A Better Way to Counter Violent Extremism

Why Business as Usual Won't Work

A member of Iraq's counterterrorism forces in Falluja, June 2016. Thaier Al-Sudani / REUTERS

There is something of a paradox emerging around global efforts to counter violent extremism. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Aden, Baghdad, Dhaka, Istanbul, Kabul, Nice, Orlando, and elsewhere, public awareness of the problem and the need to address it has never been greater. The White House’s CVE summit in 2015 and the meetings that followed it, along with the January 2016 publication of the UN Secretary General’s Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism, have helped build high-level support for a response involving governments, the private sector, and civil-society organizations. Countries from Finland and Kenya to Canada and Nigeria are heeding the call put forth in that document, developing their own national plans to steer their populations away from violent extremism. And in May, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released their first-ever joint strategy for international CVE, which encourages the use of traditional development tools to help communities identify the early signs of radicalization and intervene before violence breaks out. 

Even as states and international organizations are beginning to turn their attention to preventing violent extremism, however, funding and organizational weaknesses are limiting their progress. Reliable funding for CVE programs is hard to come by, and donors have generally failed to coordinate their contributions and embrace the experimentation that experts argue is essential to reaping the full benefits of CVE programs. The result is that the world’s increased attention to violent extremism has not produced CVE programs that are as effective as they should be. These problems have some clear solutions, and donors should embrace them quickly.


The most immediate difficulty confronting CVE programs is a lack of funding. That problem is most acute in a number of countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia—precisely those regions that are most affected by violent extremism—and it is restricting the ability of communities in those areas to take action against extremism on their

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