As alluded to in a previous article on the Sweden’s counterterrorism strategy, there appears to be clear-cut similarities between the four Nordic states’ plans for both countering further radicalisation of their already radicalised citizens — what one could convincingly a call containment strategy — as well as their wider deradicalisation policies. This ought not to be surprising since they all share important sociopolitical, not to mention economic, commonalities and have, albeit to different extents, been grappling with similar issues.
Similar to the Swedish scheme, Denmark, Finland and Norway’s counter-radicalisation strategies run on three fronts; criminological, pedagogical, and intra-Nordic cooperation. However, the degree to which they each concentrate and spend resources and efforts on these specific pillars tend to differ. For instance, Sweden focuses more on pedagogical efforts whereas Denmark is more invested in the criminological methods, role of prisons, and the link between criminal world and violent extremism. Finland and Norway, for their parts, fall somewhere in between.
Regional forums and gatherings are then utilised to discuss specific experiences thereby allowing officials to learn from and, if needed, modify their respective national blueprints. Such gatherings, needless to say, are also used to coordinate regional counterterrorism efforts which have so far been limited to intelligence and experience sharing; that is, there has not emerged a common Scandinavian counterterrorism approach yet.
A leading nation in designing preventative action plans, Danish preventing violent extremism (PVE), the latest issue of which was published in 2016, sits firmly within the country’s broader crime prevention framework and thus calls for intra- and multi-agency collaboration. Its scope, moreover, is much broader compared to the other Scandinavian states as it aims to contain and eradicate extremism as a whole and not just violent extremism. The link between radicalisation and criminality, finally, is considered as a two-way street in that radicalisation is seen as a precursor to criminal activity, while membership in criminal circles is thought to facilitate membership in extremist groups due to the emerging and mutually reciprocal links, especially financial ones, between the two sides.
Accordingly, extremism refers to “persons or groups that commit or seek to legitimise violence or other illegal acts, with reference to societal conditions that they disagree with,” while radicalisation is considered “a short or long-term process where persons subscribe to extremist views or legitimise their actions on the basis of extremist ideologies”. Embedded in these definitions is the core Danish belief that preventative endeavours not only have the obvious advantage of deterring terrorist activities on the home front but also clear welfare and, by extension, economic benefits. It is assumed that effective preventative measures must also assist non-Danes to integrate and settle in to the wider societal and economic lives of their communities with greater ease, thereby enabling them to become responsible members of the society.
In line with its call for intra- and multi-agency collaboration, a wide range of governmental and nongovernmental actors and entities across national, regional, and local levels are assigned with the task of carrying out preventative works. Their cooperation, in turn, can be best described as three-dimensional: direct interventions aimed at persons in extremist groups, anticipatory interventions focusing on persons vulnerable to radicalisation, and preventive interventions that cover all children and young people.
In terms of management of the whole ecosystem, plans are drawn up nationally by Ministry of Immigration and Integration, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Children and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the National Centre for Prevention of Extremism (NCFE), which is a part of the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) under the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.
Policies and initiatives are then coordinated by PET Prevention Centre — a cross-sectoral cooperation group under the authority of Danish Security and Intelligence Service which has representatives from key national authorities as well as municipalities, regions and the research community — and funnelled down to the regional and local authorities who are responsible for their effective execution.
Typical actors here can be clustered into two groups based on the type of intervention expected from them: Danish Prison and Probation Service, municipalities, and police for direct intervention; and schools/daycare centres, police, and civil society groups for both anticipatory and preventative interventions. Information and feedbacks are shared in a circular fashion and hence it is both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
Considering violent extremism, and indeed extremism in general, as both a social and security threat, Finland, like Denmark, has opted for a nationally planned and locally/regionally implemented counter-radicalisation strategy. However, its strategy appears, to put it mildly, negligible both in depth and complexity when compared to those of Denmark and Sweden due to its small and homogenous population size of 5.6 million.
Such small population size in a vast country like Finland is itself, at least partially, the result of Helsinki’s strict and uncompromising stance on immigration and thus it is not unreasonable to assume a direct link between Finland’s immigration and deradicalisation strategies even though there does not exist any academic and/or empirical work linking the two.
According to Finland’s National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violent Radicalisation and Extremism, most recently updated in 2016, “violent extremism refers to using, threatening with, encouraging or justifying violence based on one’s own view of the world or on ideological grounds” whereas radicalisation is considered as an “individual process which may result in a person joining violent extremist groups or action”.
What is unique about the Finnish scheme is that it articulates a relationship between violent extremism and hate crime, highlighting a direct path between being a victim of hate speech and/or racism and discrimination and becoming radicalised. Similarly unique is its presentation of radicalisation, violent extremism, and terrorism as the different phases of the same phenomenon. This is clearly evident in its identification of prisoners as “vulnerable and, hence, particularly susceptible to the propaganda and recruitment of violent extremist groups”.
In terms of policy formation and implementation, the main responsibility lies with the Ministry of Interior which enjoys a constitutional mandate for ensuring the public safety and security. To this end, the Ministry of the Interior has established a Steering Group and a National Cooperation Network, both of which have representation from other Ministries, such as Foreign, Justice, Culture, Social Affairs and Health, and Education, as well as municipalities, regional authorities, academia and the civil society.
Put simply, the main task of the Steering Group is to monitor and direct the implementation of the National Action Plan and to confirm the annual work plan. The National Cooperation Network, on the other hand, is responsible for coordination and smooth implementation of National Action Plan. Via participation in regional and international gatherings, furthermore, it must also identify, promote, and incorporate the use of best practices into the national masterplan.
Lastly, police, regional authorities and municipalities, schools, and indeed civil organisations, as well as faith communities, are responsible for putting the centrally-designed policies into action. However, and in a distinctively Finn way, these local entities take an active part in policy formulation in that they not only act as they eyes and ears of the state — providing it with raw information on individuals and communities — but they also have a strong say in what ends up in official government policy documents.
Oslo’s latest Action Plan against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism was released in 2014. In it, terrorism is defined, similar to the Finn definition, as “the most extreme consequence of radicalisation and violent extremism”. Interestingly, what distinguishes violent extremism from radicalisation in the Norwegian context is an individual’s move away from tacit acceptance of violent means to achieving his social and/or political objectives. Why such moves are made and how they can be prevented, then, guide Norwegian government’s counterterrorism and deradicalisation policies which give equal weight to both criminological and pedagogical methods.
On the criminological front, there is an explicit connection between crime prevention efforts/methods and those of the PVE to the point that the government’s action plan openly calls for placing “the efforts to combat radicalisation and violent extremism on the same basic principles as the general prevention of crime”. Here, the Norwegian model is almost a replica of its Danish counterpart as it follows the same procedure in calling for official coordination of local/municipal efforts and policies regarding crime prevention measures with the national Police Council.
Additionally, and yet again similar to the Danish model, the Norwegian model considers prisons as fertile grounds for both recruitment into radical groups and radicalisation of mind which could, and usually do, bridge criminality with violent extremism. As such, it has put forward concrete measures in order to tackle violent extremism in prison environments. These include a mentoring scheme aimed at vulnerable inmates as well as the establishment of an interfaith team within the Norwegian Correctional Services.
As for the pedagogical endeavours, the vast majority of the efforts and policies are designed to prevent hate crime via promotion of not only tolerance but also conscious acceptance of ideological as well as cultural differences amongst the pupils and the youngsters while simultaneously promoting a common-to-all Norwegian way of life. This is mainly due to the fact that Norway, similar to Finland, sees a clear link between hate crime and/or expression of hate and radicalisation. However, it parts way with Finland in its understanding of the so called causality chain between the two. Unlike Finland, which considers hate crime as a potential cause for radicalisation of the targeted individuals/groups, Norway sees hate crime as simply a precursor to radicalisation.
All in all, while Oslo sees more role for the police, security forces and the prison system in dealing with already radicalised members of the society, it prioritises education and pedagogical works, especially with regard to hate crime prevention and integration, in its longterm preventative works.
Finally, with regard to policy formulation, coordination and integration, Norway, similar to Denmark and Finland, has adopted a multi-sectoral, centrally-planned and locally-executed procedure whereby the main task of policy formation lies with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, which work in tandem with other ministries via an inter-ministerial group in order to ensure horizontal coordination amongst all the relevant ministries and regional/local entities. In the Norwegian case, these other Ministries include: Children and Equality, Health and Care Services, Education and Research, Culture, Foreign Affairs, Local Government and Modernisation, Defense, Labor and Social Affairs, Police Security Services, and the five Regional Resource Centres on Violence, Traumatic Stress and Suicide Prevention (RVTS).
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.