Interview With Eric Rosand

Eric Rosand, Senior Advisor on Multilateral Engagement, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Department of State, talked with IPI’s Ann Wright on July 19th about US multilateral counterterrorism activities.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript:

Ann Wright (AW): Mr. Rosand, thank you for joining us today. The White House has released its National Counterterrorism Strategy, which mentions the benefits of strengthening multilateral efforts to combat terrorism. Can you give us an idea of how the Administration has worked towards strengthening multilateral counterterrorism efforts?

Eric Rosand (ER): Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk to you about the United States multilateral counterterrorism activities.

In the National Strategy we do emphasize the importance of strengthening not only existing multilateral efforts, but broadening and deepening the multilateral counterterrorism architecture as well. We are doing this in a variety of ways. At the UN we have worked in the Security Council and the General Assembly to promote a whole-of-government approach that is embodied in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. We have encouraged and gotten the Security Council to adopt resolution 1963 in January 2011 that essentially mirrors the General Assembly’s broad based approach. We are, more than ever, providing resources to a range of UN actors to deliver capacity-building assistance on the ground, be it at a regional level in places like the Sahel or the Horn of Africa, or, thematically, working with prosecutors from around the world. And we are increasingly finding the UN–multiple bodies of the UN¬–increasingly capable of engaging with countries where it might be more difficult for the US to engage with bilaterally. The legitimacy and political neutrality that the UN often has is a significant benefit for us.

And at the regional level, whether it is the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), the Organization of American States, or the African Union where we are supporting counterterrorism activities, we are increasingly seeking to promote regional efforts, strengthening regional capacity-building mechanisms. We are chairing the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Counter-Terrorism Task Force this year and next year and we are trying to energize that work.

In particular, we are focused on ensuring that the priorities of these multilateral CT bodies are in sync, to the extent possible, with our bilateral priorities, so that there are increased synergies between the bilateral work and the multilateral work. So whether it is addressing the issue of victims of terrorism, whether it is rule of law capacity-building, whether it is countering violent extremism, more and more we are seeing the bilateral and the multilateral merging and reinforcing each other, which had been one of the shortcomings of the first eight or nine years after 9/11 in terms of the development of the multilateral system on CT–which had been a bit apart from the bilateral work¬– and we are trying to reduce the gap there.

AW: You mentioned bilateral partnerships. How much has protecting human rights, a core tenet of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, factored into the counterterrorism policy of the United States, particularly with respect to partnerships with regimes that have been criticized for their human rights records?

ER: Well, as the new US National Counterterrorism Strategy makes clear, protecting and promoting human rights and respecting fundamental freedoms is a core part of this Administration’s approach, and we recognize more than ever that human rights violations can have a radicalizing influence on local populations and can contribute to recruitment to terrorist groups, and so we have put human rights issues front and center in our counterterrorism policy. In our bilateral relationships we are increasingly making that point and the UN Strategy, which all countries have signed on to, is a very helpful tool to use to support that approach.

The challenge, of course, is how to operationalize the rhetoric and the words in the [UN Counter-Terrorism] Strategy and how to work with countries to ensure that their counterterrorism approach is, in fact, respecting human rights. We think that supporting rule of law development, supporting the development of criminal justice institutions, and making that a core tenet of our counterterrorism policy in and of itself will further the human rights objectives of our broader policy.

AW: Finally, with the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaching, what is your assessment of the UN’s counterterrorism efforts to date, since the counterterrorism architecture has expanded significantly since the attacks, and in what area in particular would like to see improvement?

ER: From the very beginning, the UN has been at the center of the global response to the post-9/11 terrorism environment. It is remarkable when you put it in the context of the UN writ large how much innovation and architectural development has occurred in the counterterrorism space at the UN, whether it is the creation of the Counter-Terrorism Committee by the Security Council; the adoption of resolution 1373 that set the post-9/11 normative framework for the UN in terms of requiring all countries to strengthen laws, tighten borders, and cooperate more with each other on terrorism issues (the Committee obviously monitors the implementation of that); the Al-Qaida-Taliban sanctions regime has been updated since 9/11 to have a tighter regime, more focused regime, and effective regime; the number of individuals and entities on the Al-Qaida-Taliban Sanctions Committee’s list of the Security Council has increased significantly; the General Assembly’s adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006 created the first consensus-based CT-strategy that has helped shape the strategic playing field in terms of counterterrorism, addressing both preventative aspects, the so-called up-stream factors or conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, as well as traditional security and law enforcement aspects of counterterrorism. So you have really seen a mobilization of the international community around both the UN instruments and the UN bodies in support of the global objective of countering terrorism.

There have been adjustments along the way, whether it is the new Security Council resolutions after 9/11 dealing with incitement to terrorism and terrorism recruitment, whether it’s the creation of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Taskforce, which is the UN coordinating body to deal with the thirty-one entities in the UN system dealing with terrorism–all of these developments have been significant, but it may be a situation where the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts in that there are a lot of pieces of the system out there that have been created, often with the best intentions, but the lack of effective coordination and coherence in the system, both in New York and in the field, has hampered the overall UN effort. The lack of integration between the counterterrorism work in the UN on the one hand and the UN’s broader peace and development work on the other hand has also impeded the ability of the UN’s CT work to have a long-lasting impact on the ground.

So the challenges going forward–there are at least two or three. The first is on the coordination side. There really needs to be a UN CT coordinator–someone who is of sufficient seniority in the system to command and push the system to be more coordinated and coherent; someone who can be an adviser to the UN Secretary-General on counterterrorism issues so that they are more integrated into the senior UN officials’ efforts to deal with peace and security challenges around the world as opposed to being treated separately from those efforts; someone who can report to the Security Council as requested on the counterterrorism aspects of the issues on the Security Council’s agenda. So that’s one–a UN CT coordinator.

Another aspect is pushing this work into the field more. A lot of the work right now is based in New York and Vienna. The experts go out on missions into the field, they come back to New York and Vienna, but they are not integrated into the country teams on the ground in the UN. They are not working on a day-to-day basis with governments in a particular region; lots of the work is with diplomats in New York and in Vienna, and then they go on expert missions. The idea of placing some experts in the field would be an interesting one to consider.

And the third piece is getting more synergies among the UN’s rule of law work, the UN’s counter-terrorism work, the UN’s peacebuilding work, the UN’s development work, and no longer treating counterterrorism as this very unique issue that is often associated with the Security Council and is often associated with the more repressive side of counterterrorism. I think largely because of the strategy–but also, frankly, because now we see in the new US Counterterrorism Strategy–there is wide recognition of the importance of addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism that have to be front and center. That wasn’t the case five or six years ago. Now there is recognition that it has to be front and center.

The second is capacity building. There is broad recognition that developing criminal justice systems, that developing rule of law institutions–training judges, prosecutors, and the like–is critical.

And those two things–addressing the conditions conducive and the capacity building–are where the UN really has a comparative advantage. But it can only sort of maximize its comparative advantage if its CT work is embedded in the larger peace, security, and development work. Things have gotten better than they were five years ago, but there is still a fair bit of a way to go. So I think there needs to be much more thought given as to how additional progress can be made.

AW: Thank you very much, Mr. Rosand, for your time.