Britain, former colonies seek to expand military pact

Defence ministers from Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore agreed on Monday to examine ways to adapt their 32-year-old security pact to counter a “new generation” threat—international terrorism.

Putting aside differences about Australia’s vow to use pre-emptive strikes overseas if it perceives a threat, members of a military alliance of Britain and its former colonies in south-east Asia and the Pacific agreed terrorism and other transnational crimes are replacing nation-to-nation threats such as those of the Cold War era.

Defence Ministers met on Monday for biennial talks on the Five Power Defence Agreement, a pact signed in 1971 designed chiefly to strengthen Singapore and Malaysia’s defences by linking them to those of Britain and its regional allies.

The ministers approved a plan to look into expanding the military pact to include the fight against terrorism and other cross-border crimes.

“The prospect of any form of conventional threat has greatly diminished,” Malaysia’s Defence Minister Najib Razak told a joint news conference after the talks.

So, “The ministers agreed that we should look at the relevance of activities to look at non-conventional forms of threat, in particular piracy, illegal immigrants and the threat of global terrorism,” he said.

A consultative committee would be assigned to examine ways to incorporate such issues into the military agreement, and would report back to the member governments before ministers discussed the matter again, Najib said.

He stressed that any new arrangements under the pact would not include operational deployment of troops, but were more likely to include training and information sharing.

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill said the new proposal demonstrated the member countries’ commitment to jointly responding to “a new generation of threat” of international terrorism. - Sapa-AP

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