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Issue #1542      4 April 2012

US drones for Cocos Islands

Further steps to war

It was left to the US media to tell Australians about the war preparations being made above their heads by the Gillard Government. The Washington Post broke the story last week that US and Australian officials have been discussing the rapid expansion of the US military presence in South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean including the stationing of pilotless drones on the Cocos Islands. The move to the Australian territory midway between Australia and Sri Lanka will relieve congestion for US military aircraft on Diego Garcia – a British island possession in the increasingly strategic Indian Ocean.

The news coincided with PM Gillard’s presence at a forum comprising representatives of 53 countries – ostensibly to consider measures to keep any nuclear capabilities out of reach of terrorist organisations. The choice of South Korea as the venue for such a summit was not accidental. Neither was the fact that it clashed with scheduled testing by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) of rocket technology.

The Australian media slavishly rehashed the US’s disinformation campaign – a missile that could carry a satellite could just as easily carry a nuclear weapon. The missile was to be launched in the direction of Australia! US President Obama warned the DPRK of further, crushing economic consequences if the tests were to proceed. Mission accomplished – tensions in the region were increased and a country refusing to tow the US economic and strategic line was further isolated and punished.

The Cocos announcement was embarrassing and Defence Minister Stephen Smith weighed in quickly to say that the plan was “long term”. Opposition spokesman (and likely defence minister before too long) David Johnston “absolutely supports” the proposal. “I am very keen that we welcome the Americans in any shape or form that they want to come and work with us in our region,” he told the ABC’s Lateline program.

During Obama’s visit to Australia last November, Prime Minister Gillard proudly declared Darwin would host a new base for 2,500 US Marines and the transport of war fighting materiel. Prior to the visit, the US had announced that it will have to cut military spending worldwide and that its allies would have to take up the slack. New tactics involving “lily pad” operations like that carried out in Libya were the way of the future but the US needed more willing “partners” for this new approach.

A Defence Posture Review released earlier this year showed just how eager the Australian government is to help out. The military top brass would like to see the following laid on for US forces:

  • 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
  • Learmonth 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
  • Expansion of Fleet Base West at HMAS Stirling near Perth to accommodate US nuclear attack submarines.

In 2014 there will be a new Defence White Paper. The last one, released in 2009, saw Australian taxpayers committed to sharply increased “defence” budgets and multi-billion dollar weapons acquisitions like the Air Warship Destroyers with their $8 billion price tag. The announcement of the intention to station drones on the Cocos Islands (without even consultation with local inhabitants) indicates that the depths of the forced generosity of the Australian people to US war planners are likely to be plumbed further.

Trouble with the neighbours

The justification for this dramatic build up is thin and contradictory. Sometimes the development of a capability to respond to increasingly dramatic natural disasters is emphasised. Sometimes the need to secure trade routes from all sorts of sinister threats is put front and centre. Increasingly, the need to defend Australia from an un-named expansionist power is hinted at. The Defence Posture Review cited above advances the idea that the resource-rich north of the Australian continent needs to be defended, presumably from an invader that, without a formidable deterrent, would simply descend on the region of the country and steal its mineral wealth.

People aren’t stupid. The suggestion is that China’s influence will continue to grow to such a point that it would consider a blatant grab for resource-rich territory. Longstanding disputes between China and its neighbours are trotted out by way of justification. Unfortunately for the propagandists, China does not have a record of acting forcefully on these matters. The country with the most notable record of invading relatively defenceless countries to monopolise their resources is Australia’s ally – the United States. Australia is often directly or indirectly involved. The international community is well aware of this fact.

Australia’s neighbours are not happy with developments. Many of them have come under pressure to join the “contain” (i.e. confront and ultimately dismember) China strategy of the US. The Philippines is experiencing heavy persuasion to play host to US forces once more following the closure of the Clark air force and Subic Bay naval bases.

Indonesian Minister Marty Natalegawa phoned newly appointed Foreign Minister Bob Carr recently to express his concerns that the Cocos Islands spy plane proposal would “disturb the region”. An Indonesian defence ministry spokesman Brigadier-General Hartind Asrin said, “If we spot one and it has no permit, our fighter jets will intercept it”.

PM Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Bob Carr will continue to ignore such signals. They will press on and sacrifice relations with our near neighbours and major trading partners at the altar of the US alliance. Bob Carr is an enthusiast for all things American including its particularly aggressive form of capitalism. He is well suited to his new job.

Another faded Labor luminary, Kim Beazley, has similar passions. He was rewarded for his loyalty as defence minister and Opposition leader with an appointment to the position of Australian ambassador in Washington. Before President Obama’s visit last November he gushed in the US media about the likely reception for the US head of state:

“He’ll arrive in a country that truly loves him,” Beazley said. “He represents what we think the US has become. He speaks in a language easy to understand; his values are closer to the way ... Australians see the world. Australians respect the United States, what the United States stands for. They respect what the United States does for the world.”

Oh really? According to all the polls taken on such matters, a solid majority of the Australian population would prefer the federal government to cut back on “defence” spending in the cause of US geo-political objectives and for more to be spent on what they still consider are the core responsibilities of the Australian government – health, education and other aspects of social wellbeing. New groups are coming together under the slogan “Keep War From Our Door – Wave of Hope”. They are preparing protests for the Global Day of Action Against Military Spending on April 17. These efforts deserve our full support.

To send a protest and expression of concern to Prime Minister Gillard go to our section on peace for a pro-forma letter.  

Next article – Editorial – Dump the budget surplus

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