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Issue #1929      August 24, 2020

Port Jackson talk

US marines out of Darwin!

I don’t have an especially long memory, but it seems to me that when your country is taken into a pointless, disastrous, and costly war, like the Iraq war, on the basis of lies told to you by your supposed friend and ally, that is something you should commit to memory.

For my money that meant that every subsequent military overture coming from the USA [after the War on Terror] should have been treated with circumspection at least, if not with a high level of suspicion. “We’re not going to let you do that to us again!” should have been our guiding principle. Trust should have been severely compromised.

But what happened? With no debate in our Federal Parliament, no discussion in our media, with only a few days’ forewarning, President Barack Obama and our Prime Minister of the time, Julia Gillard, on 16th November 2011, jointly announced that there were to be US marines stationed in Darwin.

Instead of being even the slightest bit suspicious, Australia just buckled to pressure from the USA and invited their marines to come in. The fact that we did this so soon after the Iraq episode is the first reason for resenting the presence of the marines. But there are other compelling reasons as well.

Now, I don’t claim to be a military expert, but a background in Sociology tells me one thing that is significant. One of the ways that any government, maintains its legitimacy as a government, is that it claims and maintains a monopoly on all the violence that takes place within its borders. Any violent act, other than those committed by the government or its agents, is criminal. The state assumes full control of all the violence that takes place and, accordingly, full control of all the armed forces within its borders.

There are a few situations in which the presence of foreign forces can occur. At one extreme when one country has been overtaken by another, for example when Allied forces occupied Germany following WW2.

Another situation might be where one country feels itself to be under some immediate threat, so invites or allows an ally to boost its defence. I suggest that such a scenario only crops up in extraordinary circumstances and that the general rule is that foreign armed forces are not permitted on the sovereign territory of any self-respecting nation.

The reason for this is clear. It is because those forces are not under the command of the host government, because they take their orders from the foreign power. Their presence forms a weakness in the nation’s defensive cordon, a weak link in the chain. For there is always the possibility that such foreign force can do something that the host nation does not approve of, and that the government of the host has therefore lost that precious monopoly on violence.

And it is this precise situation that prevails with US marines in Darwin.

I think it is now within the realms of possibility that the USA might, for example, want to take action against China’s fortified islands in the South China Sea – whether Australia were to support it or not – and that the marines stationed in Darwin might form part in such an action.

This is all hypothetical, of course. I am not predicting this scenario. I am simply saying that it is not beyond the realms of possibility. And, that being the case, Australia is taking a completely unnecessary risk by allowing them to be stationed here.

The Darwin contingent is here for a protracted period, every year, for an agreed period of at least twenty-five years, taking us up to 2040. This is not a short-term arrangement. This is an ongoing presence, through which a small part of our nation is being routinely occupied by foreign troops.

Next, consider how the presence of US marines in Darwin might be viewed from China’s perspective. The growing enmity between the USA and China is out in the open, and there should be little doubt that China regards the USA as a threatening entity. One only has to look at a map with US bases highlighted to see that they form a ring around China.

When Obama came to Australia to announce the arrival of the marines, it was also to announce the USA’s “pivot” to the Asia Pacific region. That was in 2011. News that islands in the South China Sea were being militarised by China came through in 2013. I put it to you that that militarisation, which current leaders complain about so loudly, was a legitimate, defensive response to Obama’s announcement.

The point to be made is that by entertaining the marines, Australia becomes an integral part of the aggressive moves being made by the USA as it tries to contain China’s ascendance.

The grim scenario of war between the USA and China is a possibility that comes a fraction closer every time one of the leaders of the USA or Australia has anything to say on the subject. The recent AUSMIN communiqué announced expansion to training exercises involving the MRF-D [Marine Rotational Force – Darwin] and the establishment of a strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin. From the tone of such pronouncements, enmity between Australia and China could become a reality. And in the horrifying scenario of actual hostilities, Darwin could find itself, once again, the target for attack.

Anyone who feels re-assured by the presence of the [US] marines, who thinks that they are here to help protect us, should think again. For their presence makes us less safe.

There is another aspect I want to mention. The fact that we have allowed US marines to stay in Australia in some way gives the message that, as a nation, we don’t quite believe in our own ability to look after ourselves. So, I want to introduce an element of patriotism in what I have to say. I firmly believe that we Australians can and should stand up and look after ourselves. We like to think of Australia as an independent nation – we should put that thought into action, assert our independence, and take full responsibility for our own defence. However, the current situation is entirely contrary to that! As things stand, we are so enmeshed within the alliance with the USA, that we can hardly do anything, militarily, without the USA’s approval. Perhaps the most important aspect of the MRF-D is that it is symbolic of Australia’s entanglement in the great network of the USA’s military empire.

Australia has been too trusting of our duplicitous and dangerous ally, the USA.

We have sent the wrong message to China, who might now become an enemy.

We have placed ourselves in more danger than we need.

It is time to re-assess Australia’s entire defence policy and our alliance with the USA. We should not, and can no longer, rely on it to guarantee security. IPAN [Independent and Peaceful Australia Network] is to conduct a people’s inquiry into this very matter, starting later this year. It is time, I believe, to seek out ways to unravel the tightly knit fabric of our military relationship with the USA.

There is no better place to start this process than with the MRF-D, which is why my colleagues and I want to show them the door. We say “US marines out of Darwin!” and “Terminate the Force Posture Agreement”, under which they are here, year after year. Or, to express it less politely, we say “Let’s give ‘em the Boot!”

* Nick Deane is a member of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network.

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