The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP



at the Royal United Services Institute of Australia
South Australia, 4 November 2002

Australia's Security Policy: New Challenges, Enduring Interests


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here to address today's meeting of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

My thanks are due to Colonel Neville Bergin for his kind words of introduction.

As we all know, the RUSI is about encouraging public debate and discourse about national security and defence issues.

Given our current circumstances - after the tragic and shocking bombings in Bali last month - there is an even greater need for informed and balanced consideration of our security environment.

I think most would agree that terrorism has emerged as the most immediate challenge to global - and regional - security and prosperity.

The challenge is pervasive, complex and profound.

We are tackling it on many fronts, domestically, bilaterally, multilaterally and regionally.

The other immediate threat to security is the spread of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and their possible usage by states such as Iraq and North Korea - or by international terrorist groups.

These are critical and pressing concerns that present a clear and present danger and demand the immediate attention of the international community.

Of course, the emergence of these immediate threats to global and regional security does not make the long-standing security challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific region go away. Nor does it mean that the alliances and friendships we have counted on for decades are no longer relevant - quite the contrary.

These are all issues which I would like to touch on today.

The challenge of international terrorism

On 12 October, a little more than a year after the terrorist attacks in the United States, an equally senseless and wicked terrorist attack in Bali claimed the lives of around 180 innocent people, many of whom were Australians.

The attack confirms what we have all long suspected, and feared:

that the international terrorist threat extends to South East Asian countries - as demonstrated by the arrest, in December 2001, of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists planning to bomb western diplomatic missions.

But even before then, since September 11 2001, the Australian government had warned that terrorists can strike anywhere, at any time and that our own region is not immune to the tragic consequences of such attacks.

So when President George Bush declared a war on terrorism, Australia was quick to respond.

President Bush warned that that the fight against terrorism would be a many-fronted war, with no clear victory, at least in the short-term.

Some commentators interpreted the declaration as meaning war in a metaphorical sense.

But my government did not ever see it as rhetoric: to the contrary, we invoked the ANZUS alliance for the first time in its 50-year history.

Australia has since worked unstintingly to counter this most insidious threat:

We made a substantial military commitment to the global battle against terrorism, including through the deployment of special forces in Afghanistan.

We strengthened domestic legislation to proscribe terrorist organisations and give relevant agencies the powers they need to hunt down terrorist and sever their sources of finance.

We have intensified our cooperation with other regional countries - particularly in South East Asia - to strengthen intelligence, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism capabilities:

We have signed bilateral MOUs on counter-terrorism with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and have proposed MOUs to other key regional countries including the Philippines.

We have recently signed an agreement with Singapore to prevent money laundering.

We have co-hosted regional counter-terrorism workshops, in Honolulu and Bangkok - as well as in the Pacific Islands to help small island countries develop counter-terrorism legislation.

And we will jointly host, with Indonesia, a conference to combat terrorist financing and money laundering next month.

In the aftermath of the shocking attack in Bali, we owe it to all those who lost their lives to redouble these efforts - at home, in the region and globally.

Our first priority will be to work with Indonesia to hunt down and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Australia and Indonesia have agreed to establish a Joint Investigation and Intelligence Team to investigate the Bali bombing.

The very best of Australian and Indonesian expertise will be applied to this crucial task.

This co-operation has been made possible under the auspices of the MOU on combating terrorism I just mentioned.

The Bali attack has also thrown into sharp relief the need to further improve regional counter-terrorism cooperation.

Australia strongly supports APEC's determined stand on counter-terrorism, including the recent statements made by APEC leaders last month in Los Cabos, Mexico.

We are pleased that APEC economies are working together to combat the financing of terrorism and to enhance air and maritime transport security as well as border control measures.

Australia has taken the lead in having the ASEAN Regional forum focus on ways of promoting regional counter-terrorism cooperation.

Of course technical cooperation is important, but not sufficient.

Strengthening political will is equally important. As The Prime Minister said at APEC a few weeks ago, no amount of international exhortation can substitute for the determination of individual governments who know they have a terrorist problem within their borders to do something about it.

The Indonesian government's resolve to take action against extremist terrorist networks, and to strengthen those moderate forces grappling with extremist violence, will be important for the stability of Indonesia and the stability of the region as a whole.

We were grateful for Jakarta's crucial support for Australia's request to have the extremist Jemaah Islamiyah group listed in the UN as a terrorist organisation.

Action to eradicate the threat of terror from JI is equally important to Australia and Indonesia - as well as other countries in the region.

Iraq, North Korea and WMD

The global terrorism threat has given new urgency to our disarmament and non-proliferation goals; and to our commitment to work together to prevent the spread of WMD - both to non-state and state actors.

We have to be alive to possible links between terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, and certain states we know are responsible for their proliferation.

For over a decade Iraq has flouted legally binding obligations to disclose and eradicate its weapons of mass destruction programs. It has defied UN resolutions, UN inspections and UN sanctions.

There is no question as to Iraq's past use of chemical weapons, including against its own people.

And we know Iraq is still producing chemical and biological weapons, and has endeavoured to produce nuclear weapons.

If Iraq's pursuit of these abhorrent weapons continues, in a few years we may be asking ourselves why we failed to act decisively when we still could.

The international community must now draw the line, and Saddam must disarm - there can be no more prevaricating, no more conditions, no more undermining of the UN's authority.

We therefore support a tough new Security Council inspection regime for renewed, unconditional and unfettered access to suspected weapons of mass destruction sites.

We hope for a peaceful resolution to this situation - the onus is now squarely on Iraq to allow this to happen.

In our own region we are now faced with another state that is not living up to international obligations not to pursue WMD programs: North Korea.

We are gravely concerned that Pyongyang has been operating a secret uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons, in breach of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework.

This new revelation about North Korea is profoundly disappointing given the efforts we, and others, have been making to encourage that country to participate more openly and constructively with the international community.

Indeed Australia has been a strong supporter of the Agreed Framework as a mechanism for freezing North Korea's nuclear program. Together with the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO), the Framework is an important investment in the stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The revelation is also a blow to the process of cooperation and reconciliation between the two Koreas begun under ROK President Kim Dae Jung's policy of engagement with the North.

These developments are of direct concern to Australia.

Nuclear competition in East Asia would have significant implications for our own security. It would change the dynamics of WMD proliferation and upset the power relativities between major countries, including most of our leading trade partners.

Last month, I registered Australia's concerns with the DPRK Ambassador and emphasised the importance of the North complying with its non-proliferation obligations and allowing immediate and unfettered IAEA inspections.

Terrorism, Iraq and the DPRK's nuclear weapons program were the main focus of the discussions the Minister for Defence and I had with our counterparts in Washington last week, during our annual Australian United States Ministerial Consultations.

Indeed we are working closely with the United States - as good friends and allies - to meet these immediate threats to global security.

We share common values and, at a time when Western society is being threatened by terrorist organizations, it is essential that countries like Australia and the US work very closely together to address the global challenges of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Other challenges and enduring interests

The increased global threat of terrorism and the spread of WMD are the most urgent security policy challenges we face. But those immediate challenges have not displaced any of the long-standing ones in our own region.

On the contrary, they highlight the fact that inattention to such challenges now may increase security burdens later.

I should like to touch on some of these in the time left.

I have already mentioned the Korean Peninsula, but there are other potential flashpoints in Asia - the Taiwan straits, disputed territories in the South China Sea and tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

And the Asia-Pacific region is a place where conflict involving major powers is conceivable.

It is by no means inevitable, but consider that this a region where six of the world's largest armies are found; where the regional arrangements for security dialogue and cooperation are relatively underdeveloped; and where the concept of collective security has made least headway.

And it is a place where internal conflicts, internal violence and separatism undermine security and where national governments' capabilities to ensure stability and promote economic development are conspicuously uneven.

Our immediate region also faces some serious transnational issues - not just terrorism but also the threat posed by issues such as illegal immigration, people smuggling and epidemics such HIV/AIDS.

But I don't want to paint too bleak a picture of the region.

Asia has enjoyed a period of relative peace and stability over the last two decades.

Major powers are managing their differences carefully, with a growing recognition of a common interest in a stable environment conducive to economic growth and security.

The United States strategic presence and US alliances in the region continue to underpin regional stability, by balancing and containing potential rivalries.

Through the ASEAN Regional Forum, the countries of the region are developing a habit of dialogue and a shared commitment to manage their differences.

And if any good can come from Bali, it is that this attack - and the threat of others - has underlined the extent to which regional powers share security interests.

The Bali attacks have also reinforced the point that Asia's security problems are our security problems - and that protecting one's home is easier in a safe neighbourhood.

September 11 and October 12 have also highlighted the continuing importance of policies designed to promote economic development, good governance, democratization and human rights, to provide the conditions which underpin stability.

Australia has been doing its bit to promote stability by providing targeted development assistance, encouraging regional cooperation on transnational issues such as people smuggling and HIV/AIDS and working with other countries in a range of areas from law enforcement to defence.

This will be particularly important in fostering the stability, integrity and cohesion of our immediate neighborhood, which we share with Indonesia, PNG, East Timor and the island countries of the Southwest Pacific.

Indeed the state of these countries matters to Australia.

We have humanitarian concerns about the well-being of our neighbours and important concerns about them providing footholds for transnational crime in our neighbourhood.

We will therefore continue to devote resources and energy to small states such as East Timor and the Solomon Islands to ensure their long-term viability.


International terrorism is a global threat. So is the proliferation of WMD.

We can no longer sustain artificial distinctions between what we do at home, regionally or globally.

Nor can we rely on the safety of distance - of being somehow removed from the central theatre conflicts of the world.

Australia's security is based on our self reliant defence forces…, our alliance with the United States…, our positive security relationship with our neighbours…, and our active involvement in regional and multilateral security forums.

More than ever we need a clear sighted view of the regional and global security outlook and how we should be responding to it.

I have every confidence that we will continue to rise to that challenge, and to reach decisions that reflect our national interests, our resilience as a nation and our determination to face up to any threat to our security and prosperity.

Again, I thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

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Local Date: Tuesday, 07-Jan-2014 10:48:11 EST