Australia’s Counter-Terrorism: Strategic Alliances with United States and ASEAN Countries

Department of International Relations
Universitas Gadjah Mada
Australian Foreign Policy 
Final Essay
Raditya Putranti Darningtyas


            Issues of terrorism have regained its significance within international political and security discourse since the end of cold war era. September 11 has also refocused international security concern to terrorism as an imminent threat toward world stability. According to David Rapoport, the world has witnessed four waves of terrorism. The first began in 1880 and it was mostly carried out by anarchist activities in Russia and Europe when terrorist groups tried to assassinate politicians, monarchs and other prominent figures in hope of turning masses into revolutionaries. The second wave began in 1920 and continued until 1960s known for its string anticolonial movements by small states seeking to topple down their colonial rulers. This would mount with the emergence of independence movements in the post-Second World War era in many states like India, Pakistan, Algeria, Indonesia, and so on. The third wave rooted back in the 1960s when the New left and communist groups began carrying out terrorist attacks in what’s called “urban guerilla” groups that tried to overthrow corrupt governments and challenge the growing inequality between the rich and the poor. Finally, the final wave began in 1979 with the Iranian revolution and Soviet Union’s invasion to Afghanistan. Rapoport argues that this unleashed a wave of religious terrorism that exists to this day culminating in the creation of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and others.[1]
            Although Australia was never directly attacked by terrorism activities, its status as US ally has prompted Australia to play a role in global war against terror.The bombing attack of September 11 has brought Australia’s support for American cause and their alliancemanship even closer. When US government proclaimed that terrorist attacks are a challenge to civilized value and human security worldwide, Australia was ready to help and assist US in any way possible. John Howard stated that Australia can’t be a fair weather friend, it either is or not a close ally as it cannot cherry pick their most important alliance.[2] As a response, US showed its appreciation on Australia’s devotion in the struggle against terrorism. US realized Australia’s prominence as it is the only state in Asia-Pacific region that is really able and willing to generously contribute its resources in the fight against terrorism both in form of political and military. US and Australia did several cooperation in combating terrorism such as intelligence sharing, high technology access, defense teamwork, and other consultative works.[3]
To what extent then Australia has tried to play its role in tackling the issue of terrorism? In order to answer that question in this essay, I will first outline Australia’s domestic policy making in formulating an effective strategy in tackling the issue of terrorism. Secondly, I will explain its heightened cooperation with other actors like United States and ASEAN countries to better answer how successful Australia has played its role in the fight against terrorism.
a.      Australia Domestic Policy Making on Counter-Terrorism Strategy
            Australian domestic counter-terrorism policy making might be best understood by observing its experiences with terrorist attacks. Domestically speaking, Australia has never been targeted directly in the attacks; most of them were carried out against foreign target that happened to be within Australian territory. Hilton Bombing 1978, Turkish Consulate General in Sydney 1980, and Turkish Consulate in Melbourne 1986 were among some of the examples of domestic attack that were carried out by terrorist group. However, Australia has had significant experience in international bombing that took place out of the country. September 11 that killed two Australian citizens, Bali Bombing in 2001 and 2005, and Australian Embassy Bombing in Jakarta 20014 were among the examples.[4] Those experiences urged Australian Government to start formulating terrorism-related policy which involves security organization and intelligence in dealing with terrorism. Most of their efforts are outlined in what’s called as Australia’s National Counter-Terrorism Action Plan (NCTAP). This policy involves Australian Intelligence Community that consists of Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), the Office of National Assessment, the Defense Intelligence Organization (DIO), THE Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), and the Defense Imagery and Geospatial Organization (DIGO), Australian Federal Police, even state police and Australian.[5]
            Multiple efforts of counter-terrorism are codified into Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 which define terrorist act as an act, or a threat to commitan act, that is done with the intention to coerceor influence the public or any government byintimidation to advance a political, religious orideological cause, and the act causes: death, serious harm or endangers a person, serious damage to property, a serious risk to the health or safety of thepublic, or , seriously interferes with, disrupts ordestroys critical infrastructure such as atelecommunications or electricity network.[6] The implementation of counter-terrorism policy has stirred intense debates especially upon the notion of security versus liberty.[7]Legislative responses continues to receive mixed public support. A Sydney Morning Herald Poll in October 2005 saw 66 % of respondents supporting detention of terrorist suspects without charge. The sammpercentage also support life-imprisonment for supporting terrorist organization and seven year’s imprisonment for supporting insurgencies where Australian troops are deployed.[8]While supports coming from Australian citizens vary, the situation within its own government was also quiet dynamic.  Prime ministers from two big parties, Labor and Liberal had the tendency to follow public opinion, using populism to maintain its approval rating which sometimes incites oppositional values between parliaments, political parties, and bureaucracy.[9]
            Despite of the debates it incites, Australia remains adamant in shaping its counter terrorism strategy. Some of its strategy entails (a) fighting violent and extremist ideology; (b) stopping the chain of recruitment to prevent people from becoming terrorists; (c) reshaping global condition in stifling the spread of terrorism; (d) eliminating terrorist activities in Australia; and (c) giving effective response in recovery.[10]Understanding the trans nationalistic nature of some terrorism group, Australia also implements several outreach programs through bilateral, regional, and international approaches to expand its capacity and create the necessary cooperation with other nations.
b.      Cooperation with United States
Australia has been one of US’ traditional vital ally and economic partner. US and Australia have been maintaining its strong relationship, mainly characterized by shared democratic values and cultural similarities. Their military alliance includes formal military alliance like ANZUS which serves as the foundations of cooperation between countries. The treaty then invoked for the first time- by Australia- in response to September 11 attacks. The two countries on August 2014 even signed US-Australia Force Posture Agreement at the annual Australia-United States Ministerial consultations (AUSMIN), paving the way for even closer defense and security cooperation, including the annual rotation of Marines to Darwin and enhanced rotations of U.S.[11] US-Australia alliance is particularly an important anchor for peace and stability in Asia-Pasific region. Prior to war on terrorism, countries already shared in interest in maintaining freedom of navigation, over flight and other lawful uses of the sea, including in the South China Sea.
During War on Terror, Australia has kept its options open whether and if so how it would attach itself to an American-led effort to topple down Saddam Hussein’s regime. It wished to stand by the Americans, but it tends to take a pause in case such intervention sparks unintended and unfitting consequences for the region and most importantly Australia’s direct interest. Turmoil in Middle East can surely causes international oil crisis that will harm America’s, Australia’s and other’s economy. While military planning against Iraq went forward, Australia modestly leverage its influence with US by reasoning that a regime can be better handled through engagement than isolation or military operation.[12]  However, this didn’t last that long and Australia joined US various operation in Middle East as US key ally in war against terrorism.
One of US-Australia main issue in its counter-terrorism policy is its counter-radicalization strategy. However, it has received harsh criticism regarding the efficacy of its approaches. Without real objective scale to measure the effectiveness of the program, its appropriateness is often deemed problematic.[13]Members of Islamic community contend that Australia has modeled US securitization policies which unfairly target the Muslim diaspora as being the causes of extremism and proven counterproductive in elimination the spread of radicalism.[14]  Moreover, Muslims have expressed general distrust of the Government’s Strategies due to Australia actively instigating violent conflicts with Islamic countries much like its ally, United States. Many Islamic organization recommends  more of a soft approach that involve personal counter-radicalization counseling by qualified and trusted Islamic leaders rather than messages that are originating from government officials. They claimed the securitized approaches simply leads to more hatred and that a softer co-operative approach utilizing more muslim facilitator is needed.[15]
Many Islamic organisations recommend that a more effective strategy would involve programs that implement personal counter-radicalisationcounselling by qualified and trusted Islamic leaders rather than messages that are originating from Government bureaucrats. They claim the current securitised approach simply leads to resentment and that a softer co-operative approach utilising more Muslim facilitators is needed. This view was also supported by some experts that acknowledge the grivances mentioned by the Islamic community. They contend that Government anti-radicalization messages are not reaching ‘young muslim’ as its main target audience but rather being drowned out by the mass of extremist propaganda on the internet. Rather that focusing too much on its old-fashioned way, government should utilize their resources for training local Muslims to produce meaningful online counter-radicalization narratives that would prevent them from joining and buying into extremist narratives.[16]
c.       Cooperation with Southeast Asian Countries
            Another example of Australia’s effort in involving multiple parties in its counter-terrorism initiative was its major cooperation with South-East Asian countries. Understanding that most of bigger terrorist threats come from Australian’s neighboring countries especially in the region of South East Asia, Australia felt the urged to create a stronger and more intense cooperation. Bali Bombing 2002 in Indonesia was one of the momentums that push Australia in initiating security cooperation against terror with South East Asian Countries. In Southeast Asia, extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah actually predated September 11. Extremists have since slipped in from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hatred against Western states, predominantly United States and its allies such as Australia was increasing. Many attacks against Western asset were carried out while creating instability in its host states. For instances, through Abu Sayyaf revolutionary group in Philippine and those seeking independence in Indonesian Aceh, they resorted to violence in disrupting commercial and military traffic in the region.Australia saw that several extremist movements in Indonesia, Philippine, or Malaysia have big potential to transform into more violent terrorist groups.This was shown by the discovery In Singapore of a plot aimed at bombing American diplomatic, military, and commercial installation, and the Australian high commission.[17]
In response to Bali Bombing, Australia gave direct aid to Indonesia in tracking the groups responsible for that attack. After an arrest, it was found that those who committed the bombing may have ties to Jemaah Islamiyahand also Al Qaeda. Jemaah Islamiyah was also found to maintain relations with other groups in Malaysia and North Philippine such as Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This interrelatedness prompted Australia to even heighten its cooperation with its neighboring countries.On March 2003 Australia began its initiative that aims to track the source of funding that has been sustaining the activities of terrorist groups. It also appointed special anti-terrorism ambassadors in Indonesia, Philippine, Malaysia, and also Thailand. In line with Australia’ sinterest in maintaining influence to increasethe security in South East Asia,it also helped Singapore in providing more security guards for certain flights understanding that Singapore has one of the busiest airport in the world where traffic of both illegal people and weapon may take place. Through Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime agendas that were held on ASEAN Regional forum on June 2003, delegates from Australia gave his speech on the importance of maintaining Australia-ASEAN counter-terrorism cooperation and resulted into joint declaration. Several initiatives proposed include intelligence sharing between Malaysia and Australia and military joint cooperation with Indonesia.
However, ASEAN-Australia over all counter terrorism strategy was hampered to reach its maximum efficacy since ASEAN convention on Counter Terrorism highly depends on each other’s willingness to cooperate and the existence of non-interference norm within its organization stand in the way. Article 3 states that “The Parties shall carry out their obligations under this Convention in a manner con-sistent with the principles of sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States and that of non-interference in the internal affairs of other Parties.”[18]The convention does not apply in cases where a terrorist offense is committed within the territorial domain of another party, which hinders the monitoring of known terrorist operations within another state. Also under Article 22 of the convention, a party can withdraw from the agreement voluntarily“at any time after the date of the entry into force of this Convention for that Party.”[19]The development of a regional intelligence database on counter-terrorism will also be affected by the degree of coordination among national agencies in various member states. In some Southeast Asian countries, the September 11 attacks have not improved the information flow between security and intelligence agencies. Instead ASEAN states rely upon information supplied by external partners including the U.S. and Australia.
In conclusion, although Australia mostly with help from US has multiple policies in relation to combating terrorist activities especially those who operate in its neighboring countries, there are many things to improve from it. Some critics argued that its main counter radicalization measures are too military centric in a way that it fails to engage young Muslim to deradicalize but instead further confirmed terrorist recruitment campaign that the West hates Muslim thus making them the enemy. Various initiatives done with ASEAN member states has also resulted into arrest and prosecution of some prominent terrorist figures, however the coordination among states involved as a whole still lacks a necessary binding ability needed to ensure all parties actively does their share of burden and commitment in fighting terrorism. 

**Image doesn't belong to me.

Hough, P., Malik, S., Moran, A., &Pilbeam, B. (2015). International Security Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Albinski, Henry. (2002). Australia, the Terrorism Phenomenon, & the United States.AQ: Australian Quarterly, Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 15-20.
ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism. 2007. Cebu, Philippines. January 13, retrieved on June 4th 2017 from
Bergin, A. 2015.Debunking extremism needs more than a lame website, it needs strategic, bold changes. Sydney Morning Herald, 15 January, retrieved on june 4thfrom
Chow, Jonathan. (2005). ASEAN Counterterrorism Cooperation since 9/11. AsianSurvey, Vol. 45 No. 2, pg. 301-321.
Humphries, David. (2005). Voters say yes to terror Australia. Sydney Morning Herald. October 27th; The original report, posted on October 25thsuggested  a figure of 75 % instead of 66 %.
Richardson, R. (2013). Fighting Fire with Fire: Target Audience Responses to Online Anti-Violence Campaigns, Sydney, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, p. 24, retrived on June 4th 2017 from
Shanahan, R. (2014). Sectarian Violence: The Threat to Australia. National Security College Occasional Paper, no. 7, p. 10
US Department of States.(2017). US Relations with Australia Fact Sheet.Bueau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.Retrived on June 6th 2017 from
Vaughn, Bruce. (2004). Australia’s Straegic Identity Post-September 11 in Context: Implications for The War Against Terror in Southeast Asia. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 97
Veit, Raphael.(2005). Australia and Counter-Terrorism. AQ: Australian Quarterly, 33-37.

[1]Hough, P., Malik, S., Moran, A., and  Pilbeam, B 2015
[2]Albinski 2002.
[5]Albinski 2002.
[8] Humphries 2005
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] US Department of States 2017
[12]Albinski 2002
[13]Shanahan 2014
[14]Richardson 2013, p.24
[15]ibid.,p. 1-6.
[16]Bergin 2015
[17]Vaughn 2004.
[18]ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism 2007
[19] Ibid.


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