Rudd government prepares for new wars

By Hamish Chitts

The global crisis of capitalism is being used by the ALP as an excuse to water down workers’ rights and measures to tackle climate change as well as for a general “belt tightening” of public services. But the Rudd government is keeping its commitment to maintain the Howard government’s annual 3% real increase in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) budget. This will increase from $22 billion last year to almost $24 billion this year. In 2009, military spending will surpass 2% of GDP, a level not reached in almost 20 years. This is Australia’s biggest military build-up since World War II.

A new white paper, unveiled by PM Kevin Rudd on May 2, outlines the long-term build-up of the ADF, led by a multi-billion-dollar naval investment. The navy will receive 12 new submarines to replace the current Collins-class vessels. This will double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet and enable the navy to deploy up to seven submarines to the north of Australia, including at “choke points” of maritime traffic in the Indonesian archipelago. Also on the shopping list are eight 7000-tonne warships equipped with ballistic missile defence systems, a new class of 1500-tonne corvette-size patrol boats and at least eight P-8 Poseidon long-range surveillance aircraft. Six new heavy landing ships and 24 naval combat helicopters will also be purchased.

The air force will get 100 new F-35 fighters and seven pilotless aerial surveillance vehicles, possibly the US-made Global Hawk, operating out of an expanded Edinburgh air base in South Australia. The army is to get seven new Chinook helicopters, 1100 personnel carriers, and new rockets and mortar systems. The Defence Signals Directorate will set up a centre to increase the electronic spy agency’s monitoring of internet and telephone communications. The white paper claims the upgrades are all aimed at boosting capacity to move ADF units en masse, allowing the military to “act independently where we have unique strategic interests [the Asia-Pacific region]”. A new land-attack cruise missile able to travel almost 400 kilometres will be fitted to submarines, frigates and air warfare destroyers.

Threats rather than solutions

In a speech addressing a US think-tank, the Center for a New American Security, in Washington on April 10, titled “Australia and the United States: The Indispensable Alliance”, Australian war minister Joel Fitzgibbon said: “Our global security environment will be challenged by the consequences of climate change and associated resource security issues, involving future tensions over the supply of food, energy and water”. Fitzgibbon admits that the Australian government recognises the catastrophic consequences and potential human suffering resulting from climate change. What is its solution? Boosting its ability to use military force, rather than serious plans to reduce climate change or provide assistance to people affected by it.

This is not a policy failure of this particular government but a standard capitalist response to crisis. Speaking at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce function on April 24, Rudd said his “government will not resile even in the difficult times from the requirement for long-term coherence of our defence planning for the long-term security of our nation. This is core business for government.” That is, in times of crisis, the priority is to maintain and increase the capabilities of the military in order to protect the property and profits of Australian big business, not to look after the interests of the working majority. A beefed-up military is needed to secure overseas profits for Australian capitalists and to suppress any resistance to this from the exploited here or abroad. And it is working people who have to pay for this permanent war footing — with cuts in their living standards, or with their very lives.

Talisman Sabre ‘war games’

Of course, Canberra will not do this on its own, but as part of its imperialist alliance with Washington. As part of this alliance the ADF conducts regular war preparation exercises with the US military. The biennial Australian-US war “games” known as Talisman Sabre 09 (TS09) will be held from July 6 to 26, involving 30,000 troops from both militaries in the Timor Sea and at joint Australian-US training facilities: Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and Bradshaw and Delamere Range in the Northern Territory. Support sites will include ADF and civilian facilities in Australia, offshore and overseas. The main purpose is to increase “interoperability” between the two militaries. The Australian Department of Defence says the exercise will practise “combat operations transitioning into peacekeeping or other post-conflict operations” — i.e., Afghanistan-style operations and other future wars of occupation of Third World countries.

TS09 is to proceed despite many concerns raised by its two predecessors in 2005 and 2007. Negative environmental, social and economic impacts and the rights of Aboriginal people all take second place to Australian imperialism’s military alliance with Washington and the US military’s need for large tracts of land and sea for target practice.

Shoalwater Bay is home to the largest dugong population in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage Area and is considered crucial to the stabilisation and recovery of local dugong numbers. The region also supports nesting sites for green turtles and critical feeding areas for turtles and dugongs and is home to 26 species of dolphins and whales, including humpbacks. Cowley Beach, also part of the reef heritage area, contains important wetlands and has nationally significant populations of migratory birds. There are endangered and vulnerable species of both flora and fauna. The Delamere Range is located within the Kakadu wetlands catchment, and this region hosts threatened fauna and migratory species.

Nuclear-powered vessels, potentially carrying nuclear weapons and almost certainly carrying depleted uranium munitions, were used in TS07. They pose a nuclear risk. In Tokyo in 2006, radiation was detected in the waters around a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Honolulu. The impact of nuclear radiation on the Great Barrier Reef is not known.

Perchlorate, an ingredient of live ammunition, is highly toxic. Perchlorate has been found in groundwater in 25 US states and near many US bases overseas. The people of Byfield and Yeppoon are concerned that perchlorate may be leaking into their water supply because one of the live firing areas at Shoalwater Bay is within the catchment of their water supply. Despite the risk, local authorities will not test the water.

Red and white phosphorus are extremely toxic. Mangrove death has been reported from past use of white phosphorus in military exercises in Shoalwater Bay. Red phosphorus is used in markers for sea mines and has been released into waters in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in previous exercises. Red phosphorus markers washed ashore on a Yeppoon beach after TS05.

It is the policy of the US Navy to dispose of domestic waste (including paper and plastic) overboard — a significant threat to marine wildlife. Other impacts include ballast release, reduced air quality, collision with marine animals, fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal (including sewage,) chemical and fuel spills, erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapons damage.

Social cost

As well as an enormous monetary cost, there is a social cost when large numbers of troops are allowed “rest and recreation” in one place. Around the world, military bases have become centres of major social problems. The governor of Okinawa in Japan has said that US bases on the island brought a major increase in prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, rape, sexually transmitted diseases and abuse of women and children. The Anglican Church in Hobart has reported frequent sexual assaults on juvenile men and women by visiting US service personnel.

Many of the training areas to be used during TS09 contain sacred sites and areas of significance to Aboriginal people. In the Shoalwater Bay area alone, there are thousands of archaeological sites providing evidence that the Darumbal people regularly moved between the mainland and nearby islands to access food and raw materials or for ceremonial purposes. The Darumbal wish to re-establish physical and spiritual links to their land. They state that ownership of, and access to, land and sea are the basis of their cultural renewal.

Protests against TS09 will occur during the exercises. The largest will be on July 10-12, when protesters from across Australia will converge on Shoalwater Bay and nearby Rockhampton. By taking a stand against the threats posed by TS09, these protests provide an opportunity to highlight the militarist madness of capitalism to people in general and especially to members of the US and Australian military forces. This madness can be stopped only when workers and soldiers unite to replace capitalist rule with working people’s governments, governments capable of organising working people to replace the capitalist profit system with a socialist planned economy oriented to meeting social needs and sustaining the environment. For more information on the protests against TS09, visit Peace Convergence.