Families from 78 nations lost loved ones in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. Under blue skies and bright sunshine, the murky threat that terrorists pose to civilization became crystal clear. Learning from this tragedy, we need to enhance regional security cooperation to deal with 21st-century threats.
Taking back our world
from Osama bin Laden
[ SECURITY MATTERS ]
Over the years, the international community watched the al-Qaida network grow. It spread to 60 countries, encouraging young men to come to Afghanistan for training in terrorist techniques. It attacked the World Trade Center and U.S. embassies in Africa with truck bombs, and drove a boat bomb into the USS Cole.
It sent its spawn to Chechnya, Central Asia, Xinjiang and Kashmir. It sent followers to proselytize and organize in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and to make connections with like-minded organ- izations around the world. It spread its financial network across the globe.
The campaign against al-Qaida will be successful. Actions in response to crisis, however, are only the beginning. Sustained action based upon shared interests is the key to long-term security and peace.--Adm. Dennis C. Blair
Past attacks were met with individual national action and some regional cooperation. The United States increased protection for its embassies and armed forces. China, Russia and Central Asian nations formed the Shanghai Cooperative Forum. America and its allies increased capabilities to respond to biological and chemical attacks, such as those by Aum Shinrikyo in Japan. Malaysia and the Philippines increased cooperation on control of adjacent seas.
On September 11, however, we realized how inadequate our response had been.
Now is the time to organize for the future. Following the attack on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, all Asia-Pacific nations, including North Korea, condemned the attack and strengthened measures to protect Americans in their countries.
Japan initiated legislation to allow its armed forces to support the campaign. The Republic of (South) Korea offered forces. Australia invoked the ANZUS treaty and the Philippines invoked the Mutual Defense Treaty. Canada and New Zealand offered forces. Singapore, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations provided overflight and other support. India offered a wide range of help. China is sharing information, as are others.
Just as events in East Timor demonstrated the ability of Asia-Pacific nations to come together in peace operations, September 11 demonstrated the ability to come together to root out terrorism. Peace operations in East Timor have provided security for two years, but must be sustained until enduring security is in place.
Similarly, the campaign against al-Qaida will be successful. Actions in response to crisis, however, are only the beginning. Sustained action based upon shared interests is the key to long-term security and peace.
Today, al-Qaida and its ally, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, are on the run. Our security forces need to keep up the pressure to ensure that they can never reach a sanctuary to rebuild their network and plan future attacks. Even so, defeating these organizations will not end terrorism. Remnants and new organizations could grow over time. Thus we need to sustain the initiative, isolate terrorist cells, and root them out.
Terrorists thrive in sanctuaries of lawlessness, exploit the globalization of transportation, information and finance, and use national boundaries as roadblocks to law enforcement. We see evidence of connections among terrorists, drug lords, money launderers and organized crime, but our understanding is poor.
Defeating terrorism requires expanded financial measures to stop their flow of funds; enhanced cooperation on customs, immigration and aviation safety standards; enhanced information sharing on the international movement of suspected terrorists and members of groups that advocate violence; and enhanced cooperation among law enforcement and security forces to combat terrorism.
During the past two years, the armed forces of the Asia-Pacific region have improved readiness for multilateral operations. Many have participated in conferences, workshops and exercises to develop skills for a wide range of missions from humanitarian assistance, to peace operations in complex contingencies, to countering security challenges presented by piracy, drug trafficking and terrorism.
These efforts have laid the foundation for effective operations in coalitions. We need to apply these to combating terrorism.
The campaign will involve many efforts. Many nations have offered to participate in a Malacca Straits patrol to ensure that terrorists cannot attack shipping there. Many are following leads to ferret out terrorist cells, training camps and finances. The United States is increasing efforts to help the Philippines to vanquish the Abu Sayyaf group and has increased dialogue with Asia-Pacific nations on measures to increase the capability of their armed forces and security services to deal with terrorists.
Unfortunately, it takes tragedies like September 11 to lower thresholds for action. For years we have spoken of shared interests in countering terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy, and how no nation can deal with these challenges alone. We see clearly the effects of allowing traditional security approaches and historic animosities to stand in the way of cooperation.
If the nations of Asia and the Pacific grasp this opportunity to work together, we will ensure the future security of our citizens and will foster peaceful development in the region.
Adm. Dennis C. Blair commands U.S. military forces in the Asia-Pacific region from his headquarters here at Camp H.M. Smith.