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THE RADICALIZATION OF EUROPEAN ARMED FORCES

Updated: Aug 12

Erwan Mahoudo, Pètra van de Gevel, Vanessa Coimbra, EUCOM Team

Week of Monday, July 19, 2021


Royal Dutch Army Convoy[1]


In the past few months, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and England have produced security reports exposing the growth of right-wing extremism (RWE) within their Armed Forces (AF), which can undermine the structure of the AF and change the power dynamic within each of these countries. In this report, the EUCOM Team will provide an analysis of the most prevalent threats related to the rise of RWE, including the threat of terrorist attacks in Western Europe, the role of RWE propaganda in international cooperation, the potential for a political insurgency, the rise of a shadow movement, and future implications. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) finds that the rise of RWE in the European AF is highly likely to increase national and transnational vulnerability and increase the probability that other countries will face similar issues across Europe and Western allies. The report proposes a comprehensive overview of the current assessment regarding the rise of RWE and the reflecting threats, as well as how government officials can better detect and defeat RWE. CTG’s EUCOM Team analyzed the most prevalent security threats and identified the most vulnerable results regarding the rise of RWE in the European AF:

  • An increased rate of terrorist attacks;

  • An increase in riots due to lack of considerations for the AF;

  • A confrontation between citizens and AF;

  • A growing shadow movement;

  • The potential weakening of international cooperation;

  • Increased pressure and propaganda from adversaries.


The threat of terrorist attacks in Western Europe


Recent security reports from Leiden University[2] and HOPE Not Hate have shown a significant increase in military personnel's surveillance due to right-wing extremist ideologies.[3] The European AF are struggling with far-right movements within its ranks, which almost certainly poses a high-security risk to European citizens. In Western Europe, the Netherlands conducted over 20 investigations involving suspicions of RWE in its AF in the last five years, leading to the dismissal of 6 radicalized soldiers.[4] In Germany, Berlin’s government dissolved the military special forces unit Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) after an investigation found more than 800 radicalized individuals with right-wing connections.[5] French authorities received an open letter addressing the dangers of the government’s lack of authority over security threats and what the social implications of this behavior will be in the near future.[6] British AF is also a concern for members of the European Union (EU) since 16 of its soldiers have been flagged by the terrorist prevention program for their ties to RWE.[7] The link between right-wing movements and European AF is almost certainly being established in most Western European countries.

RWE in European AF is almost certainly connected to politics, economy, and a person’s experiences in the military and personal networks. Far-right-wing extremist groups can feel supported or neglected by those in government, likely resulting in a rise of RWE within European AF when far-right-wing extremist groups do not feel supported by those in government. This will highly likely lead to a further radicalization of these groups as they will no longer view the government as legitimate. In turn, unemployment resulting from the downturn in the economy highly likely affects the recruitment of right-wing extremists, and consequently, RWE within European AF. To resist the government’s administration and its policies, extremist groups will almost certainly make a more significant shift to the far-right to consolidate their power. This shift is likely to generate a higher level of domestic terror plots and acts of violence, which poses a threat to the security of European countries. The struggle to emerge will very likely result in a spillover effect, provoking the recruitment of new members to extremist groups and calling for a strategic infiltration of the military, making the odds of widespread far-right extremism within European AF higher.

RWE fuels its radicalization process through anti-regime propaganda to increase strength.[8] Far-right ideology is likely understood as an effective response to the countries’ structural problems such as immigration policies, terrorist threats, or public health crises, leading individuals to follow these movements as a response to national threats, likely causing a further radicalization within government institutions. Anti-government sentiments are likely seen as propaganda for those that oppose the regime to exploit the national fragilities in controlling these security problems. Additionally, the growth of conspiracy theories almost certainly influences individuals’ radicalization, along with the proliferation of fake news, which has likely powered the radical far-right, ultra-conservative, Eurosceptic, and anti-immigration discourse among EU countries. Therefore, it is highly likely to expect increased difficulties controlling far-right movements due to the effective propaganda being carried out, almost certainly one of the strongest radicalization vehicles. This propaganda will likely generate political instability and social turmoil since it increases individuals’ divisions over national key topics.


COVID-19 posed conditions for right-wing extremists to alter radicalization methods, recruit new members, and carry out terrorist attacks. Group members of RWE have migrated their efforts online, resiliently using social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram, along with general websites and gaming platforms to spread disinformation and conspiracy theories indoctrinating their beliefs during the pandemic. Recruitment of new members will likely impact the radicalization of the European AF as new members would likely want to infiltrate government institutions to spread far-right ideologies and recruit new members from within, posing a grave threat to the internal security of European AF. The largest threat posed by RWE in official institutions is the access to weapons, specialized knowledge, training, and the potential access to a global network that can very likely cause more harm if a terrorist attack is carried out. This poses a grave danger to European security because far-right networks would be significantly more dangerous than an average member of the public. In addition, domestic attacks perpetrated from within the European AF will highly likely harm the trust in the AF as the public will not feel protected. This development can have negative consequences for the reputation of AF as the suitability of the safeguards will likely be highly questioned, resulting in increasing public pressure and scrutiny.


Radicalization of the Armed Forces' & Societal Concerns


The non-partisan role of the AF in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and England allows it to conduct effective external security missions while ensuring the country's security and political stability.[9] Perceiving the AF as an extension of the state’s power, this non-partisan role certainly increases the sense of security that nationals have in the country’s administration. The RWE’s ultra-conservative, EU-skepticism, anti-refugee, and nationalist positions are likely to lead to possible internal conflicts between far-right supporters and more liberal individuals. Therefore, the growth of extremist movements in the AF’s official institutions will almost certainly lead to the European AF’s mistrust by national citizens, which will deepen the social concerns regarding the replacement of the democratic regimes over totalitarian governments. The AF’s technical and tactical knowledge is likely to increase national insecurity sentiments if the soldiers' radicalization process is known to the general public due to the fear of upcoming riots. The decline in life’s quality is likely to be the main factor that will drive European communities to protest against radicalized individuals. It is likely to expect anti-government riots to arise more frequently as European AF’s radicalization increases, which could quickly escalate to physical violence. Nationals will almost certainly hold counter-protests to contain the growth of RWE in European countries. Successive conflicts between the two factions are likely to become violent, significantly impacting national stability, economic development, health crisis control, and Western democracies' safeguard.


Political insurgency and the rise of shadow movements


As seen in other Western countries like the United States with groups like Attomwaffen, the rise of RWE is highly likely to become a physical threat that can quickly escalate if the members of the groups are trained and armed. When individuals from RWE groups start receiving training and exchanging information, many will likely participate in underground military-like training to receive tactical and physical preparation in the event of an attack. Many RWE groups have already recruited veterans and current military servicemen to teach recruits. One of the primary issues the EUCOM Team found during our analysis is that the background check for radicalization or extremist behavior is minimal when enrolling in the AF. This leaves the door open to right-wing extremist groups to send their new, mostly young recruits to enlist in the army to receive their training and further develop their network within the AF. Additionally, the access to military facilities and tactical gear is not monitored well enough. CTG finds that it is likely that some tactical gear will be stolen outside military facilities by members of RWE groups.


For example, an investigation in Germany reported missing hundreds of rounds of ammunition, handguns, assault rifles, and explosives from its inventory.[10] It is highly likely the majority of unfound military gear was taken for outdoor uses, and the EUCOM Team assesses the unaccounted weapons were used for militia training purposes. By infiltrating the AF, RWE groups are given access to military gear. Due to the lack of thorough background checks and monitoring of tactical gear, some RWE members could extract a large number of weapons outside military facilities. Finally, it is also likely these networks are already developing within the AF, expanding to the Police, Customs, and other government entities representing the law. It is particularly worrying since France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK are some of the most advanced and powerful AF in Europe. Therefore, it is likely that the network will cross borders and develop across Europe.


The role of RWE propaganda in international cooperation


The increased presence of RWE in European AF will likely lead adversaries of Western European countries, such as China and Russia, to exploit national weaknesses. China and Russia will likely give financial and material support to radicalized individuals. Those who oppose the regime will likely use the AF’s high degree of technical and tactical expertise to increase the country's instability. This could be done by jeopardizing official missions outside the country, hijacking weapons, or planning high-profile strikes due to their in-depth knowledge. Therefore, it is very likely the cooperation between European and international allies will strengthen to mitigate the threat of RWE within AF effectively.


Moreover, in the European landscape, these radicalization processes and the third parties' support will likely increase war espionage and conflicts between the Western bloc and its adversaries, such as China and Russia. Adversaries of Western European countries will very likely capitalize on the RWE within the European AF. Russia and China will very likely continue to use disinformation, fake news, and propaganda techniques to weaken the capacity of Western European countries and their official institutions like AF to gain more global power. It is almost certain that Russia and China will continue to undermine the unity of each nation by exploiting social tensions to weaken the trust of the government and increase the legitimacy of RWE within the European AF. Therefore, it would be highly likely that such radicalization processes within the European AF will increase political instability.


Alternatively, Islamist radicalization within security forces may become greater in European countries, such as France, if the deradicalization process only focuses on RWE.[11] In the past decades, Europe has been one of the main targets for radical Islamic groups, which will likely continue to place EU countries on the terrorists’ agenda. Therefore, recruitment and indoctrination will remain a security risk, and monitoring such developments needs to be each government’s priority. The rise of RWE inside European AF poses an imminent threat and it can promptly escalate into social unrest and political turbulence, although effective deradicalization programs can thoroughly prevent any type of extremism within security forces.


Future Implications


At a national level, the RWE movement in the European AF will highly likely increase by monitoring RWE by intelligence and security agencies to detect and deter this threat. The threat of RWE will highly likely continue to persist in the coming years. Therefore, it can be expected that detecting and monitoring potential terrorists within European AF will become a priority for security and intelligence agencies.

As RWE gains support from ongoing crises, such as the refugee crisis and Islamist-motivated terrorist attacks, future external events will likely generate support for RWE, likely increasing the threat of right-wing terrorism and violence on the European continent.[12] As a result, RWE within European AF will likely grow for strategic or tactical purposes, such as gaining access to weapons, ammunition, and explosives, receive training, and recruit other soldiers for their cause. Insecurity sentiments will very likely grow as a result of current social crises, not only fueling the claims of the RWE inside European AF but almost certainly impacting other security forces, such as law enforcement. Therefore, it is highly likely that security forces and other government institutions will take measures for a country’s security infrastructure on a national level to counter infiltration attempts. RWE members will likely infiltrate police and intelligence agencies next to AF. It is almost certain that to counter this threat, the AF and intelligence agencies will work together to effectively monitor RWE within European AF. Countries that face the threat of RWE in the AF will likely try to combat this threat by employing tactics to counter the infiltration within official governmental institutions. As a result, members of RWE groups might disappear under the radar and carry out lone-wolf attacks, posing a grave risk to national security.

Recommendations

CTG’s EUCOM Team recommends implementing an effective background check for government personnel at a local level to prevent the infiltration of RWE in official institutions, such as the AF or Law Enforcement. Educational initiatives should be launched regarding the severe threat of RWE in the European AF to increase awareness about right-wing violence within the region. It is highly recommended that various government sectors begin implementing extremist background and radicalization checks before entering service, as little is currently being done to counter far-right ideologies from spreading in the military actively.[13]

It is also recommended that intelligence and security agencies work together and share practices internationally to detect and deter RWE within the European AF. Next to Europe, the United States is also grappling with this problem. As right-wing extremists are cooperating globally, intelligence services must cooperate to counter the security threat. Transnational cooperation will highly likely be an effective tool to tackle the global right-wing extremist networking activities within European AF.

The EUCOM, Extremism, and Counter Threat Strategic Communication (CTSC) Teams at CTG will continue to monitor and analyze the increase of RWE within European AF through the Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers. CTG continuously tracks all violent events to provide current fact-based analysis. Furthermore, the team will continue to track RWE tactics that attract more right-wing extremists within government institutions, analyzing disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories and their implications. CTG’s EUCOM, Extremism, and CTSC teams will continue to report violent situations and encounters across Europe that can create further social instability, leaving adversaries of Western European countries and far-right-wing extremist groups with an advantage.


Sources


A Threat from Within? Exploring the Link between the Extreme Right and the Military, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, September 2019, https://icct.nl/app/uploads/2019/09/ICCT-Koehler-A-Threat-from-Within-Exploring-the-Link-between-the-Extreme-Right-and-the-Military.pdf


At least 16 members of UK military referred to anti-extremism scheme, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/31/at-least-16-members-uk-military-referred-anti-extremism-scheme-prevent


Attractiveness of British military for far right continues to be a threat, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/31/attraction-of-british-military-to-the-far-right-continues-to-be-a-threat-prevent


Four soldiers left Dutch army over right-wing extremism accusations: report, NL Times, July 2019, https://nltimes.nl/2019/07/02/four-soldiers-left-dutch-army-right-wing-extremism-accusations-report


French government furious over new military letter warning Macron of 'survival' of France, France24, May 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210510-french-government-furious-over-new-military-letter-warning-macron-of-survival-of-france


Germany's military missing over 60,000 rounds of ammunition, DW, June 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-military-ammunition/a-54214817


Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in Europe Current Developments and Issues for the Future, PRISM, July 2016, https://cco.ndu.edu/PRISM/PRISM-Volume-6-no-2/Article/839011/right-wing-extremism-and-terrorism-in-europe-current-developments-and-issues-fo/


Shifting Focus: Right-Wing Extremism in the Dutch Military, Leiden Security and Global Affairs, June 2021, https://leidensecurityandglobalaffairs.nl/articles/shifting-focus-right-wing-extremism-in-the-dutch-military


State of Hate: Far-Right Extremism in Europe 2021, Hope not Hate Charitable Trust, January 2021, https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/research/state-of-hate-reports/state-of-hate-europe2021/


Understanding the Rise of the Far Right: The Need for a Historical Approach, Council for European Studies (CES), November 2020, https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/11/09/understanding-the-rise-of-the-far-right-the-need-for-a-historical-approach/


Who wants to be a soldier? Germany grapples with far-right extremism in its ranks, Politico, March 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-armed-forces-far-right-extremism/


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] Royal Dutch Army convoy by P.J.L Laurens licensed under Wikimedia Commons

[2] Shifting Focus: Right-Wing Extremism in the Dutch Military, Leiden Security and Global Affairs, June 2021, https://leidensecurityandglobalaffairs.nl/articles/shifting-focus-right-wing-extremism-in-the-dutch-military

[3] State of Hate: Far-Right Extremism in Europe 2021, Hope not Hate Charitable Trust, January 2021, https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/research/state-of-hate-reports/state-of-hate-europe2021/

[4] Four soldiers left Dutch army over right-wing extremism accusations: report, NL Times, July 2019, https://nltimes.nl/2019/07/02/four-soldiers-left-dutch-army-right-wing-extremism-accusations-report

[5] Who wants to be a soldier? Germany grapples with far-right extremism in its ranks, Politico, March 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-armed-forces-far-right-extremism/

[6] French government furious over new military letter warning Macron of 'survival' of France, France24, May 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210510-french-government-furious-over-new-military-letter-warning-macron-of-survival-of-france

[7] At least 16 members of UK military referred to anti-extremism scheme, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/31/at-least-16-members-uk-military-referred-anti-extremism-scheme-prevent

[8] Understanding the Rise of the Far Right: The Need for a Historical Approach, Council for European Studies (CES), November 2020, https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/11/09/understanding-the-rise-of-the-far-right-the-need-for-a-historical-approach/

[9] Attractiveness of British military for far right continues to be a threat, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/31/attraction-of-british-military-to-the-far-right-continues-to-be-a-threat-prevent

[10] Germany's military missing over 60,000 rounds of ammunition, DW, June 2020 https://www.dw.com/en/germany-military-ammunition/a-54214817

[11] Shifting Focus: Right-Wing Extremism in the Dutch Military, Leiden Security and Global Affairs, June 2021, https://leidensecurityandglobalaffairs.nl/articles/shifting-focus-right-wing-extremism-in-the-dutch-military

[12] Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in Europe Current Developments and Issues for the Future, PRISM, July 2016, https://cco.ndu.edu/PRISM/PRISM-Volume-6-no-2/Article/839011/right-wing-extremism-and-terrorism-in-europe-current-developments-and-issues-fo/

[13] A Threat from Within? Exploring the Link between the Extreme Right and the Military, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, September 2019, https://icct.nl/app/uploads/2019/09/ICCT-Koehler-A-Threat-from-Within-Exploring-the-Link-between-the-Extreme-Right-and-the-Military.pdf.


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