Description: Terrorism has always been a battle of ideas, reflecting a desire for violent and immediate political transformation. The technologies available in a globalized world today, however, have expanded the theater of conflict into a broader swath of spaces—governed, less governed, virtual—than ever. Groups such as al-Qaida have articulated a clear mission statement and excelled at strategic communication, crafting messages based on audience perceptions and including actions as well as words.

Yet, extremists do not constitute a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas. States and international organizations provide their own narratives that shape identities, relationships, and interactions among peoples and states, but they have often struggled to challenge extremist messages and draw on their own compelling stories. This should not be the case. The United Nations is the only international organization to boast universal membership and has spent more than six decades promoting sustainable development, promoting human rights and the rule of law, strengthening governance, and supporting representative government. Member states have worked together to mitigate violent conflict, support humanitarian assistance, and address threats to human security. The organization has a good story to tell, a powerful counternarrative to that proclaimed by extremist groups. Yet, does the story get out and reach key audiences outside and inside the United Nations?

This report presents a qualitative analysis of how strategic communication principles can strengthen international efforts to address terrorism and violent extremism. The report examines the evolution of the challenge and draws on discussions with officials, diplomats, and experts to offer a series of recommendations for enhancing strategic communications on counterterrorism. While this study focuses on the United Nations, the key principles and recommendations may also be applicable to governments and international organizations confronting this complex transnational threat.

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