Australia builds military capacity

The Spark August 2009
Joel Cosgrove


Continuing a precedent followed over most of the last decade, the Australian government has increased the military budget well above inflation, with a 56% increase in the last seven years and 9% in the last year, to $25.66 billion dollars, with expectations that it will rise to $29.47 billion in 2010, a rise of 12.9%.

This is an important development in the attempts by the Australian ruling establishment in their move away from the traditional Australian defence position of border control and response to one of regional projection and incursion to maintain and develop Australia’s interests.

In its most recently released Defense White Paper, the proposal was made for the purchase over the next ten years of 12 new submarines, 20 corvette patrol vessels, cruise missiles, 100 new top-of-the-line fighter aircraft, 1100 new armoured personnel carriers and high-altitude unmanned spy planes similar to those used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is part of a re-orientation in Australia’s evolving imperialist aspirations dating back to the invasion of East Timor in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and the growing political fear of China namely a growing role in invading and pacifying “unstable neighbours” and a realisation of the weakening of US strength and influence in the Pacific and South-East Asia.

While economically China and Australia have ever increasing ties, namely through the growing consumption of Australian minerals and resources by Chinese industry. Political tensions still exist between the two nations, with China developing stronger ties within the region, notably both East Timor and Fiji. Both countries have until recently figured quite centrally within Australia’s sphere of influence and China’s ‘intrusion’ into this sphere is an affront to the existing US-Australia’s Pacific hegemony.

With the ongoing decline in the strength of US foreign power, the change in focus of the Australian military, heralded by this and previous budgets, indicates a more active role in building up deterrence measures against any potential threat, be it pro-democracy marchers in Tonga or anti-ANZAC protests in East Timor.

While the rhetoric raised surrounding the possibility of conflict with China is raised with a degree of jingoistic urgency. The reality is very different. The Australian Defense Intelligence Organisation, seconded by the Office of National Assessments, have both come back and reported little expectation of the Chinese `threat’ eventuating within the next twenty years, an analysis shared by the US military, currently focusing on many decades of counter-insurgency operations ahead of them.

The question needs to be asked then, why is this policy direction being followed, and what is the role of New Zealand in this enlarged role of `South-Pacific sheriff’? To what extent is the `yellow peril’ bogeyman of Chinese expansion being used as a sop to justify huge increases in defence expenditure, coupled with much more aggressive incursions into the domestic affairs of neighbouring countries. The by-product of this change in defence policy is the increased pressure on New Zealand to buy into this manufactured panic and increase its military budget to match that of Australia, serving only to force more cuts and attacks on the working class, to pay for it. The arms companies will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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