Introducing the Counterterrorism Yearbook 2017
21 Mar 2017|

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Countries, coalitions, organisations and communities across the world put enormous effort into countering terrorism. Much of that work is done out of the spotlight, in legislatures, police forces, policy departments, security agencies, social services, academia and community groups. Almost all of the vast global activity undertaken to counter terrorism is done without the headlines that accompany terrorist attacks. ASPI’s new Counterterrorism Yearbook series contributes to redressing the balance. Through this first Counterterrorism Yearbook, in what will be an annual publication, we aim to promote that understanding and contribute to shared knowledge of CT.

Sharing knowledge about what others have done, including what does and doesn’t work, is one of the most important aspects of counterterrorism. While working level intentions are often good, differences in politics, culture, law, language and variations in the security environment across the globe make it challenging to translate the experiences of others into relevant lessons for our own situation.

The Yearbook is arranged by country and region, looking at areas around the world where terrorism and CT are in greatest focus. Each chapter examines CT developments in 2016, including the nature of the terrorist threat being faced and how governments and others have approached CT through both policy and operations. Highlights of many chapters will be published in a series on The Strategist.

What emerges is a story of a CT world in three parts. At one extreme is the Middle East and North Africa: the epicentre of Islamist terrorism. CT in that region is about the immediacy of fighting wars and insurgencies. But the battlegrounds feature a complex array of players and histories of political instability, social divisions, criminality and corruption. The problems facing those countries go beyond the remit of CT alone, and will endure beyond the current battles with terrorism.

Western countries provide the counterpoint. While the world was shocked by terrorist attacks and plots in Europe, North America and Australia in 2015 and 2016, there are few instances of actual terrorist violence  compared to to other regions. Western countries also have strong political, legal and social institutions enabling a complex and considered array of activities to address terrorism at home and abroad, as well as to build collaborative arrangements and resilience. While the threat remained high in in those countries in 2016, so did the level of CT activity.

The third area encompasses a range of experiences, from those such as Indonesia which had turned the tide against homegrown terrorism and continued to build effective governance, but which is facing a renewed threat; and those across Asia, Africa and the Middle East who are dealing with longstanding and complex disputes complicated by allegiances to external terrorist groups, or opposition elements being labelled as terrorists. Others, such as some of the Gulf states, are affected by proximity to terrorist violence in neighbouring countries, and may be contributing to CT operations at the same time as their nationals or governments are supporting some of those considered to be terrorists.

At the core of the CT story for 2016 is the fundamental challenge of security: how to protect society from terrorist violence while maintaining other human rights.

Countries and their communities are taking various approaches to resolving that challenge. Many states see the protection of fundamental liberties as the core aim of CT. At the same time, CT practitioners will advise their governments to change laws, take additional security measures, and conduct operations to make the environment harder for terrorists, and also ensure that terrorists are held to account. The net result of those additional measures can, however, be restrictions on the very liberty that the terrorists are aiming to undermine. That conundrum led to substantial debate in many countries and globally in 2016, and we expect that debate to continue as long as the challenge of terrorism remains.

In his preface to the Yearbook, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former President of Indonesia, identifies four key areas of focus for CT. The first is to keep the fight against terrorism away from politics as best as possible. When counterterrorism activities become subject to politics, matters become disoriented in a way that ultimately benefits only the terrorists. A quiet, focused, sustained and professional approach is the best way to fight terrorism. Second is the imperative to engage in international cooperation for the very practical reason that terrorist operations are mainly transnational. Third is the need to shore up public support and to maintain religious moderation: a resilient society, thriving religious tolerance and a strong civil society is the best antidote to terrorism. Fourth is the need to constantly adapt.

As Dr Yudhoyono concludes, the Yearbook aims to help practitioners and the community alike understand the nature of those challenges and what’s being done globally to make the world safer. As he states, ‘In a security environment that appears sometimes dominated by the threat of terrorism, let us focus on and learn from the many and varied efforts being undertaken to counter this insidious threat.’