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Issue #1558      1 August 2012


A question of priorities

Murdoch’s Australian newspaper has launched a full-on attack against the Labor government’s recent budgetary “cuts” to defence spending. The headline, “Cut-rate military funding leaves defence in tatters” (30-07-2012), is typical of its propaganda promoting a massive increase in military spending. There is no shortage of space for war hawks calling for a closer integration of US-Australian military forces to overcome the alleged crisis caused by defence budget cuts in Australia and the US. The 2009 Defence White Paper set the scene for an annual three percent real increase in military spending, with massive outlays in new tanks, jet fighters, submarines, missiles and other materiel. It is now under review with a new White Paper due in 2013 and US and Australian war hawks pushing for a huge hike in the defence budget.

US Army chief general Raymond T Odierno emphasised the need for closer alliances between the US and other countries because of their defence budget cuts. Australian major general (retired) Jim Molan said defence in Australia is in “terminal decline” because of the cuts. “Onwards of 18 months, Australia will slip below a recoverable position,” warned Molan, whose awards include the Legion of Merit from the US government. Former US secretary of state Richard Armitage and US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Sam Locklear have reinforced Molan’s calls for an increase.

The claim that defence spending is being reduced by $5.5 billion over four years is misleading to say the least. The detailed budget papers (as against the media kit figure) reveal military spending is set to increase by $2.797 billion over four years (Budget paper no 1, Statement 6). The “cuts” do not threaten Australia’s military capability. Some areas of spending will rise. Others will fall, such as employment of civilian personnel, internal restructurings and deferral of some capital expenditure. But The Australian is not going to let facts stand in the way of its political and military agenda to boost Australia’s military spending and its further integration in the US military.

Armitage warned that the Obama’s recent “pivot” towards Asia should not be misinterpreted. He told The Australian, “it is not an opportunity for a free ride by anybody – not Japan, Australia or anybody else.” He expressed concern that Australia’s defence spending had been reduced to 1.56 percent of GDP. Journalist Peter Hartcher (The Age, 21-07-2012) also quotes Armitage: “It’s about Australia’s ability to work as an ally of the US. I would say you’ve got to look at 2 percent of GDP”. (The Australian government awarded Armitage the Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in 2010.) Locklear went further, saying that Australia’s military spending had fallen below the level the US expected of its European allies – 2.5 percent.

These figures might sound small, but translating them into dollars and percentage increases, they are alarming. The move to two percent of GDP would increase military spending by 28 percent from $73 million to $93 million a day – $7.3 billion a year extra to be found. The target of 2.5 percent of GDP amounts to a whopping increase of 60 percent from $73 million to $116 million per day. This is what these agents of US imperialism are demanding Australia spend “to work as an ally of the US” and not have a “free ride”.

It is a costly ride, not just in terms of dollars and the cuts in services to fund it. It brings with it the loss of Australia’s independence and sovereignty, it raises regional tensions and increases the threat of war. The Pentagon is conducting regular military exercises, building military partnerships, stationing troops and opening bases around China’s periphery, in addition to the positioning of warships, submarines and aircraft carriers in the waters off its coasts. Last year the US Pacific Command conducted 172 military exercises with 24 different countries, a number which US defence secretary and former CIA director Leon Panetta says is set to increase.

The US plans to reposition its naval forces so that 60 percent of them will be in the Pacific by 2020. China not surprisingly sees the US’s moves to build hostile alliances and assert its dominance on China’s door-step as provocative and does not welcome a heightened role by Australia.

It does not serve the interests of the people of Australia or the region or create security.

Australia has a choice: “to do more” for the US military machine and imperialism’s ambitions for global domination or redirect spending to the security of the people in Australia and our region by addressing social and environmental needs and building peaceful relations with our neighbours.

Next article – Shipping jobs at risk with Caltex decision to close Kurnell refinery

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