By Greg Ansley
TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, are in the US discussing with Hillary Clinton and other US counterparts closer ties between their countries.
The United States and Australia have agreed to modernise their alliance and toughen up their stance against cyber terrorism.
The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, joins us now from the AUSMIN talks in San Francisco.
Minister, good morning.
So these closer ties that you talk about, does that mean missile defence as well?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, we spoke about ballistic missile defence but on the alliance itself, we had the annual AUSMIN talks - the Australia/US ministerial talks coincide this year with the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty. And we've made it clear that just as 10 years ago we saw the ANZUS Treaty invoked for something that people who signed the treaty originally would never have envisaged, namely international terrorism, so today we see the possibility of the treaty being invoked in an extensive cyber attack.
So it shows that our alliance with the United States which has been the bedrock of our strategic security and defence arrangements for 60 years continues to grow, continues to modernise, continues to adapt.
TONY EASTLEY: If I can bring you back to this missile technology, what do we have to offer the Americans on this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Uh, we have made it clear through our White Paper that missile, ballistic missile delivery systems is a potential threat so far as Australia or Australian Defence Force personnel is concerned - either in theatre or by way of tactical use. There is a ballistic missile threat out there.
TONY EASTLEY: Where is it coming from?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I can give you one example and that is North Korea. There is no doubt that is a risk to the international community but it is also the fact that these days with ballistic missile delivery systems that you can utilise conventional weapons, not just nuclear weapons.
So we have spoken about ballistic missile defence with the United States before in that sort of tactical environment. We have also committed ourselves through the White Paper to have discussions with the United States about ballistic missile defence, which would protect population centres and the like so...
TONY EASTLEY: Okay...
STEPHEN SMITH: ..ongoing cooperation.
TONY EASTLEY: Do you accept that a ballistic missile threat that you talk about, it is a strategic regional perspective. I am asking you here, you mentioned North Korea, would China be concerned about this new alliance between Australia and the US?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. What we've done today with our talks in AUSMIN - whether it has been about the United States global force posture review, whether it is about cyber cooperation or space and space awareness cooperation - is essentially ongoing work that we have been doing with the United States for some time.
TONY EASTLEY: So it is not new missile defence. You're just saying it is an upgraded arrangement, are you?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're doing ongoing work in all of those areas. In cyber cooperation we have announced today that we regard that as being potentially an area which could invoke the treaty and...
TONY EASTLEY: And where is the threat there, Minister? Is that because there has been a lot of talk about China pushing into this area regularly?
STEPHEN SMITH: We don't identify particular nation or nations and we also know with cyber, this is an issue not just so far as nation states are concerned but also non-state actors and it is an issue not just for governments and securities, it is an issue also for industry and commerce.
TONY EASTLEY: But you'd have to identify the threat in order to counter that threat, wouldn't you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we don't publicly indicate from where or from whom we believe cyber attacks come. What we do know is that a country like Australia is at risk just as every other country is at risk - and businesses and commerce in Australia is at risk just as businesses internationally are at risk. So part of our effort here is also to education our own business and our own community and our own population that whilst cyber, use of cyber is a terrific thing, use of internet and the like is a terrific thing, it can also see you lose access to your information very quickly and for a business, particularly in the intellectual property area, that can be very much to your cost.
TONY EASTLEY: Stephen Smith, if I could take you to Afghanistan because it has been in the news this week. We saw in central Kabul this week Taliban gunmen firing at will and setting off explosions. Is everything on track in Afghanistan as far as you're concerned?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, obviously we spoke about Afghanistan and the international community's commitment to transition by 2014.
Both the United States and Australia believe that we are on track to effect that. I have been saying for some time that we had to expect in the course of this fighting season that because we'd put the Taliban under pressure - not just in Oruzgan where we are but generally - we had to expect that they would come back with these high profile propaganda-style attacks and they've done that.
That is in part because they haven't been able to come back in a broad base way on the ground, whether it is in Oruzgan or elsewhere.
So those examples plus the fact that we know that the very preliminary signs of outreach for political discussion and political rapprochement are there, are in some respects the best evidence that we have made security ground up in Afghanistan and we are putting the Taliban under pressure.
TONY EASTLEY: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thanks for joining us this morning on AM.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Tony. Thanks very much.
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