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Taking a new approach to counter-terrorism

24 March 2009

For the first time, the government has set out as full and open an account of its counter-terrorism policies as it's safe to reveal.

This week the Home Office launched a wide-ranging revision to its counter-terrorism strategy, which is known as CONTEST.

The revised strategy provides a detailed account of the history of the terrorist threat to the UK, explaining what led to the emergence of the threat we face today. It also theorises as to how the situation may evolve in the coming years.

The strategy sets out the principles that form the basis of the government’s response to terrorism. These include keeping human rights at the heart of all the counter-terrorism work in this country and overseas.

It emphasises the need to address the longer term issues that form the roots of modern terrorism, as well as dealing with those who commit acts of terrorism. 

Read the strategy

You can find out more about the strategy in several ways:

The Four Ps

The new strategy retains the framework of the old strategy - four main areas of work known as 'the Four Ps' - Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. Each of these areas has been updated, and the document provides much more detail about specific objectives and programmes.  

These programmes include:

  • a Pursue strategy which uses new resources to investigate and disrupt terrorist networks here and overseas and to prosecute those responsible
  • a Prevent strategy rolled out since last year that reaches more people – nationally, internationally and locally - than ever before, and which reflects our better understanding of the causes of radicalisation
  • a Protect strategy which will further strengthen our borders, consolidate work on our critical national infrastructure (new window) and improve the protection of the crowded places where we work, live and play
  • a Prepare strategy that will enable us to respond effectively to new threats, and to recover from any terrorist attack faster than ever before

Some counter-terrorism work spans all four areas of work. This includes work to deal with the threat of terrorist attack using chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive devices. 

A new approach to fighting terrorism

The strategy describes in some detail how CONTEST works, taking into account the greater resources and the wider range of people now working in counter-terrorism.

It sets out the roles for the many government departments involved in counter-terrorism, as well as the role local and regional government can play. It identifies scientific and technical goals, and calls for closer work with the private sector.

It explains the cross-cutting roles of the police and armed forces. 

The document outlines an international response to the threat, describing in each area the international work the government will be undertaking to support domestic programmes.   

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the document will help the government keep people safe,

'Protecting the public is my key objective, and the aim of the government’s new counter-terrorism strategy is to reduce the risk of terrorism to allow people to go about their lives freely and with confidence,' she said.

'The UK has one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism in the world, and we have updated our CONTEST strategy to take account of the evolving threat, the lessons we have learned and the new challenges we face. 

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Related documents

Home Office websites