Regional security threats post 9/11

  • Phil Goff
Foreign Affairs and Trade

Thank you for the opportunity to open this seminar. It promises to be a stimulating one with an impressive list of speakers.

I have been asked to give a brief overview on regional security threats after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The events of September 11, 2001 redefined the way in which the developed world perceived threats to its security. The shocking and spectacular nature of the coordinated attacks on that day traumatised countries that, since the end of the Cold War, had perceived themselves relatively safe from external threats.

In particular it challenged the sense of American invulnerability.

In our own region, the attack on Bali a year later highlighted the vulnerabilities in our part of the world.

The coordination of international terrorism and the fact that there appeared to be no bottom line to the carnage terrorists were prepared to inflict further focused our minds.

Beslan reinforced this threat and in the background has lingered the nightmare scenario of the consequences should terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

In response, New Zealand has exerted enormous energy and effort, domestically, regionally and internationally to strengthen protection against the threat that terrorism poses to ourselves and to the world.

At home, legislation was passed to ensure we were compliant with all 12 UN anti-terrorism conventions. Provisions to prevent the financing of terrorism were put in law and measures introduced to ensure the security of our borders and trade.

We have committed ourselves heavily to Operation Enduring Freedom, deploying ground, naval and air assets to Afghanistan and the Gulf region. We have participated through the Asean Regional Forum and APEC to institute stronger security measures and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, and worked through the Pacific Islands Forum and bilaterally to help Pacific Island Countries to do likewise.

We have worked on responses to situations which give rise to terrorism, the latest initiative being our participation in the Interfaith Dialogue this week in Jakarta.

This event highlights the common values and commitment to humanity of the great religions of the world, and aims to foster greater mutual respect, tolerance and harmony, isolating minority elements that preach extremism.

While terrorism and efforts to counter it have a high profile in today's world, other threats exist in our region that also have consequences for our wellbeing and security. These include contagious diseases such as HIV/Aids and TB and non-infectious diseases such as diabetes.

Preventative and responsive measures need to be in place to prevent an epidemic such as that afflicting Africa from affecting our own region. Environment degradation and unsustainable development pose other threats to our wellbeing. Environmental problems such as global warming cross national boundaries and need a regional and global response.

Poverty, ethnic conflict, poor governance, corruption and abuse of human rights also pose risks to the stability and prosperity of the region. These issues require international cooperation to resolve and the APEC decision this year on a course of action against corruption is a step in the right direction.

Drug trafficking, people smuggling, arms trafficking and trans-national crime also challenge regional security, and need to be addressed through regional actions such as the Bali process on people smuggling.

Regionally issues such as the acquisition of a nuclear capability by North Korea, the tensions between China and Taiwan, continuing denial of democracy and human rights in Myanmar and the need to consolidate the peace processes in the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and East Timor remain on the agenda.

While the effects of September 11 were profound, the regional and international community need also to mobilise to address these other issues that challenge our aspirations for security, peace and stability.

The list of problems appears daunting. What is positive however is the way in which countries in the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly cooperating to find solutions.

The Asean Regional Forum has continued to work constructively to build confidence on security issues. APEC has also broadened its focus, with member economies acknowledging that economic prosperity and regional security are mutually dependent.

New Zealand's political and economic relationships with Asia have continued to strengthen, epitomised by recent developments such as the Asean summit with Australia and New Zealand in Vientiane, the opening of free trade negotiations with Asean and China and the conclusion of an FTA with Thailand.

Given constraints of time, my comments have touched only briefly on the wide-ranging security issues that affect our region.

I hope that the seminar today will allow you to discuss and debate these important matters in greater depth.

I wish you well for a stimulating and successful day.