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Issue #1534      8 February 2012

Defence posture review

Refining plans for war

Last week, Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith released a progress report on a Defence Posture Review kicked off last year. Former defence secretaries Allan Hawke and Ric Smith were asked to consider:

  • The rise of the Asia-Pacific as a region of global strategic significance;
  • The rise of the Indian Ocean rim as a region of global strategic significance;
  • The growth of military power projection capabilities of countries in the Asia Pacific;
  • The growing need for the provision of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief following extreme events in the Asia Pacific region; and
  • Energy security and security issues associated with expanding offshore resource exploitation in our North West and Northern approaches.

Or, at least, that’s how the task was officially described. There is nothing humanitarian or defensive in the government’s intentions or the recommendations made public. The final version of the review will be handed to the minister in April of this year and form part of the planning for a new Defence White Paper due in 2014.

The real intention is to help the US project its power in the Indo-Pacific; to prop up its capacity in the region as its declining economy begins to impose constraints and to further prepare for war on China. The US has begun a realignment of its forces prompted by a budget cut of $US487bn over the next 10 years and a reduction in size of active duty army personnel from 570,000 to 490,000. Even with those cutbacks, the US will have a dominant military capacity worldwide.

The US intends to maintain or even heighten its aggressive stance across the globe and to contain the influence of emerging economies by the increased use of pilotless drone aircraft, more Libya-style wars and the ability to launch special operations from “lily pad” bases across the globe. As usual, Australia’s government and military top brass are only too happy to oblige.

Obama’s visit

US president Obama’s visit to Australia late last year and the announcement of a base for 2,500 marines at Darwin were part of this plan for a growing US presence in the Indo-Pacific (Indian and Pacific Oceans). The interim report from the Defence Posture Review presents a long list of big-ticket items to be placed at the service of the Pentagon:

  • Upgrades to RAAF bases at Tindal (NY), Learmonth (WA), Pearce (WA), Townsville (QLD) and Edinburgh (SA)
  • A new air force base at Pearce
  • Huge upgrades for navy bases at Cairns and Darwin
  • Amphibious mounting base capacity for 27,000 tonne vessels out of Brisbane and Adelaide
  • Expansion of Fleet Base West at HMAS Stirling near Perth to accommodate US nuclear submarines
  • Learmonth is to get an extension to its runway to allow Airbus KC130s, Boeing P-8 surveillance aircraft and the massively expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to access the base.

Placing a fig leaf

The review admits the danger of attack on Australia is “low”. It is actually non-existent but, in order to justify this theft of Australian taxpayers’ dollars to make up the US military budget, all sorts of nightmare scenarios are presented. Demand for resources is expected to grow by 35 percent by 2014. A piece in The Australian Financial Review entitled “Move to guard northern wealth” shows a map with multi-billion projects underway in the “energy belt” to Australia’s north- west complete with their price tags.

The suggestion appears to be that a country has to have a massive military to stop an emerging power simply moving in and grabbing those resources. Interestingly, the map shows the Joint Petroleum Development Area of the coast of Timor-Leste, which should serve as a reminder that it is Australia that has shown aggression to its neighbours regarding resources. The review also raises the possibility of terrorist attacks on these projects only to admit, “The level of vulnerability to such attacks can be exaggerated.”

Lots of words were being used to skirt around the real issues but the main point was well taken by the media. Murdoch defence writer Ian McPhedran was frank; the point of the recommendations for a massive military build up is to “protect the nation from China”.

China

Sino-phobia has a long and ugly history in Australia. A multi-pronged “hate China” campaign is underway in the corporate media. The fear of China is being exploited to usher in these plans to help the US project its power and maintain its presence in the region. The vague references to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief have a nice ring to them and there’s no doubt there will be more need to provide such assistance as climate change brings on more extreme weather events.

But the real intentions of military strategists in Australia and the US can be seen by the sort of infrastructure and equipment they are acquiring for Australia’s armed forces. The submarines and warships now operating and on order must have the range to operate in Northern Asia, to threaten China. The irrationality of all this wasn’t brought out by the corporate media last week but most people would be asking the question – “Why is the government so keen to rattle the sabre against China when we all know it is our biggest trading partner and has insulated us so far against the worst effects of the economic crisis?”

In other contexts, conservative economic commentators freely admit that if there were a marked slowdown in China’s economy, it would have a disastrous impact on Australia.

China has not shown any aggressive intentions towards its neighbours, including Australia. It doesn’t have bases dotted across the region, unlike the US. The problem for US ruling circles is that a strong China is a strong competitor on international markets and its prestige is growing. It is also a competitor in the global battle of ideas between socialism and capitalism. The goal of a weak, dismembered China might be in the twisted interests of the US ruling class but not that of its people, the people of Australia or the rest of the world. The war plans being aided by the Australian government must be defeated.  

Next article – Editorial – Clash of visions

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