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Theresa May and Donald Trump Tackle Terrorism at Taormina

John Kirton, G7 Research Group
May 23, 2017

In the late evening of May 22, 2017, just five days before the G7's Taormina Summit and two weeks before British prime minister Theresa May's general election on June 8, a terrorist suicide bomber struck in Manchester, killing at least 22 civilians, including children, as they left a concert full of hope and joy. The attack was reminiscent of the deadly explosion on the London tube on July 7, 2015, which led Prime Minister Tony Blair to leave his G8 summit in Gleneagles to return to London. It was also reminiscent of the deadly attack at the Bataclan in Paris on November 13, 2015, which led French president François Hollande to cancel his participation in the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, two days later. Would and should Theresa May now terminate her trip to Taormina and, if not, what would and should she do there to help tackle her terrorist vulnerability back home?

She should go, for only at Taormina would she find the powerful international cooperation she needs to control a terrorist threat that the G7 summit has been combatting since 1978. At Taormina, she will meet the new U.S. president Donald Trump at his first outing on the full world stage. He has long had tackling the terrorism inspired by twisted interpretations of Islamic fundamentalism as his top priority. He has been touched by its trauma since the deadly terrorist attacks on his home town of New York City on September 11, 2001.

Trump will come to Sicily from a summit of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia, where he had them agree to a more forceful attack on such terrorism, starting at its current epicentre in the self-proclaimed Islamic State's embattled and shrinking territorial stronghold in Syria and Iraq. He will come via Israel and Palestine, where terrorist attacks remain a routine occurrence from territory beyond the Israeli's government's control next door. And he will arrive just after a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, the home of the European Union, where he and his allies will focus on the need to send more troops back to Afghanistan to counter Taliban terrorists reclaiming territory that NATO forces had previously liberated at high cost. And at Taormina he will look across the migrant-filled Mediterranean at a conflict-ridden Libya, where Gaddafi may be long gone but where the so-called Islamic State could easily find a new home on Europe's soft southern front.

Tackling terrorism at source will require more boots on the ground and massive material assistance to rebuild a liberated Iraq and potentially Syria, Libya and terrorist-afflicted African countries south of the Sahara, while supporting North African countries such as Tunisia in the promising peaceful democratic paths on which their Arab peoples have embarked. Only the combined resources of the G7 countries and its EU members can meet this challenge, on a scale vastly larger than the Deauville Partnership launched at their summit in 2011.

Yet even obliterating terrorism at its territorial source will not end a threat transmitted by ideology and the internet in today's intensely interconnected world. The G7 will need to come together to find better ways to fight radicalization, social marginalization and even mental illness, as the deadly combination that generated the deadly terrorist attacks in Canada in October 2014 and many in the United States in recent years. It will need to find a better formula for social integration and economic inequality for recent immigrants and for the offspring of those who arrived in G7 countries generations ago. And it will need to address all the root causes of terrorism, guided by the comprehensive, integrated framework of the 2030 Agenda's Sustainable Development Goals approved by the entire global community in 2015.

Only the G7 leaders together can address all these components of today's counter-terrorist challenge and do so in an integrated, synergistic way. (For more, see G7 Italy: The Taormina Summit 2017.) And at Taormina, Prime Minister May could well show and even tell her citizens that in their counter-terrorist fightback, they need the EU, not just to territorially stand between a vulnerable UK and the terrorist sanctuaries in the broader Middle East and North Africa, but also because it fully shares the devotion to open democracy and individual liberty that the British invented for the world in 1215.

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