Perhaps the State Department’s public proclamation last year that terrorists need jobs (thanks Marie Harf) wasn’t so far off the mark, after all.
U2’s front-man Bono was on Capitol Hill Tuesday testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee (Washington’s establishment to end all establishments) about violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance, along with General Jim Jones, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State; a power-player trio of note.
The foremost agenda item was the unpalatable yet highly pragmatic idea that national security in the 21st century requires a revamped and multi-faceted approach (at least from Europe and the United States). This approach must include all the traditional elements of national power (diplomatic, economic, military, informational, etc.) as well as some new foreign policymaking tools like the application of smartly tailored foreign aid that is designed and implemented in accordance with specific, achievable goals.
The United States and its European allies need to start viewing foreign assistance to some messy and unsavory regions of the world as investments in our collective future, rather than charity; we’re paying money now so that we don’t have to pay with blood and treasure later. On no other issue does foreign assistance have such obvious potential to pay big dividends than on the fight against violent extremism (a.k.a. terrorism).
Bono and General Jones talked at length about the siren-song-effect radical ideology currently enjoys across large swathes of the Middle East, and the potential for it to spill over into the western world and beyond if left unchecked by the remaining world powers. If you think ISIS’s metastasis across Iraq and Syria (and Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan) is bad, along with the ensuing domino-like collapse of Middle Eastern states and the resulting international refugee crisis, just wait until you see what’s coming next out of Africa.
Thanks to organizations like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, radical Islamic ideology is enjoying unprecedented popularity across the African continent, which is roughly the size of Europe and the U.S. combined and within a decade will have more than double their combined population.
What will happen to African nations once they’re saturated with hybrid, like-minded terrorist groups whose primary goals are the destruction of the U.S. and the West? We shouldn’t wait to find out (General Jones has referred to the proliferation of terrorism across the Middle East and its attendant consequences as “the tidal wave that precedes a tsunami” – the tsunami in this analogy being terrorism in Africa). We need only look to Boko Haram for a feasibility indicator here, a group that has in the recent past murdered more civilians in a single day than ISIS has in totality since their emergence on the scene last year.
The Bono-Jones solution to all this? It’s development assistance to Africa, stupid. The global community needs to invest (more and now) in the resources that will enable Africa’s people to live productive, meaningful and sustainable lives; we need to invest in their education, public health and disease control, and political participation because, as the refugee crisis has demonstrated, their problems will eventually become ours. If we want to dissuade them from joining the ranks of ISIS and other terrorist groups, which the vast majority of them do for mercenary reasons just as often as ideological ones, then it will fall to us to present them with other options.
Sounds awfully expensive, you say? Well, prevention now is a lot cheaper than cleaning up the mess five or ten years from now.
We need to offer Africans the alternatives to terrorist recruitment that their own governments cannot. This includes, yes, jobs. Sounds an awful lot like nation-building (the most abhorred verb in the Washington vernacular) you say? Well, if we invest in vulnerable populations today, help them to build their own nations through security, development, and good governance initiatives, perhaps we can prevent the devastating crush of a tsunami that spills onto our own shores tomorrow (this isn’t wishful thinking, but logic).
We can avert a refugee crisis that is truly global in scale and knows no regional bounds; a humanitarian disaster that impacts each and every country in the international community and is truly unfixable; and the spread of radical ideology and its ugly step-sister jihad across the entire world.
The most effective way to protect our national security interests in the medium- to long-term is to strategically shape the future of the international community (we’re looking at you, Africa).
Sounds awfully smart to me.
Gillian Turner worked at the White House National Security Council during the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She currently is a Senior Associate with Jones Group International (JGI), a global strategy firm, where she works directly with former National Security Adviser Jim Jones.