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G20 Performance on Fighting Terrorism

Katherine Yampolsky, G20 Research Group
November 17, 2020

The resurgence of terrorism, as evidenced by the recent attacks in France and Austria, requires strong coordinated leadership from G20 leaders at their virtual Riyadh Summit on November 21-22, 2020. Despite the persistent threat of terrorism, G20 leaders' attention to this subject has fluctuated over the years, and largely focused on the specific issues of illicit financial activities that support terrorist operations, and terrorist financing. G20 leaders have only produced three documents dedicated to terrorism: in 2015 at Antalya; in 2017 at Hamburg; and in 2019 in Osaka. They have made a total of 48 commitments on terrorism since they first met at the 2008 Washington Summit. As the global community continues to combat the novel COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty and rising tensions have contributed to growing social unrest. It is therefore of central importance that G20 leaders address the pressing social, political, and security challenges that terrorism brings. The world looks to Saudi Arabia's leadership at the 2020 Riyadh Summit to make more concerted and effective commitments to combat terrorism and have G20 members comply with them.

Communiqué Conclusions

Since their start in 2008, G20 summits have dedicated a total of 6,469 words to terrorism in their public communiqués, for an average of 462 at each summit. The amount of words dedicated to terrorism at each summit rose and fell unevenly from 2008 to 2019. There were none at the summits in April 2009 at London and in 2014 at Brisbane, and represented as high as 5% at the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit, the 2011 Cannes Summit, the 2015 Antalya Summit and the 2017 Hamburg Summit. The highest word count came in 2017 at Hamburg, with 1,900 words. This was followed by a decline in 2018 at Buenos Aires, with only 64 words dedicated to terrorism, representing 1% of the total words. There was an increase to 721 words at the most recent regular summit, in 2019 at Osaka, which, at 11%, is the highest percentage of total words dedicated to terrorism in a summit communiqué to date.

From 2008 to 2019, the G20 leaders focused on condemning the act of terrorism and addressing terrorist financing. In 2017 at Hamburg, the G20 leaders released their "Statement on Countering Terrorism." At Osaka in 2019 they included discussions on preventing internet exploitation for terrorism and violent extremism.

Commitments

Within these communiqué conclusions, G20 leaders made 48 terrorism commitments, as identified by the G20 Research Group. The first came in 2013 at the St. Petersburg Summit, five years after their first meeting. They made none made at their next summit. After that, they regularly but unevenly made commitments on terrorism, peaking at 24 total commitments at Hamburg in 2017. They made only five commitments at Osaka in 2019.

Compliance

Their communiqué conclusions and the commitments that come from them only matter if they are substantial and ambitious and if the G20 members subsequently comply with them. Of the 48 commitments made by the G20 on terrorism, the G20 Research Group has analyzed six to assess compliance by G20 members. It found that average compliance was 77%, compared to the overall G20 average of 71%.

Compliance with G20 terrorism commitments was high and relatively steady until 2019. High compliance of 88% came for commitments made at St. Petersburg in 2013, followed by an 87% average for the two assessed commitments for Antalya in 2015, and 88% for Hangzhou in 2016; it lowered slightly to 65% for the assessed commitment at Buenos Aires in 2018. All these assessments related to terrorist financing. The 2019 Osaka Summit had by far the lowest compliance of only 50% by October 10, 2020, for a commitment on the new subject of internet security. This low score compared to 78% average compliance for the summit as a whole.

Causes and Corrections

Given the small number of terrorism commitments assessed for compliance, no causes of or corrections for compliance can be confidently made. However some possibilities stand out, as suggestions for further research and even for G20 summit action at Riyadh.

The first cause is iteration, as the G20 has made commitments on terrorist finance since the G20 met at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors in Ottawa on November 16-17, 2001, in response to the terrorist attack on the United States in New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.

Second, leaders' commitments on terrorist finance should also reference the Financial Action Task Force, as the core international institution in this field. The two assessed commitments that included such references averaged 89% compliance, compared to 72% for the four commitments that did not.

Third, the four commitments with low binding verbs (such as "reiterate," "remain committed" and "will continue to") averaged of 87%, compared to 50% for the one commitment with a highly binding phrase ("we are committed to realizing"). However, this latter commitment, made in 2019, dealt with the new subject of internet security, in response to the "lone wolf" massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand (not a G20 member).

Fourth, the high compliance of 87% for commitments on terrorist finance suggest that the synergies between terrorism and finance spur high compliance, compared to siloed commitments on terrorism alone.

Fifth, this further suggests the importance of holding a ministerial meeting on the same, or similar, synthetic subject, as G20 finance ministers started and sustained G20 commitment making on terrorist finance since 2000. This could suggest the value of G20 ministers responsible for digitalization, who began meeting only in 2018, doing more on terrorism, and even holding a joint ministerial meetings with their colleagues responsible for finance and even counter-terrorism itself.

Finally, the most recent terrorist attacks in Europe in the autumn of 2020 suggest that migration could be a contributing factor. G20 leaders should recognize the increasing interconnection between terrorism and issues such as climate change, displacement, migration, right- and left-wing extremism, returning foreign fighters, and online radicalization. This could imply the value of the Riyadh Summit expanding its synthetic approach to terrorism much more broadly than it has thus far. It more confidently confirms the need for additional analysis of G20 commitments on fighting terrorism, and members' compliance with them.

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Katherine YampolskyKatherine Yampolsky is a research analyst leading the work on terrorism of the G20 Research Group and G7 Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She focuses on conflict resolution, terrorism, security and the Middle East. She is pursuing an honours bachelor of arts, specializing in peace, conflict and justice, with a double minor in Italian and Arabic. She also holds a certification in Counter-Terrorism Studies from the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya.

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