Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Keynote Address -Nigeria summit on national security 2016
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen. Warm thanks to Professor Oshita O. Oshita, from the institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the kind introduction. I would also like to thank professor Ifediora. As Director of the Council on African Security and Development he has been instrumental in setting up and organizing this conference.
It is in indeed a pleasure and a great honor to be here today. A special thanks to University of Wisconsin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organizing this conference – dedicated to one of the key challenges of our time: terrorism.
In spite of continued efforts to confront and contain terrorism – the evil continues to spread. More and more countries are recording attacks and the number of casualties continues to rise. In 2014 we saw the highest number ever recorded with 32,000 casualties. Few places in this world has been as severely hit by terrorism as Nigeria.
The rise of terrorism globally reflects the fact that the world is on fire. The Middle East is being torn up by war, terrorism and a humanitarian catastrophe which has forced millions of people to flee.
What began as a pro-democracy uprising in Syria has become a tornado of conflict, sucking regional and global powers into an accelerating cycle of violence. The Islamic State terrorist group has carved out a massive power base across Syria and Iraq, and is battling to expand it to Asia and Africa. Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State testifies to this fact. Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war for regional dominance and terrorist groups al-Qaida and Hezbollah are trying to carve out their own spheres of control.
The effects have already reached far beyond the shores of the Mediterranean and the streets of Damascus. Islamic State bombs have caused carnage in Paris and Istanbul, Beirut and Brussels; jihadist groups inspired the San Bernardino shooters in California to commit the deadliest terror attacks on US soil since 9/11. The conflicts in the Middle East have sent millions of people fleeing into Europe, straining the continent’s ability to take them in to breaking point.
In Syria and Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the body of the state as we know it has collapsed, and hostile powers and terrorist groups are gathering like vultures to pick over the remains.
Not since the Balkans a century ago has one region held so much potential for global disaster. Shia against Sunni, Russia against Turkey, Iran against Saudi Arabia, Islamic State against the West: Any one of these contests could provide the flash-point for a global conflagration.
The Syrian disaster is an example of how conflicts can escalate out of control and develop into a broader threat when the U.S. hesitates to intervene. In blood and treasure, Syria is a human tragedy and a great loss. Strategically, it is a calamity: An example that reckless autocrats and brutal terrorists will fill the vacuum when the United States and its allies retreat.
There is a link between the American reluctance to use hard power and this outbreak of fire. If the United States retrenches and retreats, or even if the world thinks that American restraint reflects a lack of willingness to engage in preventing and resolving conflicts by using military force if need be, it leaves a vacuum that will be filled by the bad guys.
I am deeply concerned about this situation. We must reinforce our fight against terrorism.
The efforts to counter terrorism should be centered around three main stands of work: The hard security measures. Economic development and integration. A stronger democratic voice in the world.
First, hard security.
Nigeria is a compelling example that political leadership and hard security are necessary if you want to fight the the bad guys. Nigeria’s military has made major progress against the militants and Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. The army is better organized and the President has clamped down on the corruption that had diverted funds from the armed forces. I would like to congratulate President Buhari on this significant achievement.
The threat of Boko Haram caught the world’s attention in in April 2014 when fighters raided and kidnapped nearly 300 school girls studying for their exam. The fact that more than 200 of these girls are still held in captivity highlights that the security situation on the ground is still not good enough.
The military’s successes have weakened Boko Haram, but not eliminated the threat. The organization has – for now – morphed into a group of well-organized bandits focusing on urban terrorist tactics and assaults on “soft” targets. It has proven difficult for Nigeria to defend itself against such sporadic assaults on smaller settlements and military outposts. Doing so will require improved intelligence and sustained efforts to degrade the technical skills and specialized supplies of the militants. It is still too early to conclude whether or not Boko Haram continues to represent an existential threat to the country.
And although Boko Haram has dramatically lost territory in Nigeria, its spread across the region shows few signs of being contained. Under Mr. Buhari, Nigeria has cooperated more with Chad and Niger to fight Boko Haram; but to prevent Boko Haram’s further consolidation, regional partners should take a more consistent and coordinated approach, in tandem with international support. This would include broadening the mobilization of the Multinational Joint Task Force, full funding of the force’s estimated $700 million budget, and appropriate cooperation on intelligence, logistics, and training from partners outside the region.
Furthermore, we have seen the Niger Delta Avengers hit Nigeria’s oil-output severely. The Avengers called on oil majors operating in Nigeria to cease operations within two weeks or face more attacks. We have also seen indigenous tribes of herdsmen causing instability, havoc and fear in the middle belt. Determined fight against these terrorists is also necessary, alongside infrastructure investments to promote a positive economic development.
The fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East shows that hard power is a crucial element in the fight against terrorism. The U.S.-led coalition began bombing the Islamic State after the group seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in mid-2014. A dozen nations have been involved in airstrikes, although the United States has carried out more than seventy percent.
There is clear evidence that the containment strategy is working. The US led coalition has forced Islamic State to retreat from 40% of its territory in Iraq and 10% of its territory in Syria. The weakening of its hold over the territory it has reduced its ability to extract resources.
Perhaps because this strategy has been effective, Islamic State is increasingly conducting brutal attacks abroad. The coalition against Islamic State has been less successful in undercutting Islamic State’s ideological appeal. These are in many ways harder problems than military containment.
With the attacks on Brussels and Paris the threat of terrorism looms large in the minds of many Europeans – and our threat levels remain high. Our intelligence services are doing an incredible job. But the Islamic State sponsored attacks on Brussels and Paris has also highlighted that further urgent improvements to information sharing and border security are necessary — especially related to the use of a common database for DNA, fingerprints, and car license plates for suspected terrorists.
So, first and foremost we must reinforce our hard security measures to combat terrorism.
Next, economic development and integration.
While more should be done to improve counter-terrorism measures in our countries, we also have to consider new ways to to confront and contain violent extremism. It is right to be alert to external threats, but we also have a responsibility to spell out what must be done internally, within our borders. Often, the terrorists who commit the atrocities come from within. In order to work effectively, we need to better understand the root causes of why people growing up in our democratic societies choose to declare allegiance to Islamic State, travel to conflict zones in the Middle East and return as radicalized and violent young individuals.
The enemy we are facing is often protected by the anonymity of urban suburbs. In these places we need a strategy on how to enhance security, but also on how to integrate these people into our societies – through employment, education and a sense of national identity. We also need to improve the way we reintegrate returning foreign fighters, who are not dangerous.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing our anti-ISIS campaign is countering the ideology, which brings the terrorist organization new followers. Islamic State styles itself an orthodox Islamist group. Actually, it is also a cult of violence. The combination draws significant numbers of people to its banner.
In order to counter the homegrown terrorism, we need a value based integration: realize that integration is much more than just providing jobs and education. Real integration is also to demand respect for the principles upon which our liberal democratic societies are built.
Firstly, we should increasingly give words to what it means to be a democrat in the 21st century. Refugees and migrants should pledge allegiance to principles such as democracy, minority protection, gender equality and rule of law, and in school kids should learn how these ideals work in practice.
Secondly, we have to counter radical interpretations of Islam. One Arab state has enormous influence on the interpretation of Islam worldwide: Saudi Arabia. The country spends vast sums supporting the building of mosques and Islamic educational institutions around the world. These institutions spread an orthodox version of Islam that share similarities with the version Islamic State is subscribing to. This matter should become a regular feature of public and private diplomacy in our dialogue with Riyadh.
And thirdly, we must step up our work on counter-propaganda. Islamic State started a propaganda arms race and our counter strategies have not been effective enough.
An overarching problem in Nigeria is the split between a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south, with its 180 million people belonging to 250 ethnic groups and speaking more than 500 languages. So differences often manifest along religious or tribal lines. Politicians have often fanned the flames by financing thugs or favoring one group over another.
The profound demographic, socioeconomic, and political upheavals triggered by Boko Haram’s activities in the northeast, particularly in Borno State, have further impoverished a region that was already struggling and have deepened communal tensions. If these issues aren’t addressed, it will only be a matter of time until new violent non-state actors emerge. Postwar reconstruction effort, whose success will determine whether northeastern Nigeria continues to be a source of instability in West Africa.
The only way to counter the forces that threaten to pull Nigeria apart is essentially to help people out of poverty. Mr Buhari has made a start by raising spending on education. But more should be done to boosting economic growth, which has ground to a pace slower than population growth – while combating corruption. Without greater opportunities, the frustrations of the young and uneducated will only worsen – creating fertile grounds for extremists.
An improvement of the security situation in Nigeria is a must in this regard. Terrorism has a tremendous negative effect on foreign investments. As an example, it is estimated that terrorism caused foreign direct investment flows into Nigeria to drop $6.1 billion in 2010 – a decline of nearly 30% on the prvious year. On top of that Nigeria suffers from declining oil prices. The public deficit has grown, the stock market has gone down, domestic oil producers are struggling to pay interests on the loan which could lead to a banking crisis. The government response has been a mildly expansionary budget, blocking imports and tying the Naira to the dollar. I’m not going to interfere with domestic Nigerian politics. But in my opinion the current situation should be addressed by ending the fuel subsidies, allowing free trade and letting the Naira float freely. Otherwise, you will just create a black market. For many Nigerian businesses it is a choice between the black market or to die.
Third, an Alliance for Democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen. Whether you are in Jakarta, Washington, London or Abuja the key objective for terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram is essentially the same – to undermine our way of life by replacing democracy with tyranny, rule of law with Sharia, minority protection with oppression.
Even when our systems prove immune to direct attacks from terrorist groups, fear creeps in and our societies transform in an attempt to counter the threat of terrorism. You see that in Europe where people’s privacy and civil liberties are under pressure as intelligence services are exploring new ways to counter the threat of terror; and in Nigeria where the local population is finding it difficult to trust people who has been held by Boko Haram. A recent Unisef report documented this distrust, quoting a Nigerian community leader who called the babies fathered by Boko Haram fighters “hyenas among dogs.”
There is a need to counter this threat to our way of life. As terrorist groups become more sophisticated and global in their reach – the free world should respond accordingly. In spite of much optimism following the end of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that there was no universal agreement on the unparalleled strength of liberal capitalism and democracy.
To create a stronger global liberal democratic community that can counter the threats from tyranny, oppression and global terrorism, we need to work together and I believe the United States is the only nation on earth which can front this important task. The next American president should use his or her convening power to bring together the world’s liberal democracies in a strong ‘Alliance for Democracy.’
Such an alliance would bring together nations from around the world whose common characteristic would be that they are democracies. And precisely that would be the alliance’s main strength: It would be a community of shared values, individual liberty, economic freedom, democracy and the rule of law; a community which would bolster the identity and potency of democracy in a world where the forces of oppression are trying to regain ground.
Overall, the objective of the Alliance would be to create a forum where the world’s democracies could meet on a regular basis to discuss global issues, coordinate their policies and possibly take joint action to reinforce liberal democratic values around the world.
The Alliance for Democracy should – among other things – help to confront common security challenges, including terrorism. The democracies could enhance their intelligence cooperation to find out where the terrorists are, strengthen financial cooperation to locate their sources of finance, dry them up and block them, and improve law enforcement and judicial cooperation to apprehend them, try them and jail them.
I firmly believe, we need a world-wide pact based on freedom and security. Terrorists aim to threaten our freedom because they know it is what makes our societies attractive and strong.
From a military point of view, states and international organizations engaged in military operations should learn from previous mistakes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Any military operation should have an ‘Operation Wealth of Nation’ embedded in it, and strong alliances are crucial in order to finance and sustain these long-term engagements. An “Operation Wealth of Nation” would be a program for growth and job creation.
In spite of continued efforts to counter global terrorism, we still have not managed to develop an effective formula to fight terrorism. This clearly calls for a reassessment of our strategy against terrorism.
Military power and counter terrorism measures are necessary tools in the fight against terrorism and insurgency, and Nigeria can use the de-radicalization program to dry up the reservoir of disenchanted youths from which Boko Haram recruits. But these measures should always be accompanied by strategies on how to restore peace and improve people’s faith in their own future. As social degradation, poverty and cultural exclusion are creating grounds for extremist groups. Failing to address the root causes enables new terrorists’ groups to emerge rapidly – as seen in the case of Islamic State.
Internationally we need to do more to prevent and contain terrorism. The terrorist groups of today have a global reach and they apply many of the same tactics in the countries they operate. In order to be on the for-front, we also need a global approach.
An enhanced global effort to fight terrorism should be led by the United States. We need a policeman to restore order; we need a fireman to put out the fire; we need a mayor, smart and sensible, to lead the rebuilding. And we need America to play all these roles. No other country in the world can do it.
It is therefore truly concerning to follow the US presidential nomination race where the call for isolationism in the United States is growing louder by the day.
This is a dangerous philosophy, because it is so wrong. Autocrats and terrorists are tempted to test their room for maneuver and the determination of the free world, and in particular of the United States. History has shown time and again that the bulwarks of the ocean are no defense against a hostile and aggressive world. Imperial Germany proved it in 1917; Imperial Japan did it again in 1940; al-Qaida did it on 9/11. The main thing that has changed since then is the rise of the internet, with all the dangers of radicalization and cyber-crime that it offers. It would be hard to argue that this has made the world a safer place.
In order to create bulwark against the threat international terrorism is posing to our societies, I would urge the next US president renew US leadership in the world. One way to do this would be to create an “Alliance for Democracy” which can work in tandem with the UN and regional organizations to improve cooperation between democracies across the world in our endeavor to counter tyranny, oppression and global terrorism.