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6th ASPI-KAS Australia-Europe Counter Terrorism Dialogue 2020 Discussion Series

by Katja Theodorakis

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Extremism Dynamics: Towards National Resilience

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s (KAS) Regional Program Australia and the Pacific in cooperation with The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) held their annual Australia-Europe Counter Terrorism Dialogue in virtual form this year – through two separate discussions on the 18th of August and 1st of September 2020.

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The topic for the entire dialogue/discussion series centred around building national resilience as the COVID-19 crisis is impacting dynamics of (violent) extremism and terrorism – which thrive on crisis narratives. While the first session focused on the ideological dynamics, the second session was dedicated to developments in the operational environment. The overarching theme of these sessions “Towards National Resilience” provided the opportunity for all participants to consider the global policy and leadership challenges in building community strength and resilience in the continuing fight against terrorism.   

For the first session, the Australian and German Keynote Speakers were Heather Cook, Deputy Director ASIO and Dr Daniel Heinke, Chief of Bureau of Operations, Bremen State Police.

In the second session, Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner Investigations at the Australian Federal Police and Wil van Gemert, Deputy Executive Director, Operations Directorate Europol delivered the keynote addresses.

On both occasions, keynote speeches were followed by a discussion with a select group of experts, moderated by Leanne Close, Head of ASPI’s CT Program and Katja Theodorakis, Senior Porgram Coordinator for Foreign and Security Policy at KAS


The overall aim was to inquire into the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on existing faultlines and extremism trends: exactly which dynamics are coming to the fore (and which trends might be weakening) in response to the pandemic. For this end, a comparative perspective was intended to provide a more fine-grained picture of the threat landscape and enabled forward-looking discussions about what national and international resilience in the face of these challenges could look like.


Key Points of Discussion:

*Hybridity of Protests with interlinking ideological currents that transcend a unified political agenda: right-wing extremism, left-wing extremism, anti-vacciners and conspiracy theorists (here Germany makes for an especially interesting comparison)


*Offline/Online Dynamics: A Changed Field of Operations?


*Lessons from Counter-Terrorism: Appropriate legislation/policy measures. How to avoid exacerbating existing divisions?


Background to the Dialogue:

The annual ASPI-KAS Counter-Terrorism Dialogue seeks to foster knowledge exchange on continuing and emerging forms of terrorism and violent extremism across the ideological spectrum– exploring how to proactively deal with an ever-evolving threat landscape.

A tried and proven format, it brings together policy makers, representatives from relevant government institutions, academic experts and practitioners from Australia, Germany and other European countries for frank discussions through roundtables, in-depth seminars and bilateral meetings at various relevant institutions and ministries, as well as the respective federal, state and EU Parliaments.

This 1.5 Track dialogue was initiated in October 2015 by Dr Beatrice Gorawantschy, the Director of the Regional Programme Australia and the Pacific at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and Mr Peter Jennings, the Executive Director of the Australian Policy Institute (ASPI). Dr. Gorawantschy and Mr Jennings had recognised that Australia and Europe shared many similar challenges in countering violent extremism (CVE) and terrorism – and yet no forum existed for those involved in combatting these issues to share their views, develop better understandings and explore how cooperation could be strengthened.

This proved to be a winning formula, and the dialogue has since been held interchangeably in either Australia or Germany/Europe to allow for an ongoing exchange between experts and practitioners from both regions.  As the German Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community highlighted at a previous dialogue, “international terrorism does not stop at national borders and cooperation, coordination and intensified measures must therefore not be limited to Europe” but can only be achieved together. Equally, on the occasion of the fourth dialogue in 2018, (then Assistant Home Affairs) Minister Linda Reynold noted in her opening speech, “the fact this is the fourth dialogue of its kind is testimony to two things: the enduring success of this event; and its value as a forum in bringing together people with a shared determination to manage a great evil of our times”.

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Katja Theodorakis


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