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Issue #1543      18 April 2012

US Marines arrival flouts demands for peace

The Global Day of Action on Military Spending was due to take place as The Guardian goes to press. April 17 was set down for events across the globe as the people of the world call for cuts to military spending, the scrapping of the 23,000 nuclear weapons held in stockpiles around the world and the reining in of the rapid proliferation of conventional weapons in recent times. A scandalous coincidence for peace-loving people in Australia and the region was the arrival of the first of the US marines at what will be a new base in Darwin. Tensions with our neighbours have increased and war plans against China have become clearer.

The arrival of the first batch of 200 marines was the occasion for a flood of official doublespeak. Prime Minister Gillard went on record, saying the marines’ new home was not a US military base. There are no US bases on Australian soil and there never will be, according to the embattled PM. The custom in Australian military circles for some time has been to call such bases “joint facilities” even if there is not a single Australian accent to be heard on their grounds. By 2017, it is projected that a 2,500-strong Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) will rotate through the NT base in the dry season. It will accommodate major equipment including wheeled vehicles, artillery pieces, light armoured vehicles and aircraft.

US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich was on hand to suggest the role of the troops was to secure trade routes from an unidentified and non-existent threat. “You have access to the Pacific Ocean, to the Indian Ocean, to the East Timor Sea and the trade routes all around,” he said. A marine corporal was upbeat about the posting. “Everybody is excited to be here,” he said. “We are really pumped.”

The arrival of the marines cements a joint undertaking by Julia Gillard and Barack Obama during the US President’s visit to Australia last November. The announcement foreshadowed the release earlier this year of the Australian military’s latest Defence Force Posture Review. It proposes the creation of new bases, the expansion of some current ones and even an upgrade to Fleet Base West at HMAS Stirling near Perth to accommodate US nuclear submarines.

The final report has been handed to defence minister Stephen Smith who noted it would become part of the process that will deliver a new Defence White Paper in 2014. The last White Paper in 2009 presented the Australian people with a huge bill for multi-billion dollar weapons acquisitions as part of a further shift in Australia’s role in the Asia-Pacific region towards containing the growing prestige and influence of China and, ultimately, to wage war against it alongside US forces.

A lot of cover stories have been devised to take attention away from the essence of the strategy. The ambassador mentioned the supposedly threatened security of sea-lanes. The Defence Force Posture Review also mentions the capacity to respond to natural disasters and the defence of the mineral wealth of north-western Australia – as if overseas interests aren’t already plundering these resources without a single shot being fired!

The arrival of the marines was a reminder of the cost of the US alliance and the Australian military’s role in disrupting the possibility of peaceful relations in our region and beyond. The Global Day of Action will go ahead and the voices of people demanding jobs and proper services will not be silenced. People know that even a relatively small shift away from the current policy direction would reap enormous benefit at home and across the world. If just 10 percent of the estimated global military budget of US$1.5 trillion were put to social needs, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for the third world could be met with ease.  

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