The focus on security and the threats to Australia has gone through an incredible change over the last 15 years. Security issues have undergone a number of critical transformations as a result of transnational terrorism where, prior to September 2001, terrorism was pooled with a number of other competing international issues and there appeared to be no great sense of urgency about dealing with it.

The attacks that occurred on 9/11, however, were significant to the Australian security landscape for a number of important reasons. For myself, the events that took place on that morning in New York City morphed from scenes more suited to a Hollywood movie set to something that suddenly and shockingly become real life. As a young 18-year-old, and well before I embarked on both my academic pursuits and my military career with one of the Australian Army’s most elite units, I still possessed enough situational awareness to understand the follow-on effects that such a catastrophic event would generate and how this would impact the traditional understandings of security.

The sombre mood that resonated from ordinary citizens in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 said it all. I mean, how could these events that occurred halfway around the world so visibly affect the people living in the Sydney suburb that I grew up in? Why, all of a sudden, were there lucid expositions of mournful sorrow that could be ‘felt’ when I stepped out of my house to, say, buy groceries?

The answer to these questions lay in the attacks themselves. The fact that four commercial airliners were hijacked by Islamic extremists so that they could be flown into buildings on U.S. soil in the most spectacular suicide attack in history was unprecedented in both scale and devastation. This single event transformed the security focus of both governments and the private security industry, who were now faced with a threat that had epitomised complexity, unpredictability, and lethality.

This series will begin by focusing on the contemporary form of terrorism that has emerged predominantly since 2001, and how this lethal and indiscriminate form of violence has been the main driver of national and international security policies. I then want to discuss the second- and third-order effects that this new form of terrorism has produced, predominantly with the unprecedented growth of private military companies (PMCs) and the associated issues that this has generated. Finally, I will discuss the demand that is being placed on the private security industry with regards to providing security professionals who are up to the task of effectively managing the threats associated with this new form of terrorism.

Countering the threat of terrorism

The suicide attacks of 9/11 have been regarded as a transformational event in world history. These attacks initiated a series of ongoing and unprecedented security responses at the micro, meso, and macro analysis levels. At the macro level, the world bore witness to the NATO and allied force invasion of Afghanistan as part of then President George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror.

This invasion had the backing of the United Nations, and the use of military force to oust the Taliban and take control of Afghanistan was suited, sanctioned, and justified. The subsequent transformation of the war from conventional to asymmetrical, and the problems associated with fighting a prolonged counterinsurgency are beyond the scope of this paper, however the global sympathy for what was Osama bin Laden’s anti-Western message and the powerful appeal of his call for jihad have been some of the most dangerous exports of this war to date.

Insurgencies are known to leverage their available sources of power to gain the sympathy of a broader population which, when combined with force multipliers such as technology and media coverage, can mobilise small cadres of individuals to commit heinous acts for the same cause. The years that have elapsed since 2001 have hardly seen a reduction in the number of terrorist attacks, and Islamic extremism does not appear to be on the decline.