First it was GWOT (Global War On Terror). Then for a time it became SAVE (Strategy Against Violent Extremism). Later on, it became CONTEST (Counter Terrorism Strategy) with the 4 P’s of “Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare.”
Now, albeit unofficially, it’s OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations). When it comes to counter-terrorism, there has been no shortage of acronyms popping up in the bureaucracies of the security and intelligence communities in the United States and the United Kingdom.
GWOT first sprang up immediately after September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush pronounced his famous “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” rallying call, understandable under the circumstances following the devastating attacks in New York and Washington at the time. To the credit of Jacques Chirac, who was the first foreign head of government to visit President Bush less than two weeks after 9/11, the French president expressed reservation over the choice of the word “war”.
Chirac understood the dangers of using the expression “war on terror”, and that it would elicit the notion of the war of the Christian “crusaders” against Islamic “jihadists” among France’s Muslim community, the largest in Western Europe. It would play into Al Qaida’s strategy of provoking tension between the “Christian West” and the “Muslim East”.
But GWOT became a popular rallying cry among right-wing and hard-line “security first” politicians in North America and Western Europe. It captured the imagination of bureaucrats who pushed for tighter domestic security policies against “potential” Muslim “sleepers” or “Trojan horse” subversives.
SAVE came into fashion around 2005-2006, when the “global war” pursued in Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan persuaded politicians in the US and UK that a successful long-term strategy against Muslim terrorism had to go right to “cultural roots of the problem” in a particular country in the Middle East or South Asia. Kinetic-based counter-terrorist actions, including the use of special forces and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) operated from Nevada often inadvertently targeted innocent civilians suspected of being involved in terrorist acts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Over the past decade, intelligence chiefs throughout South East Asia have exchanged notes in facing radical groups who often manipulated Islamic notions of “jihad” by home grown, region-based as well as international-linked terrorist groups. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia undertook “re-integration programs” in which suspected terrorists or those convicted of violent acts are provided with “remedial programs” incorporating welfare related schemes as well as provide rehabilitation sessions guiding them to the true path of Muslim toleration.
The Indonesian Defense Force, particularly the Army, has discretely but effectively recalibrated its role to launch effective Territorial Capacity Buiding (TCB) programs. Its twin track schemes provide governance capacity building for village, local and township management as well as supporting economic development delivery systems. Reinforcing governance capacity and providing economic support (repair of irrigation canals, bridges, rehabilitating houses of worship in previously sectarian-strife areas, teaching arithmetic and Bahasa Indonesia in isolated areas) create a positive environment of “nation-building” and “nation replenishing” at the grass roots level.
This is the other side of GWOT, SAVE and OCO. The real issue is that of matching satellite-based and air launched technology of war should be calibrated with the ground-level anthropology challenge of graduated winning hearts and minds. GWOT, SAVE and OCO can only succeed if these ground level social, economic and cultural issues are resolved at the scope and speed willingly undertaken by local leaders.