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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2004

ISBN 1 920959 04 1


Alexander DownerMuch is on the public record on the Australian Government's response to the grave threat now posed to Australia by international terrorism. The government's commitments on domestic protection were recently set out in the national security publication Protecting Australia against terrorism. The government's national and international security postures were more broadly explored in two 2003 publications: the foreign and trade policy White Paper Advancing the national interest and the defence White Paper update Australia's National Security.

There has been less public discussion about the nature of the contemporary terrorist threat posed to Australia and Australia's interests. The purpose of this White Paper is to assist readers with a deeper understanding and awareness of the nature of this threat, its international dimensions, how it affects Australia, and the basis of the government's sustained commitment to combat it at the international level. Terrorism is a broad and complex subject that has figured throughout the history of civilisation.

It remains a widely debated element of international affairs. The world's nations remain unable even to agree on its definition. And terrorism has many forms. This paper is not intended to grapple with the gamut of these complex and much considered issues. It does not attempt to explore the forms of terrorism best known to the world during the past century - and against which Australia was able to protect itself. While these forms of terrorism still exist, they form a minor part of the current threat to Australia.

The threat Australia now faces - and most directly experienced through the tragedy of the 2002 Bali bombings - is transnational. It is terrorism of a previously unknown scale. It is a different kind of conflict, perpetrated in the name of a Muslim extremist cause. We must understand it if we are to defeat it. In developing this understanding we must be clear that the terrorism now threatening us does not represent Islam. Nor is Islam the focus of Australia's response. This is a message we continuously emphasise within our country and in our international dealings with Muslim nations.

In putting forward the government's understanding of this, even in the choice of terminology, it is perhaps inevitable that the paper will touch on beliefs deeply and personally held. The government intends no disrespect to these views nor any over-simplification of the important issues involved.

The government recognises the complexity of the relationship between the perpetrators of this new form of terrorism and the extremist cause they purport to advance. This paper neither claims absolute insight nor draws absolute conclusions. While we can state the facts, explore the methods and consider the reasons, we cannot claim to understand fully what goes on in the mind of the individual terrorist.

We can, however, be absolute in our commitment to defend ourselves and in our determination not to be cowed by terror. The government is responding through a sustained and strategic campaign. A key dimension of this is our international response: both within our region and on the global front. It is only through effective, well coordinated and enduring international cooperation that this threat can be defeated.

This White Paper presents the reader with a strategic and long-term picture, not a lasting account of changing threat levels. The government continually monitors and makes available information for Australians travelling overseas, and encourages them to consult its online travel advisory service:

The international dimensions of the transnational terrorist threat mean that papers of this kind will have a broad readership, not just here in Australia but overseas. The government's first responsibility, however, is to the Australian people. It is primarily to this readership that the government has addressed this account of the contemporary terrorist threat and the way in which we are working with international partners to combat it.

The government remains committed to keeping the Australian people informed about these significant changes to our security environment. As this paper shows, the threat Australia now faces is a dynamic and changing one. It requires a flexible, adaptive and long-term strategic response. And it must be national: combining the resources and commitment of government with the vigilance, support and resilience of the Australian people.

Downer sig
Alexander Downer Minister for Foreign Affairs

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade