General Petr Pavel: Military only “part of a broader toolbox” in fight against terrorism

Generalstabschef der tschechischen Armee, Petr Pavel (Foto: Kristýna Maková)

The devastation of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, which left more than 30 civilians dead and 200 injured, has begun to sink in. At the same time many have been left wondering what should be done next, namely to prevent similar such attacks from being repeated.

General Petr Pavel | Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International
I spoke to General Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, asking him how daunting the problem is.

“It is very difficult. And it is very difficult to identify motivation because terrorism presented mostly as ‘Islamic’ has very little to do with Islamic religion. Even though these people present themselves as jihadists or as fighters for freedom and religion, they are in fact, by their deeds, criminals. They do not distinguish between Christians, Muslims and any other religious group and they simply kill everyone, including women and children. In that sense, I think our concern is to de-legitimize their actions as being ‘religiously motivated’. We simply have to clearly state that this is a criminal activity.”

Is there a broader role for NATO to play in this? We have heard declarations that Europe is at war from politicians such as the French prime minister; so what is NATO’s role in blunting or helping to stop groups like ISIS?

“I would see that as a simplification of the problem. If we say that we are ‘at war’ then we implicitly say that this more or less a military business to deal with this kind of threat. We all know that the military has an important role to play but not the only one. We really need a much broader, more comprehensive approach to the issue of terrorism because military tools are only a very small part of the toolbox. We don’t only want to address the symptoms – we want to address the root causes. And the military can only act in defeating the military part of terrorism.

Photo: CTK
“But what are the grass roots of terrorism? It’s mostly deprivation, the social situation, obviously religious strife (this time mostly between the Sunni and Shia branches in Islam) and a vast variety of other factors where the military has no tools to be effective. So I really believe that we need to address the issue of extremism and terrorism through addressing security, the social and economic situation in countries where terrorism has roots.”

Tune in for our full interview with General Pavel on Thursday, March 24, in Panorama.