Tackling Terror: Australia's Steps for Security

By Moore, Bede | Harvard International Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Tackling Terror: Australia's Steps for Security


Moore, Bede, Harvard International Review


The apprehension of 16 terror suspects in Australia's two major cities serves as a timely reminder about the costs associated with the War on Terror. In early November 2005, federal police foiled a potentially large-scale attack after 500 police officers raided homes in Sydney and Melbourne. For its part in averting the catastrophe, Prime Minister John Howard's government deserves credit. But in the wake of the Bali bombings and this latest near-miss at home, a reappraisal of Australia's role in the War on Terror is urgently needed. A reactive police force and the reduction of civil liberties entailed in the extensive Anti-Terrorism Act, introduced in December 2005, cannot ensure the country's long-term security needs. Australia must place greater emphasis on regional security, strengthen ties with neighbors, and work to eliminate its image as the United States' lackey.

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With relatively little previous experience in dealing with terrorism, Australia must consider why it has suddenly become a target of aggression. The Howard government's unwavering allegiance to the US cause in Afghanistan and Iraq has certainly bolstered ties with the United States, but it has also created new enemies closer to home. This animosity comes partly from Southeast Asian governments, which dislike Australia's role as the United States' regional watchdog. Under constant US surveillance, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia face a difficult choice between risking domestic turmoil by clamping down on fundamentalist groups, or toeing the US party line. Both options have enormous security implications.

Australia's northern neighbor Indonesia has been a consistent critic of the United States' unilateral approach in Iraq and a disaffected supporter of the regional War on Terror. Since 2002, Southeast Asian terrorist groups have killed 90 people and have caused hundreds of injuries in two major terrorist bombings in Bali. In September 2004, the Howard government received a direct hit when terrorists detonated a car bomb outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, resulting in 11 deaths. These attacks are linked to the recent arrests in Sydney and Melbourne by the involvement of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terrorist organization with close ties to Al Qaeda. …

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