Analysis The new Counter-Terrorism Strategy: Beyond rhetoric


Rogelio Alonso is Political Science professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

The brief analysis described below about the new National Counter-terrorism Strategy is based in a decisive premise for the comprehension of its true purpose and content: this document has been adopted by the National Security Council only some weeks before imminent elections were called. From this election a new government would be the responsible for implementing this strategy. This is an evidence of the exploitation of the strategy and of the work of security professionals, compelled to adjust their planning and action to the changing political interests. And even though the strategy claims repeatedly for a political consensus, the Spanish Government has renounced to discuss it or to arrive to an agreement with other political groups, who might have to implement “the strategic policy framework in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism” [1]that it is said to be. A weak government such as the present one, and that as a result of this weakness has been obliged to call elections, should have maintained the document as a project without compromising the four years of the established period of validity.

In second place, it should also be noted that it is fundamentally a descriptive and declarative document but not operative. Instead of assuming this limitation and its informative orientation, the strategy adopted by the Spanish Government now raises ambitious aspirations, even saying that: “Its objective is directed to neutralize the threat posed by terrorism against citizens and the interests of the Spanish population in and out the borders, reducing the vulnerability of society and facing radicalization processes that lead to violent extremism” [2]. The purpose of this document can be found confusing, the reason is that it does not develop an exhaustive, technical or operative analysis nor proposals of this kind and consequently it must assume its principal commitment as a contribution for a reflection about the risks and threats that terrorism and violent extremism could bring to Spain.

In this way, the document uses general common places more typical of political than strategic speech avoiding being concrete, which is necessary to enrich strategy in case of the truly desire its practical and operative use for those who face terrorism. There are numerous examples of evidence, discovering another of the deficiencies in a document where there is a commitment to elaborate an “Annual Report on Evaluation of the Strategy where the degree of execution and meeting objectives will appear”. The politicians and bureaucrats would be pleased to sell propagandistically their appearing reached targets if the moment to evaluate generic and deliberately non-specific targets to avoid its proper measurement arrives; not those who take security seriously and put their lives at risk facing terrorism and for those who believe that tactics and strategy are not mere rhetoric.

On one side, it states: “Therefore, the reinforcement of human resources, materials and the technicians at national security and intelligence organs and of the procedures on which the above are based, in addition to the fundamental coordination and development of the obtained intelligence” [3]. However, it is not clarified nor detailed anything about how the officers and professionals of our security agencies are going to be granted with the necessary instruments to achieve such reinforcement, coordination and development. In that same side, other wide objectives are identified: “Reinforce legal instruments, both, nationally and internationally to the evolving of activities related with terrorism and the violent extremism, offering a commensurate response with the effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties” [4]; and “To improve the legal capacities which allow the prosecution of these crimes in common overall spaces” [5]. However, there is no mention on the new legal instruments that have been called by the police, the intelligence service and the judicial and prosecutorial institutions to the political authorities to fulfil the content of the above said generic aspirations and put them effectively in practice.

In this way, this document certainly reveals other of the generic pretensions laid down in this strategy: “There is an urgent need to strengthen the coordination systems for a response, care of victims, compensation for the damage caused and return to normal the institutional and social recovery” [6]. Indeed, the Spanish Minister for Internal Affairs, Fernando Grande Marlaska, presents the text beginning with this statement: “Spain is also better prepared than ever to confront terrorism, counting with the best professionals and the best successful experience after fighting terrorism from ETA, which caused so much suffering in our country for years” [7]. In this way it prefaces a strategy in which the Law of 2011 on the recognition and integral protection to victims of acts of terrorism is extolled, when neither the Pedro Sanchez government nor the past ones, chaired by Mariano Rajoy have implemented it, the reason is to avoid the many tributes to terrorists which are held with complete impunity at Basque Country and Navarra. The mentioned Law, in its Article 61, to defend the honour and dignity of victims obliges the State and the Public Administrations to prevent and disrupt any public acts that “entail discredit, disrespect or humiliation of the victims or of their family members, exaltation of terrorism, homage or public awarding of distinctions to terrorists” [8].

This Strategy repeatedly claims the “involvement of society” and therefore it justifies the public nature of a document which format and content hinder its use in teaching for a wide range of society. The preference for a predominantly generic and imprecisely approach, constrains the educational aspects of the strategy and its efficiency. The following declaration of intents illustrates it, joining the numerous instances such as this one: “Prevention is key to avert future threats. It requires, however, a special awareness and coordination effort of all the Administrations and a wide range of measures in every area of our society” [9]. In the above, neither a specification nor specific consideration about the necessary mechanism to achieve such awareness or a coordination of the three levels of administration –State, Autonomous Region and local- essential to develop the national strategic plan in the fight against a violent radicalization. The authentic and effective implementation of this plan has been conditioned upon its origins by the lack of political will of the governments in a political landscape with a significant political confrontation and with a resource competition in the already mentioned levels of Administrations.

Due to all these reasons, unfortunately the lack of a specific budget for the Counter-terrorism Strategy already mentioned it is not a surprise. And probably, the Spanish Government will publicize it as an achievement during the election campaign even though the already analysed deficits. Recently the National Intelligence Centre claimed for a specific budget which does not yet exist of the area of cybersecurity [10]. The Government has also refused the request from security professionals to include a specific budget for a counter-terrorism strategy that this Government is logically not going to implement. Thus, one of the conclusions drawn from the lecture of this Strategy is that after decades suffering from terrorism, of success and sacrifices of the National Police Corps, of the Guardia Civil and of the CNI (National Centre of Intelligence), of failures and learnt lessons, the irresponsible political exploitation continues to be used in such a critical area for our society and security. And this is an urgent challenge for the next Government.

[1] Order PCI / 179/2019, of February 22, which publishes the National Strategy against Terrorism 2019, approved by the National Security Council, Official State Gazette, number 49, Tuesday, February 26, 2019 , Sec. I, page 17942.

[2] Ibid., P. 17943.

[3]Ibid., P. 17964.

[4] Ibid., P. 17957.

[5] Ibid., P. 17959.

[6] Ibid., P. 17965.

[7] National Strategy against Terrorism 2019, Government of Spain, Presidency of the Government, p. Four.

[8] Law 29/2011, of September 22, on the Recognition and Integral Protection ofVictims of Terrorism, Official State Gazette, no. 229, sec. I, p. 100588.

[9] Order PCI / 179/2019, of February 22, which publishes the National Strategy against Terrorism 2019, approved by the National Security Council, Official State Gazette, number 49, Tuesday, February 26, 2019 , Sec. I, page 17964.

[10] "The Director of the CNI urges greater investment in cybersecurity", ABC, 02/14/2019,

Translated by Nerea Eiroa González


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