The British government published a document today entitled “Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom’s Strategy” that lays out the core principles and objectives of the country’s fight against terrorism. The strategy, code-named CONTEST, centers on four key strands of activity, described as the “Four P’s”:
- PREVENT terrorism by tackling the radicalisation of individuals;
- PURSUE terrorists and those that sponsor them;
- PROTECT the public, key national services, and UK interests overseas; and
- PREPARE for the consequences.
The report goes on to detail activities in the UK in each of these four strands. There’s little new information in the report – what’s new in the synthesis of these disparate strands of activity into a single, public document. That’s something that’s often missing from American strategies related to the war on terror; the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism in 2003 focused on ‘PURSUE’ and gave short shrift to the other three strands; other strategy documents in the past few years for homeland security, homeland defense, countering WMD, response etc., only take a partial view of the problem. What’s needed is a national strategy that takes a holistic approach and enables policy-makers to evaluate the relative effectiveness of and tradeoffs between activities in each of these four areas – one that enables us to answer the rhetorical questions posed by Sec. Rumsfeld in his famous 2003 memo:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists’ costs of millions.
Those are good questions – and the UK strategy suggests an organizing principle that can help the United States to answer them.