in the region, to include, cyber security, aviation security, travel document security, and bulk cash smuggling.

By working through regional organizations such as the OAS, we’ve built security partnerships that would not exist otherwise. For example, we expect the US-funded, OAS-delivered bulk cash smuggling training to result in a joint interdiction operation for the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay and, if successful, it could be considered an international breakthrough on international cooperation against bulk currency smuggling as a means to launder money and finance terrorism.

There is obviously a great deal more that could be said about our efforts to strengthen the international counterterrorism architecture… as I have just skimmed the surface of what we are doing to implement a central pillar of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Strategy.

I look forward to your questions.