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How to advance NATO-EU cooperation against terrorism

Euro-View: Jason Wiseman on counter-terrorism

Jason Wiseman

BRUSSELS – We live in the most demanding security environment we have seen in many years – widespread instability, a surge in jihadi terrorism and an increasingly aggressive Russia. Protecting the Euro-Atlantic must be tackled jointly by NATO and EU in an effort that goes beyond the military domain.

Despite various levels of cooperation in coping with hybrid warfare, cyber security and Russian aggression, NATO and EU are yet to devise a formal policy in ways they can cooperate in countering the ongoing threat of jihadi terrorism. What can the two institutional pillars of Euro-Atlantic security do to keep the streets safe and regional upheaval in the Middle East from continuing to spill over?

NATO plays a critical role in the operationalisation of counterterrorism efforts by serving as the key coalition hub for missions and policies designed to disrupt terrorist safe havens, fragment smuggling routes and destroy terrorist command centres.

In 2017 it has added a range of new tools in its toolbox to meet the challenges of today. For example, NATO is currently engaged in capacity building initiatives such as the training of Iraqi forces on Jordanian territory, plus training in Iraq of local forces. In the next few months, 350 Iraqi officers will be trained in the NATO course. This focuses on military medicine, civil military planning and on countering improvised explosive devices. The alliance is also engaged in training special forces with its Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian partners and has either an ambassador or a military attaché in all NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) countries.

As for the EU, it is engaged with international partners in Africa, Asia, Middle East and the Western Balkans as well as securing its own external borders, improving transport security, developing crisis coordination and providing assistance to victims of terrorism. Its agencies and integrated databases play an essential role in firming up anti-terrorism procedures while securing transfers of intelligence to decision makers and law enforcement across Europe to disrupt and thwart terrorist access to weapons, money and freedom of movement.

Equally important are new EU rules on passenger name records and new security checks along the Schengen zone. These will help ease the transfer of information across law enforcement databases, thus making it harder for terrorists to commit identity theft.

Despite its wide mandate, the EU’s role in counter-terrorism has been largely reactive, and often a source of confusion when it comes to who does what. Its role is nonetheless indispensable for assisting national law enforcement counter the motivation and operational capability of terrorist networks and radicalised persons.

So how to take forward NATO-EU counter-terrorist cooperation?

There are a number of actions to be launched at the national, EU and NATO levels that could greatly strengthen Europe’s overall counter-terrorism strategy.

On the counter-operational side the EU 28 could mandate that high-value data collected by any national security agency – covering non-EU nationals as well – is transmitted within 24 hours to a central system. This could be reinforced with a shared database in the use of biotech information to which all EU border control services and Frontex have access, and with efforts to ensure that any joint investigation teams (JITs) with Europol transfer their best practices to national authorities. The EU countries could also consider setting up a joint procurement fund (proportionally based on GDP) with the sole purpose of outfitting, modernising and training counter-terrorism units.

For its part, NATO should enhance its regional partnerships’ joint training exercises to include a strategic communications task-force that targets internet and telecom providers. The allies could also consider adjusting their 2%-of-GDP-defence-spending rule to ensure that part of their defence budgets are dedicated to outfitting, modernising and training counter-terrorism units.

As for counter-narrative strategy, many things need doing here. For example, each EU country should create (if it hasn’t already) independent civil society advisory boards to local and federal authorities to promote internal stability and shared values across society. All EU and NATO nations should legally classify ISIS as a terrorist group and criminalise membership in it or financial support to it.

Meanwhile, all 28 EU countries should set up rehabilitation centres and a publicly accessible ‘No Visit List” that identifies ideological radicals who pose a security threat to the country and who would be prohibited from stepping foot in the EU. Along the same line, a database of those organisations whose charitable status has been removed due to links with terrorism should be publicly accessible as well. Finally, EU member states should ensure mandatory screening of citizens involved in public outreach, especially those engaged with “at-risk communities”.

Adopting such recommendations would strengthen existing counter-terrorism cooperation between the nations of NATO and the EU, while motivating reform in those countries that aspire to membership in either organisation. Most important, these changes would enhance the operational capabilities of NATO and EU entities alike to disrupt terrorists’ activity, thwart their recruitment and apprehend the operatives themselves.

Jason Wiseman is Secretary General of the Atlantic Treaty Association in Brussels. He can be reached at: Jason.wiseman@atahq.org.

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