Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why the UN Matters for the US Fight Against Terrorism

                              by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

Last Friday, UNA-NCA Fellows discussed the role of the UN in the fight against terrorism and the related presidential orders with Eric Rosand, Director of “The Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism.”

We could not have picked a more timely topic. Only a few days prior, President Trump issued an executive order that proposed a 40% decrease in US funding of the UN and its key agencies. This decision severely undermines the value of the UN for the US and will affect its work in the sphere of counter-terrorism. The U.S. has turned to the UN in the aftermath of terrorist attacks going all the way back to the attacks at the Munich Olympics in 1972. In 1999 the U.S. led the charge in the Security Council to impose sanctions against al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, and the Taliban. In response to the 9/11 attacks, the US drafted Resolution 1373, which imposed a series of legal obligations on all UN member states to take actions to counter terrorism. In 2006, the General Assembly adopted the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, whereby for  the first time, all Member States agreed to a common strategic approach to address terrorism that look at not just security measures, but at addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and ensuring that all counter-terrorism measures respect human rights. Under US leadership, the fight against terrorism became a truly global effort pursued by countries all across the world.

Eric Rosand, the Director of the Prevention Project and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, identifies several areas where the UN is a critical partner for the US in its effort to build and sustain global counter-terrorism efforts. First of all, the UN provides a universal framework to fight terrorism that has international legitimacy. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy pressed many countries to adopt domestic laws aimed at criminalizing terrorism, strengthening national borders, combating terrorist activities, and addressing conditions conducive to the rise of extremism. Second, even skeptics cannot deny the role of the UN in imposing globalized sanctions against terrorist organizations and their affiliates, such as travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes. Third, the UN played a crucial role in building the capacity of countries to prevent and combat terrorism. According to Rosand’s recent article in Foreign Affairs, the UN delivered more than 14,000 counter-terrorism trainings to law enforcement authorities in over 100 countries. Finally, cooperation between the US and other countries allows them to share costs of counter-terrorism operations, increase their scale and scope, and reduce their critical timescales.

Our discussion raised very important questions about the potential impact of recent Trump Administration Executive Orders on the UN’s work, including as it relates to counter-terrorism.  Rosand indicated that the UN is more effective when the policies of all major member states reinforce or complement, rather than seek to undermine or contradict, multilateral polices. Over the last 15 years, the UN has served as a useful channel for the US to promote a more strategic approach to the threat of terrorism and support collective action among a range of member states. In Rosand’s words, “it is the United States that is driving the [UN] train on the issue of counter-terrorism and the Trump administration will quickly realize that there are certain things that the UN is indispensable for in this field.” Instead of undermining the organizational capacity of the UN, it is more beneficial for US leadership to focus on the global organization’s strengths and unique features that make it possible to elevate counter-terrorism as a policy priority on the global agenda. The UN deserves credit for promoting coordination and coherence in the multilateral fight against terrorism. In this regard, the Trump administration should revise its finding decision because the UN represents a potential force leading to synergies that the US would not be able to achieve independently.