print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
 Home > Government > National Security Council

Challenges Ahead

We are engaged in a war against a violent extremist movement driven by an ideology that threatens the basic aspirations of all people everywhere. Though our international partners and we have made great strides in this War on Terror, the challenges before us are formidable. Although its leaders and their safehavens and resources are increasingly isolated and besieged, al-Qaida and its affiliates and groups adhering to its ideology continue to plan attacks and continue to seek weapons of mass destruction. Unlike conventional enemies, terrorists do not fight on a defined battlefield. They are found throughout the world, even in countries that are friendly to us. We must therefore help other states to strengthen their will and ability to bring the fight to the enemy. We must continue to use all instruments of national power and influence in the War on Terror: diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement.

Challenges to Defeating the Terrorist Enemy

  • Terrorists’ increased dispersion, use of nonphysical ("virtual") safehavens, and informal operational and logistical coordination complicate efforts to find and defeat them.
  • In Iraq, al-Qaida and associated foreign terrorists have made clear that their goal is to build a Taliban-like state and then expand their battle to neighboring states. In the near future, some of these terrorists could return to their home countries, exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies.
  • Terrorists and insurgents are increasingly using media and the Internet to spread propaganda, rally support, and share experiences, as well as a means to communicate with each other.

Challenges to Denying Support and Safehaven

  • Some state sponsors of terrorism continue to provide funding and weapons to terrorists and offer safehavens from which terrorists plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that some of these countries also have developed or have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and other destabilizing technologies that could fall into the hands of terrorists. In addition, ungoverned and undergoverned spaces, often on frontiers between nations and overlaying failed states, provide safehavens that terrorists exploit.
  • Iran is the world’s leading state provider of political, material, and financial support to Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups and remains unwilling to hand over senior al-Qaida members for prosecution.
  • Syria allows various groups to operate from its soil. It provides both material and political support to Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups. North Korea’s cooperation with Syria in the missile and other WMD areas may enhance Syria’s expertise and ability to provide similar assistance, deliberately or inadvertently, to terrorist organizations.
  • Cuba continues the actions that led to its designation as a state sponsor.

Challenges to Combating the Violent Extremist Ideology

  • Al-Qaida propagandists continue to exploit local grievances to create the sense that the Muslim world is aggrieved and disrespected. A key challenge remains understanding the motivations of those who join or support terrorist networks, as well as the incentives and recruitment techniques employed by terrorists. Only then can we develop effective tools to combat the attractiveness of their message.
  • Success in this ideological struggle demands that we explain more effectively our values, ideals, policies, and actions internationally and support moderate voices willing to confront extremists and discredit radicals.
  • We must employ all elements of U.S. national power, including public diplomacy, development, and democracy-building programs, to address the conditions which terrorists exploit and to counter extremist propaganda and recruiting.

Challenges to Protecting the Homeland

  • We must do more to understand the tools and methodologies employed by extremists and how radicalization occurs, and offer alternative messages. Mobilizing Americans to spread good will in their communities will help reduce receptivity to radical and violent behavior.
  • Terrorists continue to target vulnerabilities in our transportation sectors. We must improve air, land, sea, and border security to counter those who wish to enter the United States illegally.
  • We must increase the resilience and security of our critical infrastructure, especially our transportation systems, to reduce national vulnerabilities and deny terrorists targets.
  • We will continue to improve law enforcement capability, including greater and more effective collection and reporting of intelligence, without encroaching on the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, to interdict terrorists before they strike the Homeland.

Challenges Securing Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • Terrorists have openly declared both their desire to develop and intent to employ weapons of mass destruction against the United States, our partners, and our interests around the world. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to deny terrorist access to WMD.
  • We will face the challenge of marshaling all elements of national power and influence, employing the best efforts of local, State, and Federal governments in full partnership with both the private sector and our partners abroad.
  • We will continue to advance domestic and international efforts to deny terrorists access to the materials and expertise required to fabricate a WMD device, deter terrorists from employing WMD, and actively disrupt their ability either to acquire WMD or introduce WMD into the Homeland.  

Challenges to Building Partnership Capacity

  • A key challenge is partners’ political will. We will use diplomatic engagement, international and regional fora, and incentives and sanctions to encourage partners to strengthen their will and ability to combat the terrorist threat.
  • We must continue to work with international partners, including the United Nations and the G-8’s Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), to coordinate assistance efforts that maximize resources and enhance capacity to those who need it most.