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A Whole-of-Society Approach to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization That Lead to Terrorism: A Guidebook for Central Asia


The guidebook on “A Whole-of-Society Approach to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization That Lead to Terrorism - A Guidebook for Central Asia” is one in a series of technical guidebooks produced by the Transnational Threat Department/ Action against Terrorism Unit and focuses on the challenges in developing and implementing effective programmes to prevent and counter VERLT in Central Asia.


Violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism (VERLT) threaten the countries of Central Asia. Traditional counter-terrorist operations are inadequate to tackle this threat and must be combined with efforts to prevent VERLT.

Effective prevention requires cooperation and coordination between relevant government actors — this is known as a “whole-of-government” approach. Whole-of-government actors include police; national security committees; committees on religious affairs, youth, and women; and ministries of interior, labour, education, and social welfare, among others.

Successful prevention also requires dialogue and cooperation between government actors and an array of non-governmental actors — this is known as a “whole-of-society” approach. The broader public, local communities, and the private sector should be seen by Governments as stakeholders and partners in preventing and countering VERLT (P/CVERLT), rather than as simply the passive object of law enforcement activities.

Whole-of-society actors that can be valuable P/CVERLT partners include youth, women, and community leaders. Youth and women can be vulnerable to recruitment into VERLT but they can also be powerful agents of social change who can steer individuals away from the dangers of radicalization to violence. Community leaders are critical for fostering cultures of tolerance and open dialogue, and for working with vulnerable community members in order to reject violent ideologies. Other key civil society actors include educators, researchers, the information communications technology and social media sector, and journalists.

Governments have the responsibility to ensure security and respect for human rights, as well as uphold the rule of law and implement policies that counter discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion. But civil society actors are often well placed, knowledgeable, and experienced in working with specific groups to help identify and address the grievances that make individuals more vulnerable to VERLT. Private sector actors, too, have unique capacities that can make them ideal partners for Governments.

Additional advantages of whole-of-society partnerships include creating a space for constructive engagement between the State and its citizens, fostering trust and understanding, widening ownership of P/CVERLT policies and strategies, and providing feedback on and monitoring the impact of those policies and strategies. Over time, a whole-of-society approach will contribute to good governance more broadly.

Ideally, a whole-of-society approach should be integrated into all stages of developing, implementing, and monitoring P/CVERLT strategies, including PVE National Action Plans. These stages include situation analysis, knowledge creation, and research; drafting of objectives and activities; implementation of projects; monitoring and evaluation; strategic communication; and advocacy and feedback mechanisms.

Yet, these partnerships are not without their challenges. Problems include lack of trust and issues related to credibility and legitimacy; conceptual misunderstandings and differences in understanding of national security; personal safety risks; a dearth of existing mechanisms for co-ordination and co-operation; and a lack of the technical skills required to conduct effective partnerships.

Many of these problems can be overcome by adopting practical measures to encourage and enable effective partnerships. Governments and civil society should both discard negative and inaccurate stereotypes of each other, commit themselves to behaving professionally at all times, and strive for consensus on the VERLT terminology they employ. Governments should provide civil society and private sector actors with the legal and political space they need in which to engage those vulnerable to VERLT. Police and other security forces should not instrumentalize civil society organizations to gather criminal intelligence and detect threats within communities; such efforts would be counterproductive.

The OSCE is committed to supporting its participating States in developing effective, sustainable, and multidimensional approaches to the prevention of VERLT. Numerous policy documents (some of the most important are listed near the end of this report) attest to and explain the merits of various components of a whole-of-society approach.