The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


Prague, 14 September 2005

Speech to the Prague Society for International Cooperation


Thank you Professor Marc Ellenbogen, President of the Prague Society.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be making my first visit to the Czech Republic - indeed the first visit by an Australian Foreign Minister since the Czech Republic came into being.

I am also delighted to be here at the Prague Society.

In just six years since it was established in 1999, the Prague Society has made a significant contribution to international debate.

Though this is my first visit to Prague - official or otherwise - it is a city that has long had a fix on my imagination.

And although I was only sixteen years of age at the time, the 'Prague Spring' of 1968 lingers in my mind as a period of excitement and hope.

Hope that the Czech people would be able to break free from the shackles of Soviet totalitarianism and take back control of their national destiny.

A hope that was crushed with the arrival of Soviet tanks in August 1968…

…just as the hopes of an earlier Czechoslovakia had been dashed by the German Wehrmacht some 29 years earlier.

Earlier today I visited Wenceslas Square, where demonstrations earlier protested against the Soviet occupation.

Though it was to be more than another twenty years until Czech hopes for liberty were realised, the Prague Spring lit a flame of dissent…

…a flame that would be nourished throughout those dark, long years by brave organisations like Charter 77, and by many brave individuals - some of whom I know are in the audience this evening.

I'm reminded of a quote by a man I much admire - Winston Churchill - when speaking about the Cold War in 1949. He said:

The machinery of propaganda may pack their minds with falsehood and deny them truth for many generations of time, but the soul of man thus frozen in a long night can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where, and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life.

The Prague Spring forced a re-assessment by those in the West who had - despite all the evidence to the contrary - convinced themselves of the benevolence of Soviet communism and rule from Moscow.

It was an important moment in the ideological struggle that characterised the Cold War.

Of course, we ultimately saw the victory of democracy and freedom…

…a victory won not by the force of arms, but by the rightness of our cause.

For, at the end of the day, communism did much to defeat itself, through its own intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

I say all this by way of introduction.

Australia and the Czech Republic may not be naturally close partners day-to-day - and we occupy different parts of the globe and possess different histories and cultures.

But we do share some very fundamental values and beliefs.

Values and beliefs that drive our approach to the world.

Our love of freedom, which we have fought to defend both at home and abroad.

A natural scepticism in the face of any form of absolutism…

…and a fundamental belief in the rule of law.

Ladies and gentlemen

Today, the world faces numerous global challenges.

Such threats include terrorists who despise our values and freedoms and embrace a nihilistic world view …

…those who flout the world's counter-proliferation efforts or who peddle weapons of mass destruction technologies to the highest bidder…

… those who take advantage of weak governance and failing states to pursue criminal and corrupt activities that bring communities despair and undermine wider stability …

… and the grinding, relentless poverty faced by many in the Third World - living out an existence bereft of hope, and caused all too frequently by corrupt rulers and poor governance.

The most potent weapons we have to successfully confront such threats are our values, our heritage, and our ideas…

…which we harness as a force for good through the promotion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

And, especially in a globalised age, countries need to work together to tackle such threats.

Though we share similar challenges, our own environment - the Asia-Pacific - is vastly different to that which you confront in Europe.

The EU and NATO - two institutions that provide tremendous ballast to security arrangements in Europe - have no equivalents in the Asia-Pacific.

In the Asia-Pacific, we have countries sitting side by side with radically different systems of government - from democracies to communist one-party states, from military juntas to hereditary monarchies - not to mention differing religions, languages and peoples.

In some respects, the Asia-Pacific resembles nineteenth century Europe, with its 'balance of power' and lack of formalised security architecture.

But we are working hard at institutionalising the norms of dialogue and cooperation between states.

For example, we are in the process of developing important new architecture in the form of the East Asia Summit - bringing together the leaders of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

This Summit has the potential to become a valuable element of regional architecture, which will complement other regional forums, including the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Issues-based coalitions and networks are also emerging and playing important roles.

For example, I was very pleased to announce recently that Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States had agreed to a major new initiative - the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

The Partnership will find ways to address our energy, climate change, and air pollution issues in practical ways that make economic sense. In doing so, it will bring together countries accounting for roughly half the world's population, GDP, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Ladies and gentlemen

There is no better example to illustrate the need for like-minded countries to work together than the threat of transnational terrorism.

The recent London bombings again demonstrated the continued seriousness of the global threat from terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Australia's immediate neighbourhood of South-East Asia is also home to some of the most determined and violent terrorists of today, led by Jemaah Islamiyah - or JI, as it is known.

JI was behind the shocking attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta just over one year ago, and was responsible for previous bombings in Jakarta and Bali.

The suffering, death and destruction wrought by these barbaric and evil acts is unforgivable.

But these terrorists also threaten the aspirations of millions in the region for a safe and prosperous life…

…and challenge regional governments as they consolidate transitions to democracy and pursue economic reforms.

This makes it vital that Australian Government work on all fronts - as it is doing - to address terrorist threats.

On the domestic front we have put in place a range of counter-terrorism laws.

In the region, we have 11 bilateral counter-terrorism arrangements with countries, which enhance practical cooperation among our officials.

Australia has been working particularly closely with Indonesia.

Cooperation that has seen terrorists tried and convicted …

…and has provided leadership for initiatives such as the Bali Regional Ministerial Meeting on Counter Terrorism and the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation.

Australia is also working to build confidence and understanding between different faiths in the region.

In doing so, we are making clear that a small minority of violent extremist Muslims does not represent Islam - one of the world's great religions.

Again, this is a struggle that will ultimately be won by the triumph of values, rather than a feat of arms.

Australia looks to the UN Summit - underway today - to tackle the challenge of terrorism, including through support for a comprehensive terrorism convention…

…an issue I will also be pursuing when I visit the UN next week.

Ladies and gentlemen

Our commitment to freedom extends to Iraq, an important Middle East frontline in the war against terrorism - and in the campaign for democracy.

I am proud of the part Australia has played in the military campaign that freed Iraqis from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and helped create conditions for the first democratic elections in decades.

We continue to support their aspirations for a brighter future - committing funds to the reconstruction effort, and sending our defence forces to help secure Al Muthanna province and train the Iraqi army.

We commend the Czech Republic for its contribution - its earlier assistance with medical facilities and training of Iraqi diplomats…

…and its current provision of a military police unit and training for Iraqi police.

Further reflecting our commitment to the fight against terrorism, Australia and the Czech Republic are supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

In July the Australian Government agreed to deploy a Special Forces Task Group into Afghanistan…

…and the Czech Republic has deployed over 50 soldiers to assist with the reconstruction effort.

Ladies and gentlemen

Australia's regional and international cooperation against the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is particularly active.

And the interest of terrorists in acquiring and using such weapons makes this problem all the more urgent.

Evidence of illicit WMD procurement networks and Iran's and North Korea's defiance of international non-proliferation standards are among a number of serious challenges that Australia has been helping to address.

Multilaterally, Australia has been active in its efforts to strengthen arms control and non-proliferation treaties.

The outcomes of the NPT Review Conference in May this year were disappointing, but the overwhelming majority of states remain unwavering in their support for the NPT.

And next week in New York I will chair a conference of parties to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty looking at ways to accelerate its entry into force.

The Czech Republic plays an important role in its own region on such issues, hosting NATO's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear response battalion at Liberec.

As Australia's cooperation with NATO develops, we will look forward to our experts working more closely with this battalion.

Australia and the Czech Republic also recognise the need for action through groupings such as the Proliferation Security Initiative - an innovative and effective tool for tackling proliferation as it occurs.

The PSI has garnered the support of more than 60 countries and built up its operational strength since May 2003.

The active support of the Czech Republic, with its Central European neighbours, as demonstrated by the PSI exercise 'Bohemian Guard' earlier this year, is important to the PSI's ongoing success.

And to widen the non-proliferation net, Australia has been encouraging more Asia-Pacific regional countries to support the PSI, in addition to strengthening their WMD export controls.

Supporting Democracy and Good Governance

I have spoken about Iraq and Afghanistan and the importance of a democratic and stable future for those countries.

They are not alone in seeking that future.

Indeed, in recent years we have seen many nations and peoples move further along the road to democracy.

Democracy's bloom in Europe following the downfall of communism at the close of the 20 th century is well-known...

…and people's desire for freedom continues to make itself felt as a force , as we have seen recently in Ukraine, in Kyrgyzstan, in Uzbekistan.

In the Middle East and the Asia Pacific we are seeing further steps towards democracy and better governance.

We witnessed the success of the Palestinian presidential elections in January…

… an important development for the Palestinian people and for the reinvigoration of the Middle East Peace Process.

And the Lebanese people have had parliamentary elections free from Syrian interference.

The Asia-Pacific is already home to the world's biggest democracy, India.

Over recent years, the people of Indonesia have embraced the democratic model, demonstrating that a large, complex nation with a majority Muslim population can successfully pursue democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen

Australia and the Czech Republic both know that good governance, the rule of law and strong institutions underpin stability, security and prosperity.

The Czech Republic is working hard in its own region to support and promote democracy and human rights…

…including in its current role as lead nation for NATO's KFOR Multinational Brigade Centre in Kosovo.

There are considerable challenges at hand in our own region, the Asia-Pacific…

…a region where two-thirds of the world's poor - or 700 million people - are living in poverty.

Among Australia's major priorities in the Asia-Pacific has been the promotion of governance reform.

More than a third of the Australian aid program in 2005-06 will be directed to governance activities…

…centred on law and justice…

…the effective functioning of the bureaucratic institutions of states…

…and development of a vibrant civil society.

T here is a particular emphasis on governance activities in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Nauru …

…our relationship with the South Pacific having evolved considerably in response to a range of factors, such as poor economic circumstances and deterioration in security, as well as health challenges such as HIV/AIDS.

Today, an estimated 8.2 million people in Asia-Pacific region have HIV/AIDS, more than any other region outside Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen

Our nations cooperate with friends and neighbours to help them build a more secure and prosperous future.

But there are efforts at the global level that would also have an enormous impact for many.

The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations is the most important means by which the international community could readily, if willing, secure a fairer global trading regime and improve global prosperity.

We look to the Czech Republic, in working with its European partners, to ensure the opportunity provided by the Doha Round is not allowed to slip away from us…

... for this is an opportunity to secure not only a fairer global trading regime and improve global prosperity…

… but also to promote prosperity and important gains for the developing world.

We hope too that Prague will embrace the challenge recently put forward by the UK, as current EU President, for further reform, particularly to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.


The values that Australia and the Czech Republic share as freedom-loving nations provide us with a potent force against those who seek to imperil our future.

By staying true to these values, and promoting the benefits to all of freedom, democracy and the rule of law we are contributing enormously to future security and prosperity…

… not just for our own nations, but for our respective regions and on a global scale.

I admire enormously the will, determination and self-belief of the Czech people, and indeed of the people throughout Central Europe, in overcoming communism…

… demonstrating to the world that taking brave action is necessary to restoring democracy and liberty.

Today, the Czech Republic is a nation growing its economy with innovation and entrepreneurial vigour…

…very much a modern European, with global interests and responsibilities…

…and an inspiration to all those peoples of the world that continue to seek a democratic future.

I very much look forward to Australia and the Czech Republic building the understandings and links I have been fortunate to develop during this most enjoyable visit.