Address to North Atlantic Council

  • Speech, E&OE
24 April 2015

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the North Atlantic Council today for in many ways NATO and Australia are natural partners.

We belong to the global community of democracies.

We believe in an international order governed by rules – an order we know is the only path to lasting security and prosperity for all nations.

We believe in the importance of human rights and freedoms, particularly of speech.

We believe that the lives and rights of women and men are of equal value, that no one, not minorities, not civilians should live in fear.

And importantly, we are prepared to take a stand to defend the peaceful global order, and the principles that underpin it.

Together, we now face the most unstable global security environment in many decades.

The institutions built during the second half of the 20th Century are being challenged by seismic movements.

The nature of the threats we face is changing; new powers are rising, and some old ones are returning to methods we thought had collapsed with the Iron Curtain.

In an increasingly interconnected world, we recognise that strategic threats to global stability can come from anywhere.

The rise of the terrorist group known as Da'esh in the Middle East is a prime example of these new threats.

Already, the bloody tragedies that have rocked Paris, Copenhagen, this city of Brussels and Sydney have shown us that instability in one region, no matter how geographically distant has a direct impact on our own security.

For this reason, Australia – in coalition with many NATO member states – is making a major contribution to the effort to combat Da'esh in Iraq.

The rise of Da'esh has brought with it the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon – which affects all of us directly.

These men and women mostly young – many from our own countries – further inflame the conflict in Iraq and in Syria by their participation, adding to the suffering and exacerbating the instability unleashed by those conflicts.

They also pose a direct risk to our own national security should they return.

Acting to counter violent extremism on home soil is an essential step for all of us in addressing this phenomenon.

Australia understands that this battle cannot be fought in isolation. That's why we are committed to international efforts to counter this ideological scourge.

During our term as a temporary member on the United Nations Security Council, Australia worked to ensure the Council remained focused on countering terrorism and violent extremism and we took a lead on UN Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178 on countering terrorism and disrupting funding to Da'esh. Australia will also host a regional summit this year on activities to counter violent extremism.

We are committed to eliminating this emerging, complex, dangerous and global threat.

Meanwhile, the world is struggling to deal with a Russia that has chosen to resort to imperialistic tactics.

Russia's illegal aggression in Ukraine and claimed annexation of part of that country's territory poses a threat not only to Europe but to the global order we embrace.

Its behaviour is a clear violation of the UN Charter.

Our international order, based on rules and respect for international law cannot allow the pre-meditated trampling of another country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Recognising this, Australia has responded in unambiguous terms.

We have imposed strong, targeted sanctions on individuals involved in the conflict, and broad sectoral sanctions on Russia, in line with those imposed by many European nations.

We have provided $1 million to the International Committee for the Red Cross for humanitarian activities, and contributed $300,000 to the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission.

We have committed $145 million as part of the IMF assistance package to Ukraine and over $4 million worth of non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainian military.

We take these steps because we recognise that a threat to the rules-based global order anywhere is a threat to those principles everywhere.

Through a cruel twist of fate, Australia found itself at the fulcrum of the Russia/Ukraine conflict on 17 July last year when a commercial plane, flying in commercial airspace, was shot down over eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysian Airlines MH17 were killed, including 38 men, women and children who called Australia home. With the Netherlands, Malaysia and Belgium we are leading international efforts to investigate this tragedy and bring the perpetrators to justice.

I am yet to see any evidence to counter the claim that this plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from Eastern Ukraine.

In our own region, we also face increasing uncertainty around sovereignty, territory and security.

The enormous economic shift that is taking place towards the Indo-Pacific, and the rise of Asia as a centre of global power, creates tensions of its own.

To manage the strategic balance in Asia, it is essential that we retain our commitment and willingness to uphold the rules-based international order.

Our reliance on international shipping lanes for trade highlights the crucial role of maritime security for continued global prosperity.

Nowhere is this more important than in our Pacific region.

The Indian Ocean is the world's largest trade-bearing ocean. It is vital to us all.

Australia has a long-standing military presence in the Indian Ocean, as does NATO.

I am pleased that, as of last month, we have been able to link those efforts, with the deployment of the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Success to NATO's Operation Ocean Shield counter-piracy mission.

The Indian Ocean is a natural arena for us to remain connected.

Of course, the emergence of these new challenges does nothing to diminish the importance of the existing ones.

Together, we have been through difficult times in Afghanistan.

I pay tribute to the military and civilian personnel from NATO and partner countries who have served in Afghanistan, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice or who bear the scars – visible and invisible – suffered in pursuit of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

Over the course of our involvement, 34,500 Australian personnel were deployed to Afghanistan.

Forty one Australians were killed, and a further 261 were wounded.

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day – Australia's national day of remembrance for our fallen soldiers and surviving veterans over the past 100 years.

Australia was deeply involved in its earliest days as a nation, in defending the freedom of Europe. From a population of fewer than five million, over 400,000 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed.

On ANZAC day – and every other day - we continue to honour the sacrifice of those who died in Afghanistan, by not forgetting the purpose of our mission there.

In putting Afghanistan back on its feet, we have also made our own people safer.

Afghanistan's future now looks brighter, but our work is not done.

We must continue to work together to strengthen Afghan capacity and its institutions.

Australia is contributing to the Resolute Support mission, with a financial commitment of US$300 million, to 2017, to security sector sustainment.

Australia is committed to Resolute Support and we remain steadfast in our Chicago Summit commitment to contribute to Afghanistan's security forces and institutions.

When we move towards the end of Resolute Support, Australia looks forward to further discussions on NATO's 'Enhanced Enduring Partnership' with Afghanistan post-2016 to ensure a sustainable path to development and peace.

Threats to global stability are not new to us.

We have faced them many times in the past, and we have faced them together.

It is natural that we should find a new way to articulate the strength of this relationship.

Our status as 'Enhanced Partners', agreed at last year's NATO Summit in Wales, is the expression of this closeness.

Where our strategic interests and priorities align, we should be close enough to benefit from one another's insights.

We both benefit from close collaboration on planning for Afghanistan after the Resolute Support Mission, including the Enhanced Enduring Partnership.

As I indicated at the Wales Summit, as you work through NATO's response, to crises now and in the future, where Australia has a strategic interest, I look forward to Australia's inclusion in your discussions.

Our practical co-operation has grown substantially in the past decade.

As an enhanced partner, we should strive for ever-greater interoperability between our defence forces, to ensure this co-operation remains as effective as possible.

To allow us to achieve optimum interoperability and collaboration, we will be engaged early in operational and exercise planning and design.

As an Enhanced Partner it is in both our interests that Australia can join NATO missions at short notice and with 'day-one connectivity'.

Australia's enhanced partner status reflects mutual benefit and the fact that we have responded positively to NATO requests for assistance over many years.

An integral aspect of an Enhanced Partnership for Australia will be NATO's willingness to respond similarly to Australian requests, where it is in our shared interest such as in a location where we were both undertaking a defence capacity building mission.

This is what a contemporary relationship between NATO and a capable, engaged, like-minded partner such as Australia should look like.

This reciprocity has much to offer NATO in return – for instance, by improving member-states' understanding of the vital Indo-Pacific and East Asia region.

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia has a strong record of shouldering our share of security burdens, both in our part of the world and further afield.

Tomorrow, not far from here at Ypres, I will be commemorating the sacrifice of thousands of young Australians, sent far away to defend their country and its values, who gave their lives in defence of those principles both in Europe and around the world.

At a time where we both share global strategic interests, where NATO is affected as much by what happens in the Indo-Pacific as Australia is by what happens in your region, our enhanced partnership is crucial.

As our rules-based global order faces diverse threats; nations and institutions need to be prepared to defend that order.

We must be committed and agile in responding to Da'esh and the instability in the Middle East.

We must be firm in resisting Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

And we must remain engaged in supporting Afghanistan.

Only through working effectively together will we be able to address these shared challenges.

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