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G7 Foreign Ministers and Conflict Prevention

Sarah Burton, G7 Research Group
April 16, 2016

After the recent deadly attacks in Lebanon, Turkey, Brussels, Nigeria, Pakistan and G7 member France, it is not surprising that terrorism was a large focus for the G7 foreign ministers at their meeting in Hiroshima on 11 April 2016. Terrorism and the fight against ISIL/Daesh took up nearly three pages of the Hiroshima Joint Communiqué, G7 ministers addressed the various measures needed to counter-terrorism at length.

One particularly interesting measure was an approach that addressed the "underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and violent extremism, including through economic, social, and educational aspects, to address the political and economic grievances that may be drivers of violent extremism and to promote respect for human rights." In the scholarly literature on the causes of terrorism, these preconditions are often cited as major contributors to the creation and growth of terrorist groups. On the surface, this commitment appears to be a promising method for eliminating terrorism at the source. However, G7 members should be wary of excessive intervention in the political and social policies of other states. Strengthening the domestic economy and providing educational resources may create a more hostile environment for terrorist recruitment, but intervening also creates the risk of a power vacuum, similar to the one that was created in Iraq after U.S. intervention, leading to the eventual creation of ISIL.

To implement these methods in a way that deters terrorism and decreases the risk of a power vacuum, G7 members should commit to working not only with governments, but with civil society as well. Civil society actors are knowledgeable about the history and context of the conflict, and also about the current political situation in the country or region. As such, they can be an important source of information and consulted prior to taking action that could potentially exacerbate the problem. At a working-level meeting convened by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2007, participants agreed that civil society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) "have valuable expertise and experience in addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism." They also said that civil society institutions and NGOs help strengthen respect for human rights and the rule of law, and help to promote democratic accountability, while also fostering social inclusion and addressing socioeconomic issues.

Moreover, civil society actors have the advantage of being able to work with citizens on the ground, which provides a bottom-up approach to implementing political and social policies. The benefit of this is that the policies directly reach the citizens, as opposed to the G7 members' top-down approach of working with political actors. The Center on Global Counterterrorism claims that civil society organizations "have important roles to play in activism, education, research, oversight, and even as potential assistance and service providers. They can also play a critical role in ensuring that counterterrorism measures (CTMs) respect human rights and the rule of law, and help generate awareness of a range of other Strategy-related issues."

Although the G7 ministers' call upon civil society actors to help combat terrorism, it is only in regards to monitoring terrorist activities online. If G7 members wish sincerely to promote "pluralism, moderation, tolerance, and gender equality, as well as cross-cultural, cross-religious, and interfaith dialogues, and [promote] freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as useful tools to prevent and counter violent extremism and terrorism," they should actively engage civil society actors in order to help successfully achieve these objectives.

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Sarah BurtonSarah Burton is an analyst for the G7 Research Group. During her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, Sarah concentrated her research on transitional justice mechanisms and peace building, and obtained a bachelor's degree in peace, conflict and justice studies and in political science. Her current research on the ambition of G7 members and their commitments, with particular interest in the Deauville Partnership, regional security in Ukraine and Syria, the refugee crisis and nuclear deterrence.

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