British Prime Minister David Cameron said before the G8 meeting at Enniskillen that extremist and terrorist violence would be at the top of this year's G8 summit agenda. While the G8 can all agree that the changing face of terrorism is a major concern, there is little acknowledgement that the terrorism directed at the G8 partners is mainly an outcome of their own internal or foreign policies.
In 1975, when it had its first meeting, the G6 comprised the six wealthiest nations. Canada and Russia later joined to make it the G8. The G8 today are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the US. The EU has two observers. The group does not include China, probably now the world's wealthiest nation. Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa have been guests at some G8 meetings and are sometimes referred to as the Outreach Five or O5. Of the O5, only two have serious terrorism concerns - India from its left-wing Naxalites and Pakistan-sponsored Muslim terrorism, and Mexico from crime-motivated narco-terrorism.
A particular new G8 concern is the spread of terrorism in north and west Africa, which has implications for all the G8 members. North African extremists are now well armed, thanks to the ill-advised Western intervention in Libya against Gaddafi that allowed extremists to loot his armouries of advanced weapon systems, including surface-to-air missiles.
The West is repeating the mistake, in Syria, of backing a fractured (and not widely popular) opposition that is likely to create major regional problems if it ever succeeds in displacing the well-entrenched, conservative and predictable Assad regime.
Ironically, while the main focus of the G8 is on its economic problems, terrorism has probably never been better funded than it is today, with money flowing in from narcotics protection, kidnap for ransom, wealthy sponsors, zakat payments and charity fronts. Meanwhile, home-grown extremists in the West can simply take out a bank loan to fund their activities.
If the aim of Western policy over the past 10 years had been to stoke up the terrorism threat, it seems to have succeeded admirably.
US involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved disastrous in creating new terrorism problems. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a more dangerous problem today than it was when it opposed the US occupation, and it is very active in Syria as well. Some Australian politicians cite the number of girls receiving schooling in Oruzgan as evidence of our counterterrorism success in Afghanistan, but the schooling situation for girls will change for the worse in Oruzgan after 2014, as it will elsewhere in the south and east of Afghanistan under Taliban influence.
Meanwhile, CIA drone strikes, while effective at taking out terrorist leaders, have made the US a whole new generation of enemies in Pakistan and Yemen. Drone strikes are also thought to be leading to revenge attacks, like the one on the US consulate in Benghazi, which was probably payback for the drone-killing of Libyan al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan. The US does not want to acknowledge that CIA drone strikes are putting its diplomats at risk, but it must be a concern for the State Department.
In many Western countries the infection of mismanaged disputes, such as those in Palestine, Chechnya and Syria, is blowing back in the form of young, first-generation Muslim immigrants becoming radicalised by them - or getting involved in overseas conflicts, to return home with dangerous new skill sets. There may be more than 100 Australians fighting in foreign conflicts, mainly in Syria, but also supporting what are essentially nationalist causes in the Caucasus and Kurdish northern Iraq.
Radicalisation in Western countries is also occurring on an unprecedented scale through the internet, particularly through the extremist magazine Inspire, and Facebook. Despite all the hype about the US PRISM electronic surveillance program, and its many successes, the scale of the radicalisation problem is beyond the capacity of intelligence agencies to prevent all terrorism incidents. Recent examples of successful small group attacks include the Boston marathon bombing and the callous butchering of Drummer Lee Rigby in London. Australia has been fortunate so far, but our intelligence community knows we have little to be complacent about.
What seems obvious is that Australia needs to cut itself loose from slavishly following US policy leads and work out what counterterrorism policies make most sense for us. We have clearly been disadvantaged by following problem-causing US involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having a more even-handed approach to the Israel/Palestine issue is another obvious example - it also makes sense politically now that we seem to have more Muslims in Australia than supporters of Israel. The Palestinian cause is one of the basic rallying cries for young Muslims to engage in jihad against the West.
Obviously we do not want to adopt policies just because they might stop terrorists trying to kill us - but rather because they make sense for Australia. We could, for example, make a difference by being more proactive in helping resolve disputes that, while they do not engage our direct interests, facilitate and feed terrorism - such as the Kashmir dispute or the Christian/Muslim divide in the southern Philippines.
The G20 summit, which Australia will host in Brisbane in November 2014, could provide an opportunity for us to explore with a broader group of partners what alternative counterterrorism initiatives and policies might be adopted. We should break out of the cycle of the past 10 years of adopting, mainly for political and strategic reasons, counterterrorism approaches that have subsequently proved detrimental to our national security interests.
Clive Williams is an adjunct professor at Macquarie University and a visiting professor at the ANU's Centre for Military and Security Law. He is currently working in the UK.