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Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia

Op-Ed piece for international media

Australian Government Terrorism White Paper:
‘Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia’


by Alexander Downer

Terrorism poses a grave threat to international security. As a Western country with global interests that values peace, religious freedom, respect for the rule of law and tolerance, Australia is a target. But the target of the contemporary transnational terrorists is as much mainstream Islam and moderate Muslim countries as it is the West. So Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike have a common interest in combating this threat.

The Australian Government’s White Paper on terrorism, Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia, sets out the nature and international dimensions of the terrorist threat to Australia and our interests, and how the Government is responding. We see this threat as complex and evolving, and one that is likely to persist for some years despite the progress made in capturing terrorists and disrupting their networks.

This new and potent form of terrorism is perpetrated by Muslim extremists whose objectives and methods are alien to the overwhelming majority of peace-loving people. It knows no geographic or moral boundaries. The targets and scale of the terrorists’ carnage are limited only by the weapons they can access and the opportunities they can identify. Facing this challenge demands new, innovative and robust responses from Australia and the international community.

Strong, effective international cooperation is essential - no country can combat the threat from transnational terrorism on its own. We must continue to adopt a vigorous approach to fighting terrorism. The pursuit of extremist groups that carry out terrorist attacks must be single-minded and unrelenting. And the international coalition against terrorism needs to stand firm in the face of the terrorists’ violent threats and actions. Clear-sighted political commitment backed up by a commitment of energy and resources are vital.

Australia is working closely with our international partners to combat the immediate terrorist threat and reduce that threat over the longer term. We strongly support the work of the UN and other multilateral bodies engaged in fighting terrorism. Australia is an active proponent of counter-proliferation measures like the Proliferation Security Initiative which are an important practical means of preventing WMD technology and materials getting into the hands of terrorists. But it is in our own region that we are making our most substantial contribution to the fight against terrorism.

Almost two years after the Bali attacks, Australia’s counter-terrorism cooperation with our regional partners is stronger than ever. Our network of nine bilateral counter-terrorism arrangements underpin practical, operational-level cooperation between police, intelligence, border management and other agencies. They also support measures to strengthen the capacity of countries in the region to combat terrorism. The unprecedented cooperation between Australia and Indonesia in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Bali bombings highlights the value of these arrangements.

Regional organisations are playing a valuable role in strengthening the region’s counter-terrorism defences. Recognising the economic costs of terrorism, APEC has become an important forum for discussion and cooperation on terrorism-related issues, especially core problems such as transport security and border management. ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering are all supporting counter-terrorism initiatives. The recent establishment of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation – a joint initiative by Australia and Indonesia – will further boost the capacity within the region to fight terrorism and other transnational crime. In the Pacific, the Pacific Islands Forum is helping to implement counter-terrorism legal and administrative regimes in Pacific island countries.

While practical security cooperation is important right now, long-term success in the fight against terrorism will depend on winning the battle of ideas. It is the terrorists’ extremist ideology that lies at the heart of the contemporary terrorist threat. We must challenge the ideas terrorists use to justify their actions. Muslim communities around the world have a particularly important role in denying any legitimacy to the terrorists and I encourage them to speak up – as some of its members have been doing – to condemn terrorism unequivocally.

As part of our efforts to enhance international understanding of religion and cultures - an important element in the fight against terrorism – Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, and I have agreed to establish an inter-faith dialogue involving religious leaders from around the region. This initiative complements Australia’s other programs that strengthen links with mainstream Islamic organisations in the region.

The Australian Government will continue to search for new ways to confront terrorists and challenge the ideas they represent. We are committed to this struggle and to continuing our efforts to build effective cooperation with our neighbours and other international partners to counter terrorism. We have an obligation to the Australian people and a responsibility as a member of the international community to do so. Denying terrorists victories and ensuring global peace and stability is something we all want.

Alexander Downer is the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs

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