The Anti-Terrorist Coalition in the Pacific

Report Asia

The Anti-Terrorist Coalition in the Pacific

April 10, 2003 10 min read
Peter Brookes
Peter Brookes
Former Senior Research Fellow, Center for National Defense
Peter researched and developed Heritage’s policy on weapons of mass destruction and counter proliferation.

On September 11, 2001, the free world was attacked. It was not just an attack on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, where I worked at the time. It was an attack on the civilized world. It was an assault on the international values of freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.

In the ashes of this terrible tragedy, more than 3,000 people were dead or missing, and countless more lives were devastated. Those killed were the sons and daughter of more than 80 nations.

Five thousand children lost a parent. At just one business at the World Trade Center, more than 50 pregnant women were left behind. These children will never see their fathers.

But today, the Taliban regime lies in ruins and hope is being renewed for the people it oppressed. The terrorists they sheltered are behind bars or on the run. And the free world they sought to bring to its knees has risen to new heights of resolve and cooperation. The terrorists did not divide us; they united us in a common purpose. We all understand that the stakes in this struggle are very large indeed.


As President Bush said in an address to Congress on September 20, 2001, "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."

Our military campaign began on October 7, 2001, with several goals. We sought to make it clear that there is a price for harboring terrorists. We wanted to deliver Afghanistan from bondage as a safe haven and breeding ground for terrorism and, in the process, give freedom and hope to the Afghan people. We all must work together to ensure that no country becomes a base from which terrorists can plan, train, or operate with impunity. Edmund Burke had it right when he said: "All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." We must take his admonishment seriously.

In a relatively short time, we have achieved or made substantial progress toward all those goals--but there is still much work to be done. We helped Afghan opposition groups drive the Taliban from power in a matter of weeks. The humanitarian disaster that was forecast to occur during the harsh winter was largely averted through the provision of 2.4 million daily rations.

Under the Taliban, girls were unable to attend schools. Today, a woman serves in Afghanistan's interim government. That new government is laying the groundwork for what we hope will yield both peace and prosperity for the Afghan people.

We have more than 650 enemy combatants in custody, many of them senior Taliban or al-Qaeda leaders. Other leaders of those organizations have been killed during the fighting. And al-Qaeda itself--while it has not been destroyed--has been degraded. We must keep the pressure on until al-Qaeda is eliminated as a threat to peace, security, and prosperity.


Operation Enduring Freedom was not an undertaking we could do alone. Indeed, it requires the collective efforts of dozens of nations around the globe. In Asia, the response was quick and resolute, and we are grateful. Indeed, some of the assistance we received was historic and unprecedented. Some of it has been public; some of it has remained private.

Let me cite a few examples of the assistance we received:

  • Australia deployed Special Operations Forces to Afghanistan, as well as support aircraft, and fighter aircraft to Diego Garcia. And the Royal Australian Air Force filled a key wing leadership position at Manas airbase, Kyrgyzstan.
  • Japan moved quickly to pass anti-terrorism legislation, allowing it to provide at-sea refueling to American and British ships, in addition to transport aircraft to help support logistics requirements. On May 17, the government of Japan approved a six-month extension of this support authorizing the Self Defense Forces to continue these important efforts. It appears Japan will also deploy an Aegis class destroyer to the Indian Ocean in the near future.
  • Korea provided naval and air transport of matériel and deployed a field hospital to Kyrgysztan.
  • New Zealand sent its Special Forces SAS troops to work alongside the forces of other nations in Afghanistan, filling an important role as part of the international effort to stabilize the area. They also provided logistics and humanitarian airlift support in Afghanistan with C-130 aircraft.
  • The Philippines, already involved in dealing with its own terrorist problems, provided landing rights and base support for U.S. aircraft and granted unconditional blanket overflight clearance.
  • Malaysia boldly condemned the attacks and offered its full support to the coalition, including approving all requests for overflights since September 11.

These are just a few of the dozens of nations that are contributing immeasurably to the success of this operation. In each of these cases, these actions were taken because the nations of the Asia-Pacific region recognized that the attack on the U.S. was fundamentally an attack on us all. None of us are safe as long as the scourge of terrorism and hate roams the Earth. Now our task is to harness that resolve and cooperation for what is sure to be a long, hard but ultimately victorious war ahead. We cannot afford to fail.

The events of September 11 heightened our awareness and concern over terrorism and transnational groups that inflict these terrible acts upon defenseless civilians. We are also now more acutely aware that none of us is immune from the threat of terrorism. That is particularly true in Southeast Asia. Arrests in Singapore, Malaysia, and the bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia clearly demonstrate that this is not just about the U.S.

Southeast Asian countries have responded boldly to the challenge. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines signed a trilateral agreement on counter-terrorism cooperation. Malaysia and the U.S. signed an agreement on March 15. Australia and Indonesia have signed a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism. We welcome these developments and hope they will be expanded to other countries and implemented with vigor.

We are encouraged that many have taken critical steps to make this part of the world inhospitable to those who seek to inflict terror on innocent people. It shows that Southeast Asian nations share our concern about international terrorism and, more important, are doing something about it.

That said, more needs to be done. There is a need for concerted undertakings with like-minded nations to identify, eliminate, and prevent sanctuary to terrorists.

The U.S. is willing and eager to help where needed--and when invited. Sometimes that help will be in the form of law enforcement, financial operations, or intelligence, and sometimes it will be in the form of military assistance. At the invitation of the government of the Philippines, the United States deployed almost 1,000 military personnel, including 160 military advisers, to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in combating international terrorists in the southern part of that country. The mission of our deployment was to build Philippine military capacity and capabilities to help continue the global fight against terrorism, defeat the Abu Sayyaf Group, secure the release of U.S. hostages, and ensure that the Philippines does not become a safe haven for terrorists.


But the war on terrorism is one that cannot be prosecuted by military power alone. One size does not fit all. This is not a war between nations--it is transnational. Our enemy does not even have a country proper. It is not a traditional battle between armies, navies, and air forces. Terrorists do not have those either.

Instead, it is a war against secret cells and nebulous networks that operate in the shadows. These cells are not found on maps. They do not have capitals to engage or occupy. Indeed, while we have severely crippled terrorists' ability to operate from Afghanistan, we know al-Qaeda alone has literally hundreds of cells operating in more than 60 countries. We must remain vigilant.

That means the traditional way of thinking about war--in which we fought heavy armor against heavy armor, battleship on battleship, and airplanes versus airplanes--is less relevant. Today, we must be as swift as we are strong, as flexible as we are ferocious.

In addition to our military campaign, our success depends on financial efforts, because terrorists need money to carry out their evil deeds. It depends on diplomacy, because terrorists need state sponsors and we need international partners to fight back. It depends on law enforcement, because terrorists and those who support them must be brought to justice. And it depends on information and intelligence sharing to ensure we all have the power of knowledge.

Many countries have expressed support for the broad objective of rejecting international terrorism. On the financial front, 160 nations around the world have cooperated to starve terrorists of more than $113 million in assets. Much more remains to be done.

Militarily, the U.S. came together with an international coalition of nearly 90 nations--some overcoming old rivalries, but with a common determination to defeat terrorism. Coalitions will continue to evolve based on the precise needs of the mission at hand. This is a coalition of the willing.

In terms of law enforcement, we are leading a global anti-terrorism dragnet. Some 90 nations have 2,400 suspected al-Qaeda members or supporters under arrest. In our country alone, 116 individuals--77 of them already in custody--face federal criminal charges.

The defeat of terrorism is an economic imperative as well. While the economic loss of September 11 pales in comparison to the human catastrophe, the fact remains that a single day's attack exacted a financial toll of nearly $1 trillion and sent the world spiraling into a global recession.

Winning the war on terrorism will help to prevent similar losses in the future. More important, it will create an environment in which economies and people can flourish. And investment now in anti-terrorism will pay dividends for us all in the future. Prosperity depends on predictability. Stability is a prerequisite for investment, innovation, and other ingredients of a vibrant economy and society. Defeating terrorism will help to create a stable domestic and international environment in which nations can engage each other, markets can be opened, and goods and services can be exchanged safely.

The terrorist threat is global in scope, multifaceted, and determined. We can't defend against every form of terrorist attack, from every source, in every place, at every moment. It is not humanly possible. The only defense against terrorism is destroying the terrorists before they can strike. We must be on the offensive and take the fight to the terrorists. A terrorist under assault--or on the run--is one who has bigger problems than organizing, planning, training, or executing a new attack. No terrorist should be allowed to sleep soundly at night.

We must deal not only with those states that sponsor terrorism, but also those that seek to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction. The threat of a link between organizations that wage terrorism and nations that either possess or are developing biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons is real. We must not allow weapons of mass destruction and the systems that deliver them to fall into the hands of terrorists. That would be catastrophic.


The road ahead is as long as our objective is ambitious. But make no mistake: We will work to deny terrorists sanctuary anywhere on Earth. We will work with our coalition partners to pursue, disrupt, and ultimately destroy terrorist networks anywhere they are. And we will provide military aid--as we are doing in Yemen, the Philippines, and Georgia--to prevent the use of their territory as a base of operations.

The fight against terrorism means greater multilateralism in our approach to security, and that is true even in Asia. Unlike Europe, which has NATO, the Asia-Pacific region does not have an overarching treaty-based security organization. But the nations of the Asia-Pacific region are capable of working together to face new and unexpected security challenges, as we have seen in the regional response to terrorism in APEC, ASEAN, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

We are seeking to enhance capabilities in the region to respond to new, non-traditional challenges through enhanced cooperation. In addition to joint efforts against terrorism, we seek to improve regional capabilities to carry out peacekeeping efforts, disaster relief, and search and rescue missions and to work together against transnational crime, piracy, weapons proliferation, and illegal smuggling of people and contraband.

As with terrorism, none of us can overcome these challenges alone. We simply must work together. As we say in the States, "Together we stand, divided we fall." The war on terrorism requires innovation. It requires persistence. It requires resolve. And it requires courage.

Finally, in the war on terrorism, we are now still closer to the beginning than the end, and while much difficult work remains to be done, considerable progress in reversing the tide of terrorism in the Pacific has been made.

Peter Brookes is Director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. His remarks were delivered at the Second Europe-Southeast Asia Forum, "Southeast Asia and the International Anti-Terrorist Coalition," held by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin on December 12-14, 2002.


Peter Brookes
Peter Brookes

Former Senior Research Fellow, Center for National Defense