2773) Terror Australis

If This Article Dealt With Terrorism In Australia Only, it would be quite brief. Since terrorist record keeping became fashionable after 1972, Australia has had 38 incidents, with three involving fatalities:
* Assassination attempt by Ananda Marg (a terrorist organization based in India) on Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai in 1977, which resulted in the death of one police officer and two dustmen
* Assassination of the Turkish consul and his driver/bodyguard in Sydney in 1982,
* Attempted bombing of the Turkish consulate in 1987, . .
which resulted in one death.

The remaining terrorist occurrences were a hodgepodge of Serbo-Croatian incidents in various areas.

Why then does Australia have a relatively sophisticated, centrally coordinated organization for counterterrorism and protective security? Let's examine the reasons.

Australia is an open society with a free press, including daily publications in over 60 languages, and is strongly committed to human rights, civil liberties (no ID cards or social security numbers), and multiculturalism.

Sparsely populated (17 million people in a land mass larger than Europe), Australia is rich in natural resources and agriculture and has great difficulty in determining just who its small but well-equipped Defence Force is to defend it against. All major countries and most international corporations are visibly represented in Australia, and the aviation industry, a favorite terrorist target, is vital to a country so remote yet so dependent on the countries most affected by the terrorist blight threatening the world today.

Australian foreign policy seeks to be evenhanded toward all the opposing factions in the world. Despite being a predominantly Western culture in Asia, none of Australia's neighbors with the military potential has political ambitions to invade or take over Australia.

Seen as a second-rank power with lessening ties to Britain and the United States, Australia is a popular contributor to UN peacekeeping forces around the world. It is also remote from the centers of conflict in the Middle East, South America, and Europe.

Since the demise of Commonwealth trade preference arrangements, Australia has developed new trading partners in Asia and supports its small population in comparative affluence on its mineral- and agricultural-based economy. International terrorism poses no direct threat to Australia.

Unfortunately, the problems other nations attract occasionally follow their representatives when in Australia. Attacks by Ananda Marg, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Indian, Turkish, and Israeli commercial or diplomatic targets in Australia have occurred. With growing ethnic communities and refugees from the world's trouble spots, the potential support for Australian-based or planned terrorist activities has grown.

A further reason Australia has developed counterterrorism strategies is the increased security investment in Europe and the United States, which has caused international terrorists to look farther afield for the weak links in the protective chain. With its open society, Australia may appear attractive to international groups seeking to attack American or European targets away from home.

Australian policy toward refugees has led to a significant change in the composition of the 120,000 to 140,000 immigrants it takes annually. In recent years, over 50 percent of immigrants have come from Middle Eastern and Asian countries with domestic problems.

With large numbers of immigrants from war-torn areas, preimmigration checks on political or terrorist activities are difficult to undertake. And it is highly likely that former members of terrorist organizations have established themselves in Australia with the potential to be activated at the direction of former masters when they consider the time is right.

The international narcotics trade in particular and all forms of international crime have increasingly adopted the weapons, techniques, and methods of operation associated with terrorism. Despite the large commitment of law enforcement resources in Australia and in cooperative ventures with Asian, American, and European partners, international crime and its violent promotion and defense of its activities continue to grow at a steady rate.

Indeed, the distinction between mercenary terrorist groups, such as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLPGC), and the larger crime cartels is increasingly blurred as their mutual interest in defeating the forces of law and order encourages cooperation between them.

Australia is fortunate in having none of the deeply rooted ethnic or religious antagonisms that are such fertile breeding grounds for terrorism. The Aborigines are few in number and, though vociferous, have shown no tendency to embrace the techniques of terrorism to achieve their goals. Australia is also home to protesters against everything from animal exploitation to Zen Buddhism, but none cause more than traffic problems and the occasional dishevelment of a police officer.

Of more concern to the country are the growing ethnic communities from countries and regions where political violence is endemic. The concern grows because of the enormous difficulties in differentiating between genuine refugees and planted terrorist organization members. These individuals may harbor the seeds of future activities by overseas-based terrorist groups. For example, a number of Hezbollah affiliates may have entered Australia already on forged passports and reside in the large Muslim community in Sydney.

The major countries of the southwest Pacific, such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Burma, and the smaller nations, such as Fiji and Vanuatu, are all experiencing political violence from significant minorities. These include coups, attempted coups, and the plethora of problems that beset other regions of the world.

As a major nation in the region, Australia cannot remain aloof from such political turbulence, and any foreign policy initiative aimed at promoting trade and political stability is likely to offend some group possibly trained and funded by Libya or encouraged by one of the militant Muslim groups.

The largest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, is a fishing boat trip from Australia's northern coast, and the rising tide of nationalism--almost tribalism--together with the march of Muslim militancy does little to promote political stability, the only effective counter to terrorism.

Stirred by the Gulf War, international terrorism is likely to boom. The war chests of the ANO, the PFLP-GC, 17 May, Hezbollah, and other militant Muslim organizations are full. Obviously their main targets will be the Great Satan--the United States--and those lesser devils, Britain and France.

But Australia's early response to the United Nations' call for action against the invasion of Kuwait will doubtless be recalled by the terrorist instruments of revenge. In an ever-shrinking world, Saddam Hussein features as prominently in the Australian media as in any country directly involved in the murderous muddle of Middle Eastern politics.

In political terms, Australia continues to pursue an evenhanded foreign policy with Foreign Minister Gareth Evans proposing peace plans for Cambodia, accepting PLO representatives, and sitting astride as many political fences as can be comfortably accommodated.

Following the shock of the Hilton Hotel bombing by Ananda Marg in 1978, the federal government and the states agreed to contribute resources to a joint national counterterrorism and protective security arrangement. The federal government set up a small coordinating center that funded the provision of equipment, training, and joint exercises for the eight Australian police forces, the intelligence and security services, and the Defence Force.

This has developed into a competent, well-trained, and well-equipped organization capable of anticipating and handling armed assaults, skyjackings, hostage taking, bombings, arson attacks, and assassination attempts. Though regularly tested in simulated incidents and, in the case of the police, frequently employed in handling violent criminal activities, the organization has not really been tested in dealing with extensive or prolonged terrorist operations. We hope it never will.

Terra Australis has been remarkably free from the disease of terrorism to date. In foreign policy terms, Australia speaks softly and pursues the causes of human rights and civil liberties in a consistent and highly visible manner. While so doing, the country has developed a reasonably big stick in the form of a centrally coordinated, well-equipped and -trained counterterrorism and protective security arrangement using all relevant federal and state government resources.

Australia is increasingly concerned about the spread of political violence around the world and its potential to affect Australia because of international, diplomatic, and commercial relationships. It adopts the "no political concessions to terrorists" stance of most members of the United Nations and, through binational, multinational, and international agreements, plays a full role in the war against terrorism--a war that, it seems, we will never win and dare not lose.

Brigadier M. H. MacKenzie-Orr, OBE, GM, RL, is a security consultant in Hughes, Australia. He has had a distinguished career in the British Army and the Australian Army and as head of the Protective Services Coordination Centre (Counterterrorism and Protective Security) in Australian Government Service.

by M.H. MacKenzie-Orr
Security Management 35/8, 1991, Copyright 2004 Gale Group


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