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Sietzke Vermeulen
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Utrecht,
19
May
2016

Fluctuating attention causes drop in knowledge and capacity

Utrecht University evaluates Dutch counter-terrorism strategy

Summary

In a study commissioned by the Ministry of Security and Justice Research and Documentation Centre (WODC), Utrecht University has evaluated the Netherlands' 2011-2015 counter-terrorism policy. The structure and implementation of the Dutch policy (a combination of preventive and repressive measures) has the potential to lay an effective foundation for powerful interventions against threats. However, in times of less-visible threats and reduced political attention – as was the case until 2013 – the necessary capacity, contacts and knowledge fade into the background. The security and society-oriented partners – who should be working together – drift apart. These partners do create a specific, individually targeted approach once the threat resurfaces, however it takes time to rebuild to joint approach. For the future strategy, the University's recommendation is therefore to maintain the required levels of attention, capacity and knowledge, even when the threat has decreased.

2011-2015 Counter-terrorism Strategy

The 2011-2015 counter-terrorism strategy was drawn up in response to a previous evaluation of Dutch counter-terrorism measures between 2001-2010. Its purpose was to provide an overview of all measures taken, and ensure an integrated approach.

The strategy invests in a comprehensive approach to terrorism, including both prevention and repression by means of integrated collaboration among local and national partners. A large assembly of partners from the public and private sectors help to implement the strategy.

Evaluation

Terrorism is a complex phenomenon, and there are few clear insights into the causes. This complexity carries over into the academic (and other) means of determining the effects of policy aimed at preventing and counteracting terrorism. The purpose of the evaluation is to provide insight into how the 2011-2015 strategy helped to reduce both the risk and fear of attacks, and to limit any potential damage. Based on literature studies and interviews with relevant local and national parties, the evaluation produced an assessment of the joint intervention capacity of the government partners involved and identified focus areas for the 2016-2020 counter-terrorism strategy to be announced this summer.

The comprehensive approach characterising the Dutch policy has powerful potential. For example, the threat presented by radicalising individuals can be limited through security measures, while those involved in society-based interventions are also offered alternatives.

After a period of relative quiet, in March 2013 the threat level was raised to 'substantial'. Government partners intensified their policy and began working on an integrated local approach, in which society-based measures (e.g. youth care organizations or welfare departments) were combined with security-based measures by organisations such as the National Police Force or the Public Prosecution Service to create a tailored, individually-targeted intervention package.

Conclusions

  1. The policy's strength lies in the focus on prevention and repression, in the combination of both security and society-based measures. However, the breadth of the approach may unintentionally result in selective attention among the various measures available. At times when the threat suddenly increases, for example, the focus shifts to security, eclipsing the society-based measures.
  2. Partners drift away from each other, especially in times of decreased attention. Although security operators still remain relatively active in counter-terrorism policy, the social partners discern no clear policy role for themselves during periods of reduced threat. Without their contribution, however, the comprehensive approach cannot be realised. Once a visible threat appears, their role gains in importance once again.
  3. The capacity of national and local partners fluctuated considerably during the period investigated. Once the threat is no longer visible or receives less attention from politicians, it becomes impossible to maintain levels of knowledge, manpower and contacts. Many organisations are faced with reforms, cutbacks and other political priorities. Counter-terrorism is put back on the agenda once the threat reappears, however all partners then need to rebuild their levels of knowledge, manpower and contacts.
  4. Although coordination by NCTV is appreciated in this complex policy area, the organisation must navigate between the requirements of the various partners and the demands of politicians. Partners do state that the NCTV needs to strike a better balance between the subtleties of practice and the political emphasis on a strict, statistics-based reporting approach.

Research team members: Prof. Mirko Noordegraaf (project manager), Scott Douglas DPhil (implementing project manager), Aline Bos MSc, Wouter Klem MA.

The researchers received support and advice from various academic experts at Utrecht University: Dr Karin Geuijen, Prof. Beatrice de Graaf, Prof. Paul ’t Hart, Prof. Ton Hol, Prof. Henk Kummeling. 

English summery

You can download the English summery in the left column of this webpage.