Defence ministers say education, collaboration, inclusive policy are key to fighting terrorism

Germany's Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen speaking during the fourth plenary session at the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, on June 3, 2018.
Germany's Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen speaking during the fourth plenary session at the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, on June 3, 2018.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

South-east Asia is witnessing new dimensions of terrorism as new recruits have now included middle-class, integrated, young people and even families. The tactics used by terrorist groups are also constantly evolving, and so too must countries when dealing with them.

Defence ministers from the Philippines, Germany and Qatar, who spoke of these new trends and challenges at a plenary session at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday (June 3), all agree that governments need a diverse mix of measures to deal with the scourge of terrorism.

"It takes a network to fight a network," said Dr Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's Federal Minister of Defence, adding that there needs to be a concerted effort to coordinate various branches of government from law enforcement to military.

"Terrorism that uses hybrid means requires a hybrid defence," she said.

Dr Khalid Mohammed Al Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence Affairs of Qatar, made the point that there is no singular root cause for terrorism, and "many components contribute to the creation of the enemy".

The challenge for governments is how to confront the increasingly sophisticated recruitment and funding tactics, as well as execution of terror acts, which now spread across social media and electronic transfers and transcends borders.

Funds from the Middle East and proceeds from the drug trade had gone to supporting the ISIS-linked siege in Marawi last year, said Philippine National Defence Secretary, Major General Delfin Lorenzana, adding that the anonymity of money transfers and recruitment have made cyberspace the "new battleground".

"We have to win the battle for attention," said Dr von der Leyen. "We need to develop our own narrative and communicate our openness of societies, respect for other cultures and religions...and disprove arguments of terrorist organisations."

The ministers agree that education was a key plank of the strategy in fighting terrorism. Maj-Gen Lorenzana said the Philippine government is now paying more attention to madrasahs, a potential breeding ground for radicalism, by requiring these religious schools to submit their curriculum to the authorities.

Combat-proof returning fighters are also a concern for Germany, which has invested in deradicalisation programmes and actively prevent would-be terrorists from leaving for the Middle East, while prosecuting those who have returned, said Dr von der Leyen.

When asked where they would spend extra money on if their terrorism-combat budget was given a boost, Dr Khalid said it would go to enhancing education and creating jobs which would help the marginalised feel more included.

Both Maj-Gen Lorenzana and Dr von der Leyen would put the funds in developing systems that can track the movements of potential terrorists, as well as on social media to counter the extremist narrative.