Like many other parts of the world, the South Eastern European region (SEE) faces a significant terrorism threat. SEE has already faced radical and violent religious individuals and groups affiliated with terrorist organizations. Recent events such as the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011), the murder of five civilians in Macedonia (2012), and the attack on the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria (2012) all illustrate the initial phases of terrorist activity in the region. The aforementioned attacks were initiated by both individuals and groups; minimizing these threats is not a strategic response for SEE or NATO nations. Moreover, reports about numerous individuals who have joined foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq require NATO and Partner Nations to counter recruitment from SEE populations.
Countering this threat represents a significant security challenge for SEE governmental agencies and their partners. Although significant counterterrorism advances have been made by NATO nations over the past decade, SEE's complex history, geography, culture, socio-economic, and political dynamics require that these advances be contextualized and modified to the region. Failure to analyze and proactively intersect this threat, delays in strategic planning, and limited collaborative efforts will place SEE governments and NATO in a reactive stance from threats that emerge from this region.
Immediate action is needed if NATO SEE countries (both NATO and its Partner Nations) are to implement direct and indirect counterterrorism approaches. Indirect approaches are required because they promote resilience in societies against violent extremist propaganda and recruitment. All levels of community resilience need to be implemented. An example of a community resilient model would be a collaborative effort from scholars who could counter theological, ethical, and ideological arguments used by violent religious extremists. In addition to ideological arguments, proactive measures would need to confront targeting vulnerable populations, such as humiliated and/or victimized groups who join extremist movements to establish or strengthen an identity. Regarding direct approaches, almost all SEE countries have actively participated in the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan or in Iraq. However, contextualizing these experiences to the SEE region emphasizes the need to merge the lessons from successful resilience programs and public diplomacy over kinetic responses.
The Countering the SEE Terrorist Threat Advanced Training Course (ATC) provided participants with global trends regarding terrorists' operations and strategies. In addition, in-depth analysis on how these efforts were intrinsic to the SEE region was conducted. It also served to facilitate important regional cooperation among NATO and Partner Nations' participants from SEE countries. This ATC addressed best counter-radicalization processes and how to build resilient community responses within the SEE region. Participants discussed how to contextualize the information to their specific national views and dynamics. SEE participants were introduced to counter-terrorist efforts based on NATO policies and Partner Nations' cooperation.
This SEE course directly correlated with SPS key priorities. Specifically, this ATC promoted cooperation between NATO and partner countries in the area of counter-terrorism and prompted development of joint preventative mechanisms intended to hinder any radicalization processes by fostering social resilience, social cohesion, and integration policies. The course was comprised of five central priorities spread over five days. The first priority addressed contemporary global terrorist practices, radicalization processes, and recruitment techniques. Particular emphasis was given to the terrorism practices in SEE countries. The second priority was dedicated to terrorists' use of cyberspace. The third priority introduced the legal aspects of countering terrorism. The fourth priority focused on building resilient societies to violent extremist propaganda and ideology. Hence, instructors introduced the social root causes leading to radicalization and terrorism. The last priority was dedicated to SEE counterterrorism collaboration. Panel discussion and focus groups between member states and partner countries discussed the following topics:
1) the role of the religious leaders and civil society organizations in building counter narrative;
2) experience from existing deradicalization programs around the world and the role of the government in these processes;
3) the terrorists' use of the social media and technology in radicalization processes and countering these practices;
4) the importance of intelligence sharing and regional cooperation;
5) law enforcements' responses and best practices, and the importance of the rule of law and the legislation in legitimate responses to terrorism.
International terrorism is widely considered and recognized as a serious threat to world peace, security and stability. Moreover, the fight against terrorism is often listed as one of the key areas of cooperation between NATO and Partner Nations. In this context, promoting cooperation in SEE region among NATO countries (Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria) and Partnership for Peace (PfP) members (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia, Serbia) is critical for effective counterterrorism strategies. The complex environment characterized with political, religious, and cultural differences combined with socio-economic instability and long discriminatory practices makes the SEE region vulnerable to radicalization. The well documented evidence of radicalization of the Muslim communities in this region, the SEE region's geographical position, the recent terrorist attacks in Bosnia (2011), Macedonia (2012), Bulgaria (2012), and the growing number of reported victims as foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are key questions, among others, that require greater attention between NATO and Partner Nations. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss different approaches; compare NATO and other Partner Nations' experiences; and expand and strengthen existing cooperative networks among security experts, policy advisors and academicians (young researchers) in order to propose policies to the trainees' national authorities.
The fight against terrorism is one of the priority areas of NATO's cooperation activities with partners around the world. This ATC contributed to NATO's counter-terrorist efforts and was in compliance with NATO counter-terrorism cooperation policies such as: The Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T) of 2002, which encourages joint efforts by allies and partners in the fight against terrorism; NATO's Strategic Concept of 2010 where a cooperative approach to security is listed a core NATO task; and The Chicago Summit declaration of 2012, which reaffirms the necessity of cooperation among NATO and partner nations in the fight against terrorism. It also complied with SPS key priorities since it is designed to enhance cooperation between NATO and Partner Nations on issues of common interest such as counter-terrorism with a focus on developing joint mechanisms for building resilient responses. The course complemented the NATO smart-defense concept and goals by which NATO engagement with partners should be tailored, based on shared values and common approaches, with an emphasis on complementary efforts and non-duplication. The most recent White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) also emphasized the need to establish international partnerships. The summit was the first of many events leading up to UNGA in September 2015, through which the United States and its partners developed actions to counter the most immediate threats, including ISIL, and stop the spread of violent extremism. Ministers from nearly 70 countries, the UN Secretary-General, senior officials from other multilateral bodies, and representatives from civil society and the private sector gathered during the Ministerial segments of the summit to develop a comprehensive action plan against violent extremism. They charted a path for progress that included regional summits, aimed at taking concrete steps to prevent violent extremism in the lead up to UNGA 2015. The CVE Summit offered an opportunity to approach CVE in a comprehensive way and build upon the framework of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The White House CVE provided an example for UN and other multilateral bodies to intensify and identify, and counter local drivers of violent extremism.
The Countering the SEE Terrorist Threat ATC focused on several critical elements to form a comprehensive strategy to counter local terrorism drivers. The strategy involved seven components: 1) Identify clear counter-terrorism priorities and responsibilities in order to determine who is responsible for implementing effective counter-terrorist activities; 2) Become familiar with NATO counter-radicalization best practices in order to contextualize them for SEE nations; 3) Understand the relationship between counter-radicalization actions and building resilient societies in order to effectively defend against terrorism; 4) Compare and analyze how national social, economic, legal, and religious challenges compare to SEE nations. This is necessary in order to build effective response to the terrorist threats to NATO and Partner Nations that originate from SEE nations; 5) Identify a comprehensive counter-terrorism approach that includes both legal and technical aspects from political, defense, and security personnel in collaboration with NATO and Partner Nation's existing counter-terrorist policy and actions.; 6) Develop and discuss how to enhance SEE's counter-terrorist capabilities to focus on human factors in order to increase regional cooperation, prevention, and resilience with NATO Partner Nations; 7) Direct a regional SEE forum to share best practices and developments in terrorists' radicalization tools, (approaches, techniques, and methods), prevention of terrorist activities, de-radicalization approaches, and building resilient responses.
Representatives from 15 countries participated in the ATC at a venue with significant historical importance. The ATC site – Hotel Belvedere – by Ohrid Lake offered an excellent venue for conferences, workshops and congresses. The facility supported formal and informal settings for structured and spontaneous learning and sharing of ideas. Lake Ohrid – the largest and most beautiful of Macedonia's three tectonic lakes, provided a serene mountain setting. With its unique flora and fauna characteristic of the tertiary period, Ohrid is one of Europe's great biological preserves. Most of the lake's plant and animal species are endemic and unique to Ohrid. In 1980, UNESCO proclaimed Lake Ohrid a location of world natural and cultural heritage.
The agenda was full with presentations from scholars and subject matter experts. The meals were arranged either at the hotel or at short distance from the hotel at the restaurant Biljanini Izvori. The time at the restaurant provided a much needed break from the conference room environment for participants, and provided a social venue to network. The unique balance of information, networking, and social interactions materialized in alliances among participants, which have been evidenced by continued correspondence in the months following the ATC. The co-directors interpret the ongoing interaction and positive feedback from participants as an affirmation of a successful ATC. Such a constructive ATC was the outcome of efforts by participants, speakers, and co-directors in addition to a host of caring individuals who supported their work.
Much appreciation is extended to the management of staff at the Hotel Belvedere for their gracious hospitality to all participants. Logistics help from Dr. Mitko Bogdanoski and the hard work by Norwich University's editorial team is greatly appreciated. We offer our gratitude to Dr. Deniz Beten, the director of the NATO Emerging Security Challenges Division and Mr. Michael Switkes for their resolute encouragement and support of the ATC. The co-directors are confident that ATC participants will continue research collaborations that began in Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia to enhance safety and security for all in Support of NATO mission. The ATC was supported by NATO – Emerging Security Challenges division of Science for Peace and Security program.
Travis Morris, Ph.D and Col. Metodi Hadji-Janev, Ph.D
Dimitar Bogatinov, Sam DeLong, Olivia Despirito, Ilija Djugumanov, Marija Jankuloska, Kendall Manning, Katie Sanders, and James Verderico
Matt Hicks, Sage McPherson, Carrie Morris, Kimberly Loveless, Isabel Nielsen, and Katie Sanders