Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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English (Australian) – National Security

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · English (Australian), Security

National Security

Relates to security

The term ‘national security’ has historically been applied quite narrowly in the Australian context to so-called traditional security challenges wherein distinctly state-based threats potentially requiring a military response are involved. While those more traditional conceptions remain important in the Australian context, that notion of national security has broadened considerably over the past decade, to become perhaps the dominant descriptor for the intersection of foreign and defense policy. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and the Bali bombings have had a catalytic effect in this regard and the terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘national security’ are now often used in close proximity. This is reflected in the Australian Government’s 2010 White Paper, which states that ‘Australia’s counter-terrorism policies form part of the Government’s comprehensive national security strategy.’[1]

National security is now defined much more broadly in the Australian context to mean ‘freedom from attack or the threat of attack; the maintenance of our territorial integrity; the maintenance of our political sovereignty; the preservation of our hard won freedoms; and the maintenance of our fundamental capacity to advance economic prosperity for all Australians.’[2]

A whole raft of security challenges are thus incorporated under the Australian national security rubric. Issues as wide ranging as intra-state conflict in the region, transnational crime, cyber attacks, and disease-based threats (especially the prospect of a pandemic) are all included.[3] Environmental security issues, such as climate change, are also routinely now described by senior Australian political figures as a ‘fundamental national security challenge.’[4]

The ‘national security’ descriptor when applied in the Australian context also has a bureaucratic rationale. It has been used as a device to try and bring a greater level of cohesion and coordination to a burgeoning Australian public service. ‘National Security’ has been employed as a mantra for eliminating the ‘silo’ approach that has traditionally been a characteristic of bureaucratic politics in Australia. In its place, a ‘whole of government’ approach to national security issues has been encouraged. To facilitate that objective, the Australian Government launched a ‘National Security College’ in April 2010 that is designed to ‘enhance collaborative leadership in the national security community and build trusted networks within and outside government.’[5]

The broadening of the term ‘national security’ as applied in the Australian context is not without its critics. The Australian academic and former senior defense bureaucrat Paul Dibb has been amongst the most vocal. In his words ‘‘when every international worry becomes a security threat, the meaning of national security is trivialized.’[6] That Australians are politically comfortable with this steady increase in state power suggests tacit support for a stronger sovereign state in an era of heightened external threats. It is uncertain, however, whether the potential domestic ramifications of this power have been yet been digested by the general public.




[1] Commonwealth of Australia, Securing Australia: Protecting Our Community, Counter-terrorism White Paper 2010, (Canberra: Australian Government, 2010), p.3.

[2] ‘The First National Security Statement to the Australian Parliament’, Address by the Prime Minister of Australia, The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, 4 December 2008, p.3.

[3] Ibid., pp.20-25.

[4] See, for example, Mark Dodd, ‘Rudd wants to redraw security priorities’, The Australian, 5 December 2008.

[5] Australian National University, ‘Prime Minister launches National Security College’, Media Release, 24 April 2010.

[6] Paul Dibb, ‘Climate change is no strategic threat’, The Spectator Australia, 12 June 2010, p.vii.


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