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Global Threats and Regional Challenges: An Asia-Pacific Perspective

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Speaker: Ms Gillian Bird, Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

2005 Australia Group Plenary, Sydney

Photo - See caption below for description

Distinguished delegates, friends of the Australia Group, ladies and gentlemen.

As a former Chair of the Australia Group, I am very pleased to be able
to address you this evening on the occasion of the Group's twentieth anniversary.

Let me also extend a warm welcome to erstwhile colleagues who made valuable
contributions to the Group in past years. Among those here tonight
are Peter Furlonger and Ron Walker. I would especially like to acknowledge
Ron's energy and vision in establishing the Group.

The Australia Group has a well-earned reputation as a bulwark against the
spread of chemical and biological weapons. After 20 years, it continues
to form an effective proliferation barrier, owing in large part to the Group's
responsiveness to new threats and a growing international acceptance of
the benchmarks it sets.

This is not, however, to underestimate the significant challenges now facing
the Group and, indeed, the broader international community.

The proliferation threat is far from abating, and we can no longer trace
it to a handful of maverick states. The spread of WMD is closely enmeshed
with other major international security concerns - most notably, terrorism
and weak and failing states. Increasingly, we need to develop an integrated
approach if we are to address these challenges successfully.

The Proliferation Security Initiative has been a highly practical response
to increasing concerns over changing proliferation and procurement trends. Its
focus on interdicting illicit WMD-related trade protects as much against
weak export controls in less developed countries, as against wilful proliferators.

Unanimous adoption last April of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 is
also a welcome development. The resolution commits states to adopting
effective legislative and other measures, including export controls, to
stop proliferation activity by non-state actors.

For its part, the Australia Group is profitably focusing on difficult challenges
to existing export control measures posed by terrorism and brokering.

Since this is the first time that the Australia Group has met in Australia,
it is only fitting that I provide you with an Australian view on global
security challenges - and new measures for dealing with them - as seen from
the particular circumstances of the Asia-Pacific region.

Threats in the Asia-Pacific region

The Asia-Pacific region is no stranger to threats posed by WMD proliferation,
terrorism or weak and failing states.

Several countries of proliferation concern - or their agents and brokers
- have sought to divert illicit WMD-related trade via what are some of the
busiest, most strategically located air and sea ports in the world. Few
Asian countries have export and transhipment control legislation in place. Even
fewer can back such legislation up with effective enforcement.

Looming large as a major destabilising factor in the region is North Korea's
nuclear weapons program, coupled with the unpredictability of its political

While efforts to bring North Korea back to the six-party talks continue,
its proliferation activities go on. The DPRK's WMD procurement programs
and missile exports have been able to exploit wide gaps in the region's
non-proliferation architecture.

Several regional countries are also developing manufacturing capabilities
for dual-use items, but whose export they do not control. In the face
of stiff export controls in traditional supplier countries, the procurement
network formerly operated by Abdul Qadeer Khan turned to a Malaysian company
to source centrifuge parts for Libya's nuclear program.

Terrorism is an invidious problem in several regional countries, particularly
in Indonesia and The Philippines.

Alarmingly, at least one regional group - Jemaah Islamiyah - has close
links with Al Qaida, together with its resources and networks. The
willingness of JI to kill innocents is only too familiar for Australia and
other countries represented here, whose nationals perished so tragically
in the bombings in Bali.

There is also clear evidence of regional terrorist organisations' interest
in developing chemical and biological weapons. Last year, a police
raid on the house of an alleged Jemaah Islamiyah operative in the southern
Philippines discovered a JI training manual for chemical and biological
terrorism. The chances of terrorists developing crude chemical, biological
or radiological devices are enhanced by lax security of sources in many
regional countries.

Global implications

Of course, the strategic implications of these threats are not limited
to the Asia-Pacific region. International security today is becoming
ever more indivisible - what happens in one region increasingly impacts
on others. Proliferation and security threats originating in the Asia-Pacific
have the potential for devastating impact elsewhere.

Let me provide two sobering examples.

North Korean missiles pose a threat not just to Asian neighbours. Pyongyang's
aggressive export activity will potentially place a number of European cities
within range of missiles being developed with DPRK assistance in Middle
Eastern countries. Such a capability could have dire consequences,
given the inherent instability in the Middle East.

An even more ominous situation has been avoided by Libya's renunciation
of its WMD programs. The centrifuge parts sourced through the A Q
Khan network in Malaysia could have made a crucial contribution to Libya's
nuclear program. As important as this regional contribution might
have been, the strategic implications of a nuclear-armed Libya would have
been far less a consideration for Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries
than for North Africa and Europe.

I could provide more such examples. Their purpose is clear. Shortfalls
in regional non-proliferation controls have global implications - and we,
as likeminded countries, need to work together to address them.

To this end, it is vital that we learn from each other about the region-specific
challenges we face in working together to increase acceptance of global
non-proliferation norms.

Australian responses

Australia has been working hard to ensure that regional responses to proliferation
and other security challenges develop in the direction of international
measures and benchmarks.

Australia's active engagement on strengthening multilateral treaties -
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention
and the Chemical Weapons Convention - is well known. But we have also
worked assiduously at the regional level to secure better understanding
of treaty implementation issues.

An Asia-Pacific conference on nuclear safety and security issues, hosted
by the Australian Foreign Minister in Sydney last November, addressed the
threat posed by nuclear proliferation among states and the emerging risks
of nuclear terrorism. Participating countries agreed on the need for
a sustained and comprehensive effort to enhance the nuclear safeguards and
security framework. Circulation of the conference outcomes statement
at the forthcoming NPT Review Conference will serve to highlight firm regional
resolve behind this commitment.

The Regional BWC Workshop we co-hosted with Indonesia in Melbourne in February
elicited similarly constructive particiaption from ASEAN countries. A
follow-up workshop is planned for early next year in Indonesia.

We have also considerably expanded our bilateral outreach activities. These
activities are chiefly aimed at providing assistance and training on export
control measures, including model legislation, control lists, industry awareness
raising, licensing arrangements and enforcement. They are very much
in the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, but have a much wider
dimension in seeking to enhance measures directed against proliferation
activity by state as well as non-state actors.

Among activities undertaken over the past year, Australia has provided
nuclear safeguards and export control training to Thailand, deepened its
consultations with China on counter-proliferation issues, and consulted
with Indonesia and The Philippines on possible assistance measures.

We are also expanding our cooperation with potential strategic regional
partners - notably, Singapore and Thailand - to advance discussion of non-proliferation
issues, including enhancement of export controls, in APEC and the ASEAN
Regional Forum.

Australia is working closely with Japan and the United States in developing
a more strategic approach to outreach in the region, with a view to maximising
what we can achieve using our respective resources and expertise. Given
the small number of partner countries in the region, we would of course
welcome increased cooperation on outreach activities with other countries
with less immediate regional proliferation concerns.

Further afield, we have begun looking at synergies between counter-proliferation
and counter-terrorism activities in our region. We now have in place
a network of ten counter-terrorism memoranda of understanding, which could
provide a basis for increasing our cooperation on counter-proliferation
measures with key regional partners. One example is our role
in promoting tighter controls on Man-Portable Air Defence Systems, following
on from Australia's lead on last year's UN General Assembly resolution.

Collaboration between police and border control agencies pursuant to these
MOUs has proved to be an effective mechanism for sharing information on
terrorist groups and their movements across the region. Contacts in
these areas have been enhanced by regional initiatives such as the Bali
Ministerial Meeting on Counter-Terrorism and the Jakarta Centre for Law
Enforcement Cooperation, which bring together regional law enforcement officials
for training and other activities.

Strong counter-terrorism cooperation in these and other areas, such as
anti-terrorist financing, will help to restrict terrorists' access to WMD.

At the same time, we will continue to build a closer appreciation of the
particular security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region for the large
number of likeminded countries outside the region.

In the Australia Group, we have reported extensively on our work under
our action plan for the Asia-Pacific region. Australia has also pointed
out the need for a regional approach to the PSI.

Currently, the PSI enjoys only modest expressed support in the Asia-Pacific
region where it is sometimes perceived as a self-interested coalition working
beyond, or at the margins, of international law. This perception is

The challenge for supporters of the PSI is to persuade all countries in
the region that interdiction of illicit trafficking of WMD materials and
delivery systems is a regional and global security interest, and that the
PSI can only work when it is anchored in domestic and international legal
frameworks. We need to be sensitive and enterprising in getting these
messages across.


As members of the Australia Group, all of us here tonight are united in
our determination to make a practical and effective contribution to the
fight against the spread of chemical and biological weapons.

A particular perspective that Australia brings to the Group's work is our
concern about the dimensions of the proliferation challenge in our own region.

The Asia-Pacific, as a regional dynamo of the global economy, is already
the focus of enhanced outreach by the Australia Group. In coming years,
we can only expect the need to address the specific non-proliferation challenges
posed in this region to increase.

Clearly, we need to see the Asia-Pacific as more than a booming market. As
we expand our political and economic relationships with regional countries,
we must be alert to the region's security challenges and the global implications
they can have.

Australia, for its part, will continue to promote the regional approach
to proliferation challenges, pioneered by the Australia Group, in other
regimes and initiatives. At the same time, we remain ready to build
cooperation with likeminded countries to expand support in the Asia-Pacific
for effective non-proliferation.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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