Wednesday, February 21, 2007

# Posted 9:01 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE RADIUS OF THE BLAST: Australian High Court Judge Michael Kirby said recently that America is 'obsessed' with 9/11 (hat-tip, Tim Blair) adding:
That is not an event that occurred in this country, and I think we have to keep our eye on the threats to Australia" he said. Justice Kirby added that more people died every day from the disease AIDS than died in September 11.

It may be true that AIDS kills more people daily, and I sympathise with Kirby's concern for the balance between security and civil liberties. But I'm not sure I can agree with the thrust of his comments.

First, his implicit assumption that only events that take place in Australia amount to threats to Australia.

This seems a little inadequate, particularly in the age of cheap travel, the movement of people and capital, when many people work abroad, and where economic interests mean that we are highly interdependent.

The events of 9/11 weren't just an American experience. Twenty Australians were killed on 9/11. Indeed, people from 62 nations were killed.

And according to the World Bank, the attacks on 9/11 pushed millions of people in the developing world into poverty, and likely killed tens of thousands of under five year olds.

Terrorism also seriously damaged tourism in places like Bali, resulting in a surge in poverty.

And terrorism can be a threat in terms of derailing peace talks, undermining negotiations between nation-states and/or other actors.

And 9/11 is legitimately a security issue not simply because of the crude 'bodycount' of the incident, but because of the potential for destruction it exhibited. One can envisage a 9/11-type attack resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths if things had gone differently.

To quote one article on Homeland Security from 2005, the terrorism seen on 9/11
has with conspicuous ease devastated a large part of the downtown area of a modern cosmopolitan city, New York, a backpackers’ holiday playground, Kutan Beach in Bali, and London’s creaking transport infrastructure.
Kirby's comments also point to a longer-standing strategic debate about defining Australian security: simplifying it slightly, there is the 'continental' approach that sees security interests as being interior to the country's borders, and the 'forward' defence posture, where our security interests are at stake (and must be pursued) far more externally.

Sitting here as a misty-eyed expatriate on the other side of the world, whose father is about to travel to a country where terrorist attacks have happened over the last few months, Kirby's parochial way of measuring the severity of a threat doesn't seem overly persuasive.


(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

I agree, the implications of 9/11 have affected world poverty severely. That is why we need to pay more attention to the 2000 Millennium Goals - the first of which is to eliminate global poverty. 191 global leaders made this agreement at a UN Summit. We should hold them accountable to this important promise.
I don’t necessarily disagree with your assessment of Kirby’s comments. You make a number of good points about the impact of 9/11 on the world outside of America, including Australia. However, I think Kirby’s comments do have a ring of truth in them – if they were poorly expressed. As I read what he had to say, he was trying to suggest that there are other problems in the world of significant import, and that America seems to phrase everything these days in terms of terrorism: trade, immigration, energy – all these are somehow tied by the U.S. to problems with terror. Those issues that don’t involve terror, such as poverty, or AIDS, or global warming tend to be downplayed. We do, as you suggest, live in an integrated international economy, and what happens to one country, particularly when that country is America, can cause huge ripples around the world. Even so, Australia doesn’t necessarily have to walk in lock-step with the American agenda.
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