Global Security in the New Millennium


Speaker: Secretary, Dr Ashton Calvert to the Royal United Service Institute International Seminar


9 October 2003


Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here today and I welcome the opportunity to address this seminar on "Global Security in the New Millennium".

The Royal United Services Institute has a long and impressive record promoting the discussion of defence and security issues. 

This current seminar sits very comfortably within that proud tradition.

I congratulate the organisers for bringing together this valuable forum for exchanging views on the evolving international security environment. 

Let me also say that I appreciate the opportunity to address an organisation with such a strong connection to our defence and armed forces community. 

The last few years - through the war on terror, the military campaign in Iraq and more recently in the Solomons - have seen the already strong cooperation between the foreign policy and defence communities reach new levels of effectiveness and mutual confidence.

In my remarks today I should like to do three things:

Outline some of the key characteristics of the current global and regional strategic environments;

Discuss three of the main challenges to international security within that environment; and

Outline some of the ways Australia is seeking to tackle these challenges, both on the global and regional levels.

Global and regional strategic environment

Quite reasonably and necessarily, a lot of the discussion at this seminar is focusing on the twin threats of international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

I too want to talk about those subjects, and describe the important place they occupy in Australia's international security policy.

Before doing that, however, I should like to highlight some other basic features of our strategic environment which I believe should not be lost sight of, and which I believe are positive in their overall impact.

The first of these features is the economic and military pre-eminence of the United States in world affairs.

This, I suggest, should be taken as a key strategic reference point for our times.

The United States accounts for around one-third of global output; its defence budget exceeds that of the next nine countries combined; and there is nothing to suggest that it will lose its technological edge any time soon.

Given the prospect that the pre-eminent position of the United States is likely to hold for a long while into the future, it is not surprising that the outlook for strategic relations between the United States and other major powers is relatively stable and favourable.

In the foreseeable future, no other country or group of countries will be able to challenge the United States in its capacity to shape the global environment.

There is still scope, of course, for serious diplomatic disputes and tension between the United States and other major powers.

We saw that earlier this year in the serious disagreement between the United States and the United Kingdom, on the one side, and France, Germany and Russia, on the other, over the question of how to deal with the challenge posed by Iraq.

But what distinguishes our times from the periods of strategic confrontation that characterised the Cold War is a relatively stable and favourable outlook for relations between the United States and other major powers at the basic strategic level.

And this situation offers scope - so long as the United States and other major powers are in general agreement - of finding effective ways of responding to the threats of international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Another key characteristic of our times that I should like to flag is globalisation of the world economy.

The process continues apace and has a profound bearing on the choices available to each country - developed and developing alike.

Globalisation brings major benefits to those countries whose open policies and sound institutions allow them to participate successfully in the global economy.

And its disciplines of competition impose penalties and disadvantages on those countries which do not have those attributes.

Australia has undoubtedly benefited from this process.

Since the early 1980s when Australia began seriously internationalising its economy, we have seen significant improvements in income, employment and living standards.

In 2001-02 Australians were around 55 per cent better off than in 1979-80.

In that time real GDP per capita increased to A$36,000 from around A$23,000 in 2001-02 dollars.

But globalisation has also helped to reduce the gap between the developed and developing world.

World Bank research has found that over the past two decades rapid growth and stable or improving income distribution has combined to reduce poverty in developing countries that lowered their barriers to trade.

By contrast, the World Bank has found poverty growing in those developing countries that have remained relatively closed to world trade and investment.

The strategic impact of globalisation is an interesting and complex question which deserves perhaps more analysis than it receives.

Let me offer one or two tentative observations.

Firstly, globalisation generates an increasing level of economic interdependence and information connectedness around the world.

While this process of itself will not spare us from future military threats and the risk of major confrontation it does increase the shared stake in international stability and mutual engagement.

The overall effect of this process on the political dimension of international relations is generally a positive and stabilising one.

But alongside its overall economic and political benefits, globalisation - in a perverse and ironic way - also increases our vulnerability to terrorism.

Terrorists have found that they too can exploit the openness, ease of transportation and greatly enhanced international communications that are characteristics of this era of globalisation.

A third characteristic of our times I should like to highlight is China's growing economic, political and strategic weight.

This has been rightly described as the single most important strategic trend in the Asia-Pacific region.

And, again for Australia, this is clearly a positive development.

China's accession to the WTO, its support for the war on terrorism and its key role in the North Korea six-party talks are all positive signs that it takes seriously its international responsibilities as a major power.

China also recognises that a constructive relationship and economic engagement with the United States are vital to its efforts to build its economy and international influence.

While China competes with the economies of South-East Asia for foreign direct investment, it is also becoming an increasingly important market for their exports.

At the same time, China is becoming increasingly important as an export market for both Japan and South Korea. 

On current trends, China will, in the new few years, overtake Japan as the world's third largest trading nation.

Certainly the current, relatively favourable outlook for US-China relations provides an optimum context for the advancement of Australian interests in East Asia.

Some commentators have suggested that the United States and China are merely undergoing a pause in their strategic competition.

Time will tell whether competition will resume in a serious way, but for my part I have been impressed over the past two years or so by the commitment of both Washington and Beijing to manage their relationship responsibly and constructively, including with regard to the difficult issue of Taiwan.

Threats to international and regional security

Notwithstanding these underlying positive trends in the current global strategic environment, that environment is clearly far from benign.

Let me focus on three challenges which are central to the Australian Government's current concerns: terrorism; the proliferation of WMD and the threats posed by weak and unstable states.

September 11 gave the fight against terrorism an urgency and prominence that it long deserved, but did not receive in the past - to our great and common misfortune. 

And the Bali terrorist attack in October last year removed any residual complacency that we or our region might somehow escape this threat. 

There is now firmer international resolve to wage war on terrorism.

One of the major achievements of the post September 11 environment has been the development of a broadly based coalition against terrorism.

The resolve demonstrated by this alliance is seeing real results.

Globally, Al-Qaeda has been disrupted and diminished, but not yet defeated.

It still has the capacity to finance, plan and launch attacks, either on its own or in support of surrogates.

 In two years, over 3000 Al-Qaeda suspects have been detained in 90 countries, and in excess of USD140 million in terrorist assets have been frozen. 

In our own region cooperation with our neighbours has seen terror attacks prevented, terror networks disrupted and terrorists arrested - including many of those responsible for the Bali bombings.

But even though we have achieved this important progress, victory in the war against terrorism is going to require a sustained effort over a number of years.

And notwithstanding our regional successes, there is no doubt thata serious problem still exists in South-East Asia, as the bombing of the Mariott hotel in Jakarta last August illustrated. 

Disrupting the activities of regional terrorist groups like Jema'ah Islamiyyah will be a long and difficult process.

Efforts by terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction have also given the cause of non-proliferation a new urgency.

The detonation of even a relatively crude chemical weapon or a so-called dirty radiological bomb in a large city would have disastrous consequences.

We know that terrorists have sought and are continuing to seek such weapons. 

And, despite the best efforts of non-proliferation and export control regimes, there remains a real risk that these weapons or associated materials might find their way into terrorist hands.

Recently the Iraq Survey Group announced its discovery of documents that appear to show a high-level dialogue between Iraq and North Korea over the transfer of technology for a 1300km range missile system. 

Fortunately the transfer does not appear to have gone ahead. 

But this serves as yet another reminder that illicit trade and cooperation between certain states - and indeed the potential for that trade to extend to non-state actors - is a serious challenge to international security.   

Efforts by states like North Korea and Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction also remain a major concern in and of itself. 

The strategic implications of a nuclear-armed North Korea for the stability of our region would be profound - illustrated by the urgency with which all key regional players including, importantly, China, are focused on achieving a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula.

Finally, since September 11 2001 the world has come to understand a lot better the impact that failed and failing states have on global security. 

Afghanistan illustrated the central role that such states play in providing shelter and support for terrorist networks. 

But terrorists are not the only groups that find a home in failed or failing states. 

The smuggling of people, the laundering of money, the trafficking of drugs and weapons - including in some cases WMD materials - are all made easier in states whose legal and political systems have ceased to operate.

And even in cases where states are not on the verge of failure, weak governance and institutions have an impact on global security. 

In a world where security is increasingly indivisible, the international community is strengthened by all its members having, for example, a robust capacity to detect and disrupt terrorists or trans-national criminals.

Australia's role

Australia has, and will, continue to seek effective responses to these global and regional security challenges. 

Sometimes this will involve using the existing international security architecture, including the United Nations and other traditional mechanisms of multilateral diplomacy. 

Sometimes it will mean using other mechanisms, such as coalitions of the willing, or regional arrangements.

This in part reflects the Government's belief that the UN must do more to adapt to an evolving international security environment - a belief it shares with many in the UN system, including the Secretary General. 

But in greater part it reflects a Government approach focused on delivering outcomes; of using those means which are best suited and most effective for tackling particular security challenges we face. 

In a world of increasingly unconventional threats we need to be creative and flexible in how we chose to respond to them. 

Thus the major global disarmament and non-proliferation treaties, such as the NPT, the CWC and the BWC remain critical to setting international norms. 

But they need to be reinforced by effective action to counter proliferation wherever it occurs.

Australia is a strong supporter of all these norms.

We also play a pivotal part in international efforts to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons through our chairmanship of the Australia Group, which aims to minimise the risk of proliferation by strengthening national export controls. 

As a part of these efforts, Australia is participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative,intended as a practical means of impeding the trafficking of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials. 

The PSI both recognises and reinforces the existing framework of national laws, export controls, multilateral treaties and other tools.

States must work together, within the parameters of international law, to uphold these non-proliferation norms.

We must respond effectively to the threat to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of WMD and the transfer of WMD-related materials outside of internationally agreed frameworks. 

It is against this background that Australia joined the coalition to disarm Iraq. 

Notwithstanding the inevitably difficult process of stabilisation and nation-building, that campaign has already made a significant contribution to global non-proliferation.

The Iraq Survey Group is only beginning to understand the extent and nature of Iraq's WMD programs. 

A focus on "smoking guns" should not distract us from the fact that the ISG has found further significant evidence that the former Iraqi regime had neither abandoned its WMD programs nor its thorough-going efforts at concealment. 

This is, of course, entirely consistent with a pattern of Iraqi behaviour firmly established by UN weapons inspectors and in breach of UN Security Council Resolutions for over twelve years.

Beyond the issue of Iraq, international efforts to stop the spread of these weapons will continue and will take various forms.

With respect to North Korea and Iran, the international community will need to find effective and perhaps creative means for resolving these problems - from the use of existing multilateral institutions and organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency to regional mechanisms such as the six-party talks.

Australia will play an appropriate role in support of these efforts. 

We have reinforced to North Korea - including through direct discussions - that the six-party processis an important opportunity for it to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and to re-engage constructively with the international community.

With respect to Iran, we have urged them to resolve outstanding safeguards issues, sign a safeguards-strengthening Additional Protocol without delay or preconditions, and halt development of sensitive nuclear technology. 

As a member of the IAEA Board of Governors, we played a leading role in the adoption of a strong resolution calling on Iran to cooperate fully and transparently in resolving concerns about its nuclear program.

Australia will continue to contribute to these and other efforts to strengthen global security where we believe we can make a difference. 

But, at the same time, we will continue to focus most of our efforts on building security in our own region in cooperation with regional partners - something which in itself contributes to global security.

Working closely with our neighbours, we are helping to defeat terrorism in South-East Asia. 

We have put in place a network of bilateral counter-terrorism arrangements that have strengthened practical cooperation with our key regional partners including Indonesia,Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, India and Fiji.

A key component of our effort to fight terror in the region has been to strengthen the counter-terrorism capacity of regional security and law enforcement agencies. 

We currently have a 4-year, $10 million assistance package with Indonesia and a 3-year, $5 million package with the Philippines.

We are also helping improve the ability of regional governments to conduct a multi-faceted campaign against terrorism.

We have co-hosted a number of workshops and meetings to strengthen defences against terrorism and improve responses to terrorist attacks.

We have, for example, helped Indonesia to draft anti-terrorist financing legislation and to establish a financial investigation unit to track money used to fund terrorist activities and trans-national crime.

This cooperation with Indonesia continues the tradition that has been established of working closely together to address emerging regional threats.

The latest example of this is the recent announcement that Indonesia and Australia will co-host a major regional conference on counter-terrorism in Bali next February.

We have also, of course, played a leading role in efforts to address the prospect of state-failure and institutional weakness in our region. 

The most prominent example of this has been our leading role in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). 

The Mission has already made excellent progress in restoring stability and law and order to the Solomon Islands.

Over 3500 weapons have been handed in or otherwise secured. 

And a total of 166 arrests on 234 charges have been made through RAMSI police operations and RAMSI/RSIP joint operations since 24 July. 

In Honiara, work is underway to strengthen the Finance Ministry, police, judiciary, prison service and other key institutions. 

This early progress is welcome, though we do not underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead. 

RAMSI is a large-scale and costly undertaking for Australia. 

But it is a job that needed to be done, and we are prepared to make the long-term commitment that it involves. 

RAMSI - together with our new approach to PNG - marks a significant shift in Australia's dealings with the South Pacific. 

We are now prepared to get more directly involved, in cases where we believe this will have a positive impact. 

The Way Ahead

I trust these remarks have conveyed a sense of the various ways in which Australia is helping respond to the various global and regional security challenges that now confront us.

In conclusion, let me draw together five or six areas which I am confident will continue as priority areas of action in Australia's international security policy.

Firstly, continued engagement and cooperation with the United States will remain a key priority.

We benefit greatly from our close alliance with the United States, and in the period ahead the Government will be working to strengthen the effectiveness of the alliance and increase its value to both parties.

In parallel with this process, we are also working to build a closer economic and business relationship with the United States through the negotiation of a free trade agreement.

Secondly, as a continuation of the longstanding priority given to non-proliferation in Australia's international security policy, we aim to make an active contribution towards stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction at both the global and regional levels.

Thirdly, Australian efforts to foster and contribute to effective international collaboration against terrorism - especially in our immediate region - will remain a major priority.

We have a number of powerful reasons to engage closely with Indonesia and other neighbours in South-East Asia.

The shared interest in working together to defeat the scourge of terrorism in our region is a new and compelling incentive for engagement.

It was entirely fitting that RUSI was able to welcome Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Lt.Gen Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a key-note speaker this morning.

Fourthly, in North Asia, it is likely that the strategic and security dimensions of our relationships with Japan and China - though different in details - will become more important in the period ahead.

We welcome the responsible and more active contribution Japan is making to international security, especially in East Timor and in the war on terrorism and prospectively in Iraq.

With China, there is scope for a more developed strategic dialogue and defence cooperation.

As indicated earlier, we welcome warmly the constructive role China has been playing this year in contributing to a resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue.

Finally, in the South-West Pacific, the Government's recent decision to lead the Regional Assistant Mission to the Solomon Islands demonstrates our willingness to intervene decisively - when asked to do so - to strengthen governance and institutions when they are seen to falter. 

The stake that Australia has in the stability and economic viability of our near neighbours in Melanesia is self-evident.

Thank you for this opportunity to address your important conference.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014