The number 16 became very indicative to me this year.
On September 11th, we marked the 16th anniversary of the largest terror attack on our nation’s soil. It was a day that evil came to our shores and took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people. For many Americans, these attacks are living history. However, for a generation quickly growing up, it is becoming textbook history. We must never forget what happened on that day.
This year, as I stood at Ground Zero in downtown New York and listened to the names of each of the victims read aloud, I was reminded why we must keep the pressure on terror networks across the globe that actively plot against the U.S. and our allies.
As Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, I play a role in keeping America safe. But, as a father of five, including a set of triplets who are now 16, this long war on terror has become a lot more personal.
For our younger generations, it is impossible to imagine an America that isn’t at war with terrorists. That is all they’ve known. Terrorism is what they study in school and see on the news.
However, in the last 16 years, the world has become increasingly violent. Today, we are facing a new generation of terrorists who have mastered the internet to recruit and radicalize online. Their hateful ideology has a global reach, and the world’s most dangerous terrorists are only a plane ride away.
Although September 11, 2001, may seem like a long time ago, recent attacks in Europe have demonstrated that terrorists are willing to kill at any time and by any means necessary.
If we do not reassess and update our strategy to prevent terror groups from expanding their reach, an America in perpetual war will not only be the world our kids grow up in but their children as well.
We cannot let this happen — but where do we start?
We must recognize that a growing proportion of the world is living in a “fragile state” — countries experiencing constant violence due to internal conflicts, underdevelopment, and political turmoil. The success and failures of these states have significant implications for U.S. national security interests because they become breeding grounds for international terrorism.
In the past, our government has been reactive rather than proactive in addressing fragility in countries across the globe. Instead of focusing our efforts on reducing violence and instability, we have opted to retreat while crises around the world worsen, affording extremist groups and transnational criminals fertile ground to exploit the vulnerable.
While we cannot relent in eliminating terrorists from the battlefield, I believe we must couple these efforts with eliminating the access they have to the fragile environments from which they recruit.
For example, in nearly the same amount of time we have been fighting our war on terror, we have seen more than three billion people — or almost half the world’s population — affected by violence, from chaos in the Arab world to the global refugee crisis. If we do nothing to reduce violence and instability, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that 60 percent of the world’s poor will be living in fragile contexts by 2030.
It is clear a new approach is needed. As such, we should consider the following steps.
As outlined in Fund for Peace’s Fragile Index Report, which assesses a country’s vulnerability to conflict, we must begin to pay attention to the indicators fueling instability.
A failure to attribute these signs to instability, and being proactive in formulating a comprehensive strategy to address it, is why terror groups can flourish, expand, and replace soldiers on the battlefield almost as quickly as we can eliminate them.
In addition, we must make it a policy priority of the United States government to adapt, and increase development assistance, including development finance activities, resources, and authorities for fragile states. Doing so would bolster the ability of states to address indicators of fragility within their own country as well as minimizing the secondary and tertiary effects of ignoring instability.
Lastly, we must prioritize other forms of foreign assistance, including security assistance, for fragile states in a manner that ensures greater coherence and alignment between relevant Executive branch agencies.
By confronting the gathering dangers of fragile states in order to promote stability, we will be attacking radicalism at its roots. Moreover, only then can we begin to win this war of ideas.
My father served as a B-17 bombardier during World War II and helped defeat Nazism so that my generation would not be subject to its evil ways. Now it is our responsibility to work together to address the challenges of today so that our children do not continue to fear the dangers of international terrorism.
We owe it to my father’s generation, our kids’ generation, and generations to come.
Congressman Michael McCaul represents the 10th District of Texas. Currently, he serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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