The 2014 APEC Conference in Beijing this past week has been and gone and the G20 Conference in Brisbane is taking place in Brisbane this weekend.
If the APEC Conference is any guide the world leaders assembled in Australia will have little to say about the meteoric rise of Islamic State (IS) over the past six months and the threat to world peace and security Islamic State poses.
Expectations were high that Islamic State would be discussed at the APEC Conference.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key declared before the meeting:
“It’s very hard to believe that leaders won’t spend a lot of time talking about that [Islamic State].
And if you think about risks to the global economy, certainly one of the risks is that there’s a very, very significant meltdown of the situation in the Middle East. And if you saw that then the economic risks to the world are very significant.”
Two days later at meeting’s end he was singing a different song admitting that:
“discussions about IS played just a small part in the APEC talks, with leaders focused on progressing two significant free trade deals.”
Key however revealed he had had a conversation on IS with US President Barack Obama “on the sidelines” of the conference – telling reporters:
“He is very much in agreement with me that ultimately the real issue here is one of diplomacy.”
He said Mr Obama was quite confident about the capacity of new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reach out to Sunnis and be much more inclusive.
“I think him and I are very much on the same page – that you need some military capability and clearly need to try and control and rein in Isis but on the other side of the coin if you are really looking for a long term solution, it has got to come from people feeling as though they are part of the long-term solution to Iraq.”
If Obama’s sentiments have been accurately reported by Key – then the US President has changed tack for the third time in four weeks going from initially planning to “degrade and destroy” IS to “disrupting and delaying” IS and now planning “to try and control and rein in” IS.
How one can ever possibly deal with Islamic State diplomatically was not revealed.
Meanwhile Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was able to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry when they reportedly discussed a timeframe in combating Islamic State – as well as the work Australian Special Forces would be undertaking in combating IS in Iraq.
In her usual and frank manner Bishop made no bones of the difficult task ahead:
“I don’t think anybody was under any illusions that this would be easy. IS is well funded, well resourced, with apparently 16,000 fighters or more from 80 different countries. When you are dealing with an ideology, it’s very hard to know what a complete mission would look like.
It will take time, it will take effort from a number of countries.”
No doubt Bishop would have been very concerned to hear the evidence given today by Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan to a Parliamentary Committee examining new counter-terrorism legislation – known as the Foreign Fighters Bill.
Gaughan told the committee Australia’s control order regime needed to be overhauled with a lower threshold for evidence – so police can catch terror suspects. More Australians had managed to slip out of the country to join Islamic State fighters.
“I think what we’re missing is the ability to stop people – the enablers and the supporters. We haven’t got anything there”
There are some people who travelled a few days ago that were not on anyone’s radar.
We got wind of it after the fact but the fact is there are still people travelling.
And regardless of what we’re doing, we’re not stopping that, so we need some other tools.
Gaughan reportedly said greater powers were needed to stop those facilitating and supporting home-grown extremists.
“There are, I would say, a handful of facilitation groups operating up and down the east coast [of Australia] that at the moment are just far enough away from law enforcement that we can’t arrest them”.
The APEC Leaders Communique managed to mention the word “terrorism” just once:
“We commit to jointly tackle pandemic diseases, terrorism, natural disasters, climate change and other global challenges.”
The Communique showed more concern for wildlife than for human life being shed each day in the bloodbath that has become Syria and Iraq and threatens to spill over into surrounding countries:
“We commit to continue our efforts in combating wildlife trafficking. We will take steps to combat wildlife trafficking by enhancing international cooperation through Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs) and other existing mechanisms, reducing the supply of and demand for illegally traded wildlife, increasing public awareness and education related to wildlife trafficking and its impacts, and treating wildlife trafficking crimes seriously.”
Can one dare hope Obama and Putin might come together in Brisbane and agree on the terms of a Resolution to be put to the UN Security Council to confront Islamic State – which by its ongoing conquest of land and its inhabitants is threatening to make a mockery of every economic decision and prediction set to be taken and trumpeted at the G20?
Hopefully the Beijing babble will give way to serious business in Brisbane.
David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network.