NATO and Australia strengthen security partnership

  • Last updated: 13 Jun. 2012 15:11

While geographically far apart, NATO and Australia share common values and security challenges, and have developed important practical cooperation in many areas over the past decade. Australia is currently the lead non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan and has pledged to continue to support the Afghan security forces after the NATO-led stabilization mission ends in 2014. This week, NATO’s Secretary General visits Australia to thank the country for its operational support and to discuss how to further strengthen our security partnership.

High-level dialogue with Australia has been ongoing since 2005. Most recently Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard attended NATO’s Chicago Summit in May.

Australia wants a long-term partnership with NATO. We share a common vision for global security and a common belief in the value of international cooperation to achieve security,” she said.

“Security threats are increasingly global and so it makes sense to have global partnerships as we look to combat those security threats,” she added, pointing in particular to today’s challenges of countering terrorism, cyber attacks and piracy.

During NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s visit to Australia this week, he and Prime Minister Gillard will sign a joint political declaration which commits Australia and NATO to strengthening partnership in areas of mutual interest.

A shared commitment to Afghanistan

At the Chicago Summit Prime Minister Gillard participated in an important meeting focused on how best to secure Afghanistan’s future. Leaders from NATO's 28 nations and the 22 partners in the ISAF coalition gave a clear, long-term commitment to continue supporting the Afghan National Security Forces, after the mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is completed in 2014.

With some 1550 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed, the country is the largest non-NATO contributor of troops to ISAF. Since 2006, the Australian forces have been mainly deployed in the southern province of Uruzgan, supporting ISAF elements and training, mentoring and partnering with various branches of the Afghan National Security Forces. The province was identified as ready for transition towards Afghan lead in May 2012. The Australian forces – which recently took over the command of the Combined Team Uruzgan from US forces – will be responsible for taking this process to completion.

In Chicago, Prime Minister Gillard confirmed Australia’s future contribution to the post-2014 NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces. Beyond training, Australia has pledged 100 million US dollars annually to help sustain the Afghan security forces from 2015 to 2017. In the margins of the Summit, Australia also signed a long-term partnership agreement with Afghanistan.

Speaking to the press in Chicago, Prime Minister Gillard underlined the reasons for Australia’s commitment, shared with NATO, to stabilize Afghanistan: “In 9/11, in Bali, we can actually trace the connections and trace the taking of Australian lives by terrorists to training that happened in Afghanistan, so it is unambiguously in our national interest to no longer see Afghanistan be a safe haven for terrorists.”

A valued security partner

NATO’s cooperation with Australia goes beyond Afghanistan and prior contributions to NATO-led operations in the former Yugoslavia. In 2010, Australia contributed to a NATO Trust Fund project designed to clear unexploded ordinances in Saloglu, Azerbaijan. The Australian navy is also currently cooperating with NATO’s Counter Piracy Task Force to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia as part of Operation Ocean Shield.

Other areas of cooperation include the fight against terrorism, research and technology, and non-proliferation initiatives. Australian defence personnel also participate in a number of NATO activities, including several military exercises.

Against this background, the Australian Prime Minister was also invited to attend a special meeting during the NATO Summit in Chicago between the 28 NATO Allies and the leaders of 13 partners from around the world.

The meeting was a unique opportunity to discuss the lessons learned from mutual cooperation and to exchange views on common security challenges. Leaders said they were ready to cooperate in new areas, including cyber defence and energy security and to engage more in joint training and exercises.

Ultimately, the Allies and Australia are natural partners in the face of global security challenges. They are determined to safeguard the freedom and security of their citizens. They share the values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law – and a commitment to defend them.