United States Special Operations Command hosted the day-long Sovereign Challenge Fall Seminar entitled "Collective Approaches to Countering Islamist Extremism: Sources and Solutions."
More than 64 participants from 47 countries, including 26 flag officers, as well as personnel from the Department of State, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense participated in the conference.
"Sovereignty continues to remain a tough challenge for all of us," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Scott Howell, vice commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. "Violent extremism poses a threat to every nation," he continued. "Left unchecked and bolstered by this hyperconnected world, this brand of extremism will continue to manifest itself around the world."
For more than 12 years, Sovereign Challenge has served as an avenue for discussing current issues regarding national sovereignty and security. This year's focus on counterterrorism continued to fill that prescription.
Keynote speaker, Professor Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Standford University, and the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, addressed the conference in a fireside chat format moderated by retired U.S. Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, president of Middle East Broadcasting Networks, to analyze strategies for global stability,
"I'm increasingly struck by the tension in the world today between networks and sovereign states," Ferguson said.
"Most of history is the story of an interplay between hierarchical structures, like sovereign states, and distributed networks," he said. "And for most of history, the hierarchical structures have the upper hand."
However, he explained that technological changes have empowered modern networks, similar to how the printing press empowered European non-state actors in the 16th and 17th centuries with ideas that "would simply have been stuffed out as heresy in any previous century."
He went on to recommend engaging in competition to produce better schools and promoting education as a powerful means of countering extremism.
"If that is our strategy, then I think it has some prospect of success," Ferguson concluded.
The keynote speaking engagement was followed by a panel discussion featuring Mark E. Mitchell, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict for the Department of Defense; Daniel Kimmage, acting coordinator and special envoy, Global Engagement Center, Department of State; U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mitchell Bradley, director of the Transregional Threats Coordination Cell, J5, Joint Staff; and Bassam Barabandi, political advisor to the (Syrian) High Negotiations Committee.
"We find this program to be a valuable means of maintaining strategic dialog with our partners and gaining context and gaining perspective on some of the hard problems we collectively must deal with," Howell said.
Sovereign Challenge began in 2004 when USSOCOM invited a group of defense attachés from Washington, D.C., to Tampa, Fla. to discuss major issues of concern to their respective nations. Since then, conference participation has focused on accredited military, defense
attachés and security-related diplomats from D.C.-based foreign embassies.
For more Sovereign Challenge Fall Seminar photos, click here.
For more information on Sovereign Challenge, visit us at, https://www.socom.mil/SovereignChallenge.