Out of the frying pan: Should the Australian Army be used against terrorists on Australian soil?


Introduction: Terrorism as a ‘dynamic’

Recently in The Australian, an article entitled ‘We’d be fools not to use the ‘best in the business’’[1] was written suggesting that the Australian Army—specifically TAG East, the special forces team based in Sydney—should have been used to stop the gunman Man Haron Monis in the 2014 Lindt Café siege.[2]  The justification being that the police alone can no longer be relied upon as the ‘sole defenders against a terrorist attack.’[3]  The reasoning for this case is that sieges have changed and that terrorists, in this case supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are now ‘faster moving’ as illustrated by the Paris attacks of 2015 in which 130 were killed. [4] The French police special forces— which are integrated with the military—then took another two days to confront and neutralise the threat.  According to Maley in his article, the Paris attack is ‘emblematic of the style of terrorism the West now confronts.’[5]   All of Maley’s statements are factual and reflect the fact that terrorists—as with conventional sovereign-state military forces—alter their tactics in the kinetic phase of battle in order to gain the outcomes that most benefit their perception and realities in any a given situation.  As such ISIS, in the Paris attacks is no different than what has gone before.  For instance the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA)—colloquially known as the ‘Provos’—fought Irish security personnel and the British Army in Northern Ireland (and on the English mainland) in a seventy year’ war before a settlement was reached.  The IRA encompassed strategies that would escalate tensions and create a belief that the police and army were not in control and many tactics were tried—such as  setting a building on fire and then shooting at the arriving firemen[6]—in the pursuit of their ambition to rid Northern Ireland of what the IRA saw as invaders.  The point being made here, is that terrorist groups are a dynamic, and as with any violent group their tactics need to be assessed and dealt with by experts, of which the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force no doubt, has access to, whether through its own staff or a broader expertise through consultancy.  Therefore, to suggest the Australian Army should be ‘called in’ in order to right a ‘terrorist situation’ needs to be assessed on the basis that the NSW Police Force—and therefore any other Australian police force—is somehow incapable of proactively or reactively containing a terrorist and/or terrorism.   There is more to introducing the Australian Army into the abovementioned than meets the eye and contains many worrying aspects for Australian society in general.

Policing versus the military

Emphasising the matter-at-hand the difference between the Australian Army and a State/Federal policing force is that the police are a civil force tasked by authority within the numerous conventions of State and Federal laws with solving a situation through policing which is (in theory), a combination of governance, maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, whilst upholding the rule-of-law.[7]   Within this remit however, police officers have rights (and responsibilities), and are able to use their discretion and rationale in the policing of a situation.  The stark difference between the police and the army is first and foremost, a member of the armed forces in under orders and must carry out those orders or face direct and severe consequences such as a dishonourable discharge/court-martial and/or prison.  If a soldier was given the order to kill Monis then there is no questioning, no discretion and rationale is to be introduced: it must be done.  Here is the hidden danger in introducing an army into an overall scenario.

With the abovementioned in mind, the point of whether the Australian Army should be deployed in order to fight against its own citizens needs a more stringent debate than the simplistic notion that the Australian Army should be involved because terrorism has ‘changed’ society. To be sure, the Australian Army is a defence force, charged with defending Australia’s borders and its citizens.  Whilst the argument can be made that if the Australian Army was involved in the siege and it was their personnel that killed Monis therefore, it was a form of ‘defending’ the Australian public has some validity.  The problem with the situation is and remains with the outcome: the Australian Army would be attacking a resident/citizen of Australia.  The debate beyond a single tragic instance can now be addressed.

The hidden danger: Broadening terrorism

A single problematic exists beyond the Monis/Lindt Café siege case and whilst acknowledging this, it is important to note that in the Monis case there is no doubt that he was acting within the legal definition of a terrorist; committing a terrorist act; and using the patrons of the café as tools in his aim to prove his point.  In this case the label of ‘terrorist’ is unambiguous, focussed on him and his actions.  What of the future?  Within the wider remit of using a military force against a ‘terrorist,’ and/or ‘terrorists’’ is to engage with the unthinkable: what if the legal definition of what a ‘terrorist’ comprises ‘of’ changes in the future?  Of course, this is fanciful, and could never happen in Australia.  Nevertheless, numerous laws have undergone changes over time.  The charge of rape was once, unable to be applied within a spousal situation.  Now when the allegation is made the police must become involved and once charges are laid the accused must attend court in order to accept or defend the charge/s.  The point being here is that the law changed, due to the influences of interest groups, a body-politic, a change of societal attitudes and a myriad of other reasons. Whether the change to a law is positive or negative remains external to this argument as what is attempting to be drawn out here is that the law is also a dynamic, and changes can be made in a liberal-democracy should the impetus be strong enough.


Now to ‘terrorism. Imagine the scenario with regard to a terrorist act unfolding to something anyone objecting to what the government is doing is able to be deemed seditious and therefore, acting in a ‘seditious manner.’  The terrorist label is then applied and once having used the Australian Army, it will be able to be called in again as governments once having gained laws in their favour rarely relinquish their newfound power; or have ‘sunset clauses’ in legislation.  Reverting to the military for answers to societal issues is a dangerous path as per the aforementioned British military in Ireland.  Of course, this would never happen.  No democratically-elected members of a liberal-democracy could ever harness that much influence could they?  Events in Britain suggest they can.  Recently in Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a body-politic had consistently demanded (over the past decade) that Britain exit the European Union (EU) and by and large, it was never accepted that UKIP could express so much power.  It has been since acknowledged that the persistent and consistent focus of UKIP on the ‘Leave Vote’ significantly impacted on Britain’s voting choice.[8]  As a result Britain is no longer part of the EU. This example proves that small highly-active political-blocs can bring about cathartic change and indeed pursue a single-issue agenda with robustness and flair, and thereby alter a country’s path.  A path which was once reserved for the major players in liberal-democracies.  Hence, one need look no further than the One Nation party in Australia to observe the garnering of exponential power through persistence—a party which is now a ‘major force in Australian politics.’[9]


To be sure, it is not unusual for neo-conservative and/or conservative commentators to demand decisive acts as an answer to the ills of terrorism, whilst also offering a corresponding gracious and all-encompassing mantra that the West is the ultimate model of what a society should ‘be’ and any form of resistance to the model should be seen as terrorism.  As per the above we come back to what a terrorist ‘is’ also remains a dynamic, and a cursory observation of Nelson Mandela’s party—the African National Congress—is a party which was once labelled ‘a typical terrorist organisation’ by the Conservative Prime Minister Thatcher in the mid-1980s.[10] the statement is tantamount to  an expression that apartheid should not have been challenged.   This stated perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Thatcher’s statement, and one that exists today, is it homogenizes terrorism for the benefit of the nation-state.  If the sovereign nation-state deems you a terrorist, then ‘you are, what you are.’  The fact that Mandela was reacting against the crushing of his people by the nation-state authorities is irrelevant. Thus, Maley’s opinion with regard to the use of the Australian Army is the conservative reaction that befits the model of wanting to ‘get something done’ in the face of a terrorist act.

In conclusion: terrorism came to the fore and into the public sphere more robustly in the 1970s—especially with the destruction of four airliners that had been hijacked and then destroyed in the Jordanian desert[11] —and therefore to imply that a police force in the West does not have a succinct understanding of how to tackle a terrorist attack is insulting in the extreme based on the amount of time and resources Australia—and the West in general—spend on this issue.  If the reverse was proven to the case then the police commissioner in question, should be dismissed.  With regard to the use of the military against its own people in order to  to quell ‘dissent’ is to understand how a horror story can become real life:  the People’s Republic of China Army during the Tiananmen Square protests; the Thai Army use of force against its southern Muslim population; Saddam Hussein’s use of his  army against the Southern Kurds (Marsh People) in the south of Iraq; President Assad’s current use of this military against numerous cities in Syria; the military control of the population of Myanmar up until very recently; and the use of the army in Sri Lanka to eradicate the Tamil Tigers.  The list goes on.  All of these examples illustrate that policing actions are not used by an army as the remit of the army is to get the ‘job done’ at all costs. Therefore, introducing the Australian Army into the domestic  populace to quell terrorism—unless what a the legal definition of a terrorist remains solid and unchanging, which obviously cannot be guaranteed—would be a dangerous and irresponsible move based on the use of the military in the aforementioned examples.  The evidence-base therefore suggests, ‘we’d be fools to use the ‘best in the business,’’  and this is due to the following: a more balanced approach to the issue of terrorism needs to be debated in the public sphere; once the  Australian Army is introduced there will be no turning back; and Australian governments will not relinquish their power over this aspect of the military forthwith.

©  Strobe Driver Sept, 2016

[1] Paul Maley. ‘We’d be fools not to use the ‘best in the business.’’ The Australian. Nat ed. 29, Sept 2016, 2.

[2] Liz Burke.  ‘Martin Place cafe siege: Police storm café and kill gunman ‘Sheik’Man Haron Monis – Report.’  New.com.au.  16 Dec, 2014.  http://www.news.com.au/national/martin-place-cafe-siege-police-storm-cafe-and-kill-gunman-sheik-man-haron-monis–report/news-story/a1e51d29469209ffa62684e648441043

[3] ‘We’d be fools not to use the ‘best in the business.’’ The Australian.  Emphasis added.

[4] ‘We’d be fools not to use the ‘best in the business.’’ The Australian.

[5] ‘We’d be fools not to use the ‘best in the business.’’ The Australian.

[6]  Anthony Joes.  Urban Guerrilla Warfare. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2007, 123.

[7] ‘Policing.’  Dictionary.com.  http://www.dictionary.com/browse/policing?s=t

[8] See: Ashley Kirk and Daniel Dunford.  ‘EU referendum: How the results compare to the UK’s educated. Old and immigrant populations.’  The Telegraph, 27 June, 2016.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/eu-referendum-how-the-results-compare-to-the-uks-educated-old-an/

[9] Michael Koziol.  ‘One Nation wins four Senate seats, crossbenchers to hold eleven seats.’  The Sydney Morning Herald.  4 Aug, 2016.


[10] Julian Borger.  ‘The Conservative party’s uncomfortable relationship with Nelson Mandela.’  The Guardian.  27 Dec, 2013.  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/06/conservative-party-uncomfortable-nelson-mandela

[11] ‘1970: Hijacked jets destroyed by guerrillas.’  BBC News, 12 Sept, 2016.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/12/newsid_2514000/2514929.stm

This entry was posted in Australian politics, insurgencies, international relations, terror, terrorism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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