The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a Department of State partner in advancing global counterterrorism collaboration, just hosted the third annual Strong Cities Network Global Summit in Melbourne, Australia, on July 10-12. Countering violent extremism (CVE) requires a whole-of-society approach that addresses the local dynamics that terrorists exploit for recruitment. While local leaders are the best positioned to mobilize community stakeholders for these efforts, few have received training on internationally recognized good practices or have a platform to exchange their experiences. This was the impetus for the creation of the Strong Cities Network, which the State Department helped launch three years ago in partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a non-governmental organization. The Strong Cities Network provides 120 subnational governments across six continents a forum for acquiring and sharing good practices on CVE and the protection of soft targets in a counterterrorism context.
Strong Cities Network members in Melbourne displayed a snapshot of their most compelling work:
- In Kenya, the Mombasa County government has established and staffed a CVE Directorate to build local capacity and increase coordination in a city hard hit by terrorism in recent years. Mombasa County developed a CVE action plan that prioritizes common CVE objectives, serves as a nation-wide model, and includes an expanded role in CVE efforts for women, youth, the business community, and the media. Mombasa also picked up some good practices on community prevention during an Strong Cities Network-sponsored trip to Kristiansand, Norway in early 2018.
- In Macedonia, the Municipality of Cair in Skopje partners with Women Without Borders to educate mothers about the warning signs of terrorist recruitment and radicalization. Cair is working on a spinoff to engage vulnerable youth.
- In Jordan and Lebanon, Danish Strong Cities Network members are working with the Jordanian municipalities of Al-Karak, Irbid, and Zarqa, and the Lebanese municipalities of Majdal Anjar, Saida, and Tripoli, to establish six local prevention networks. Each bring together a dozen local stakeholders, including teachers, youth workers, religious leaders, youth representatives, NGO representatives, and psychosocial intervention providers.
- In Canada, the City of Montréal and the Québec Government formed the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) in 2015. The centre is an independent non-profit organization aimed at preventing violence by working with individuals who are radicalized or undergoing radicalization to violence. The centre also works to prevent hate crimes, and provides counseling for victims. It helped Strong Cities Network member Bordeaux develop its CAPRI program (the Center for Prevention of Radicalization), which takes an interdisciplinary approach to prevention and intervention.
- In Pakistan, the Strong Cities Network partnered with the local NGO Individualland last November to train mayors and district officials from Nowshera, Peshawar, and Quetta to work more closely with educators, health care professionals, and law enforcement on CVE efforts. This has led to further training on recognizing radicalization and working with at-risk youth.
- In Belgium, the City of Vilvoorde once had Western Europe’s highest per capita number of foreign terrorist fighter (FTF) departures. Vilvoorde then launched its Second Wave project, which is a community engagement program connecting law enforcement and at-risk youth. Vilvoorde significantly decrease the departure of FTFs for Iraq and Syria through a program inspired in part by a State Department-sponsored two-way exchange in 2014-15 with Columbus, Ohio, that included the Vilvoorde mayor, the police chief, and civil society leaders.
- In India, the State of Maharashtra expanded its CVE toolkit as a result of its engagements with the Strong Cities Network. The Anti-Terrorism Squad, for example, developed a series of videos to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization that play in movie theatres throughout the region and started to develop an intervention program. In Mumbai, interfaith dialogue has built bridges across the many faiths represented in India’s largest city. In February, many of these faith leaders welcomed Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. In Kolkata earlier this year, the Strong Cities Network hosted a regional workshop for local policy makers and practitioners from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.
- In Colombia, the City of Medellin promotes resilience amongst its 1.7 million inhabitants through a comprehensive three-year development plan called Resilient Medellin . Medellin has been an active member of the Strong Cities Network working group on refugees and internal displacement. In this role, practitioners from Medellin have shared their experiences with urban and rural-urban displacement resulting from the decades-long national armed conflict and targeted threats of violence from gangs and organized crime groups.
- In the United States, the City of San Diego has worked with the University of San Diego to implement a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to expand the capacity of non-profit organizations that build resilience of youth against terrorist recruitment and radicalization. Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office organized a workshop last November for community members and delegates from a Strong Cities NetworkInternational Visitors Leadership Program to the United States. The Strong Cities Network has also seen active engagement from other U.S. members. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti co-sponsored a resolution for the U.S. Conference of Mayors to work more closely with the Strong Cities Network. Mayor Berke also chaired an Strong Cities Network workshop for mayors and city leaders from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the margins of the Conference of Mayor’s winter meeting.
In less than three years, the Strong Cities Network has mobilized and trained thousands of local stakeholders around the world on CVE good practices. Workshops have provided expertise tailored to the local context, while the global summits, exchanges, and the online hub have created a global cohort of local CVE policy makers and practitioners. You can learn more about the Strong Cities Network at http://strongcitiesnetwork.org/ .
About the Author: Michael Duffin serves as a Policy Advisor in the Bureau of Counterterrorism, Office of Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.