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Opening Address at the Conference "Understanding the Islamic State"

Oslo, 11 June 2015

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, held the opening address at the FFI conference "Understanding the Islamic State" 11 June 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to see so many leading experts on ISIL here today.

Decision-makers always depend on the advice of experts.

In the case of ISIL, your insights are needed more than ever.   

Less than two years ago ISIL was excluded from al-Qaida.

Back then, few people beyond research and intelligence communities had even heard of this group.

A few months later, ISIL forces overran Mosul, the second biggest city of Iraq.

This was exactly one year ago yesterday.  

Today, ISIL is one of the most serious threats to security – in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Europe and globally. 

Thousands of young people – including more than 70 Norwegians – have left their countries to join the cause of the extremists.

Earlier this week, an 18 year old Norwegian boy was apprehended at the airport – believed to be on his way to fight for ISIL.


A terrorist organisation in control of vast territories represents an unprecedented challenge to global security.

Their brutality extends to beheadings of civilians and mass murder of women and children – a threshold not even al-Qaida crosses.    

The speed of ISIL’s rise, the manner in which it attracts young people – and the way in which it combines medieval brutality with a 21st century command of social media – all this calls for immediate action as much as it calls for comprehensive analysis.

ISIL’s attempts at recruiting engineers, doctors and economists are further evidence of their ambition to be something more than just another terrorist organisation. 

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger put it this way: “ISIS has established itself as a new paradigm, one that is more brutal, more sectarian, more apocalyptic than the groups that preceded it”.

ISIL has shown a remarkable ability to change its strategy and modus operandi.

As we improve our analysis and increase our ability to predict their next move – instead of remaining two steps behind - we must be prepared that they also will respond by refining their methods – again.     

ISIL has taken full advantage of the regional rivalries and the fluid political situation in the Middle East – and of the human and political catastrophy in Syria.   

We can only win this fight if all the countries in the region realise that the most serious threat to their longterm security – is ISIL.

ISIL must be met with a broad coalition of regional and international actors – and by a broad and inclusive coalition in Baghdad.    


We didn’t choose to fight ISIL because it is easy – but because it is absolutely imperative that we do.

There is an urgent need to stop the advance of ISIL – and to start the patient work that is needed to eradicate the roots that allow such groups to exist.

This threat must be met with a wide range of measures – including military force, intelligence, diplomacy, development aid, strategies for stopping the flow of funds and fighters, and, not least, refined attempts at countering the ideology of the extremists.    

ISIL must be fought on the ground, in the courtrooms, in the classrooms; in churches and mosques; in elected assemblies, and on the internet.

On all these fronts, we firmly depend on your research and analysis.

A coalition of 62 nations has been formed to combat ISIL.

Progress has been made. Were it not for the international coalition – the reach of ISIL’s brutal fist would have been much wider today.  

Recent setbacks on the ground cannot weaken our resolve – they can only strengthen it.

At the last meeting of the core group of the coalition in Paris, we strongly encouraged Prime Minister Abadi to go ahead with reversing the de-baathification laws and implementing the National Guard concept.   

Norway’s decision to take such an active part in the fight against ISIL was based on the condition that the campaign is led by an Iraqi government that reaches out to the Sunnis, and that Iraq’s neighbours play a central role.

ISIL can only be rolled back if all communities in Iraq feel that they have a stake in a stable, united and democratic nation.  

ISIL cannot be defeated without a political solution in Syria –and without a political transition there.

In Iraq, all security forces that take part in the fight against ISIL must conduct their fight in a way that does not increase support for the terrorists.

Liberated cities must feel liberated.

Ways to reach out to the Sunni communities must be found – through political and economic means. 

Grievances must be reconciled. Norway is in close contact with a wide spectre of Sunni actors in Iraq who do not support ISIL.

The weaknesses of the Iraqi Army, and its dependency on the militias, underline the importance of the military training offered by the members of the coalition.

The Norwegian military contingent is now fully deployed in Erbil and Baghdad.

Norway is also a major humanitarian contributor to the people of Iraq and Syria.   

While progress on the ground in Iraq is crucial, we continue our longterm fight againt violent extremism.

It does not help to win the day-to-day battles in Iraq if we loose the battles of the future.

Last week, Norway hosted the European follow-up conference to the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, with a particular emphasis on engaging the youth. 

180 young people from 20 European countries formed a network of civil society organisations that are fighting all forms of violent extremism.

Countering a warped ideology that is shared by such a tiny minority is a particular challenge.

But strategic communication can only be effective if accompanied by substance – young people must be able find jobs and opportunities, and to influence their own future – also in European countries.

We live in an age of great paradox. 

There is a need to know more about why the threats to global security are more complex and diffuse than they have been for decades, at a time of unprecedented progress and prosperity.

Worldwide, increased trade and improved governance have cut in half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty.

But some nations are lagging behind, due to human rights abuses, poor governance and a lack of jobs and equal opportunities.

These pockets of disorder, and the contrasts between them and the world of progress, seem to be where we should start looking for the roots of violent extremism.

Furthermore, the technological progress that has otherwise served humanity so well also strengthen the ability of those who want to destroy.

This is the complex face of the new security landscape.

Globalisation is drawing the nations of the world closer – for good and bad.  

Terrorists can be fought with soldiers and police – and indeed they will be – but in the long run they will only be defeated if the root causes of violent extremism are understood – and if this understanding is translated into action.

If we are to prevail in this struggle, we cannot rest in our quest for answers and solutions.    

There is a need to know more about why so many states disintegrate and fail to offer their citizens economic opportunities and basic human rights – and exclude some groups from having a voice.

This is how the seeds of extremism are sowed.

No stone must be left unturned in the search for the roots of violent extremism – and all possible action must be taken in the fight against it. 

Thank you for your crucial contribution to this fight.

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