By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini and Eric Rosand

Only a few weeks into his tenure as UN Secretary-General, Antonió Gutteres has been under pressure to fix the UN’s efforts to deal with terrorism and violent extremism. The programs he inherited are badly disorganized, while the threats are increasingly undermining not only international peace and security, but also the development goals at the top of his agenda. Gutteres is trying, but he is hindered by a clutch of UN Member States who are clinging to outmoded and heavy-handed counterterrorism methods. These countries are unwilling to take necessary action and pursue the strategic course corrections needed to get ahead of the problem. While some of these problems – like radicalization — start at the community level, many are fueled by security institutions, which will only be emboldened further if the efforts remain narrowly focused on counterterrorism.

Gutteres laid out part of his plan earlier this month when he presented a new report, titled, “Capability of the United Nations system to assist Member states in implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” to the General Assembly (UNGA). The report highlights how the UN’s role in both counterterrorism and now preventing violent extremism (PVE) has expanded over the past 15 years as a result of increased demands from national capitals. The report also included his much-anticipated recommendations to the UNGA on ways to strengthen the UN’s hydra-headed, increasingly sprawling counterterrorism and PVE architecture. Currently, counterterrorism and PVE at the UN involve more than 35 UN entities spread out across peace and security, development, and human rights silos within the organization. Some are mandated by the UNGA, others by the Security Council, and still others report to independent governing boards. There is no recognized senior UN official whose full-time job is to coordinate the UN’s labyrinthine system. The head of the UN’s interagency, Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, is also the Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, which means he can only dedicate a fraction of his time to this area of work.

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